Image by James Wiseman

The fragility of democracy

PEJ’s core mission centers on supporting survivors and advancing accountability for atrocities, serious human rights violations, and related abuses committed by state and non-state actors. We don’t discriminate. We partner with national organizations and support local lawyers and investigators. We promote the rule of law and the use of national, regional, and international legal mechanisms to defend human rights. Access to justice is only achievable in strong democracies, where people are heard and trust that pre-established rules will be followed.


This year we saw military takeovers in Myanmar and Sudan and the elimination of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong. These countries and many others must face what a lack of democracy means for the guarantee of the human rights of their citizens.

This year, we also saw democracy threatened in the United States of America, where PEJ is based. We learned that democracy is fragile even in historically stable countries, and we must care for it constantly. If we collectively fail to “walk the talk” and take action to protect democratic values, history tells us that our future is a foregone conclusion. Democracy and its freedoms will be lost.


On January 6, 2021, supporters of then-president Donald Trump stormed the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. The event was well organized. Violent protesters disrupted a joint session of Congress to overturn the results of the 2020 Presidential Election. Five people were killed, and dozens more were injured. On January 13, 2021, the House of Representatives voted to impeach former President Trump for inciting the insurrection. A U.S. House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the United States Capitol was formed on July 1. On July 20, the Select Committee announced that they would hold a Congressional hearing with the U.S. Capitol Police and the Metropolitan Police Department. More than 700 individuals have been charged, and 70 defendants have been sentenced to date.

The January 6 insurrection was a threat to democracy because some individuals refused to accept the result of a fair and free election. Former President Trump’s role in disrupting the peaceful transfer of power displayed a flagrant disregard for democracy. The people voted, and their vote was not honored. The recount of votes revealed a wider margin in favor of now-President Biden.


The insurrection serves as a symbol of the growing political divide in the United States and has brought attention to the various ways democracy is eroding as each day passes. Voter suppression is on the rise as politicians introduce new legislation to prevent people from voting, from obstacles to registration to strict voter identification requirements. The January 6 insurrection was not a peaceful protest. Instead, it was an armed attack on the Nation’s Capital. It was an affront to our democratic system that is not exempt from crumbling down. What is not valued may be lost.


History reveals the truth. What we fail to disrupt through justice leads to repetition. All who bear responsibility for the insurrection should be brought to justice. As a collective, we cannot remain complacent. Americans must return to engaging in open dialogues and peaceful actions. The choice is ours. PEJ chooses peace and advocates for peace every day. What do you do and what do you choose?