There is a sharp distinction between Democracy and Autocracy. While both are forms of government, they exist on polar opposite ends of the spectrum.
In a democratic system of government, the power rests in the hands of the people. While laws are written and passed by representatives, the officials are elected and placed in power by vote, and they make their rulings based on the needs and wants of their constituents.
At least…that’s how it’s supposed to work.
In contrast, autocracy, also known as an authoritarian regime, is a system where rulers possess absolute power and exercise total control over society; the people have no say in their government. Rather than an elected government of representatives, there is one central dictator who determines the rules and exerts control over everybody.
The most basic difference between the two lies in accountability. In a democracy, everyone is accountable to the law regardless of their rank or position. In an autocracy, the powerful are accountable only to themselves.
Holding Leaders Accountable
Holding world leaders accountable for criminal activity is vital for any democratic system. You can’t have a free society if your leaders can act without consequences.
Accountable leaders are necessary for law and order, so that citizens can feel secure in their rights and freedoms. Without the assurance that nobody is above the law, there would be no recourse against unjust actions taken by those in power.
There’s a reason that the governments of North America have strict rules and branches, the so-called checks and balances. If a leader can do whatever they want without fear of reprimand, they will stop acting with the will of the people and start acting in accordance with their individual opinion instead.
That’s how you lose democracy and wind up with an autocratic force dominating the landscape.
If the law applies equally to the people and the governing body, the system prevents overreach. Any impunity for those in power would create a culture of corruption, where money or influence can buy absolution from justice. We’re already seeing a bit of this as is. Lobbying is essentially legalized bribery, for example.
Former President Trump’s repeated insistence that he would pardon people who gave him assistance is an even more obvious example.
This undermines the democratic principles on which society ought to be built, as decisions are no longer being made with the interests of citizens in mind. The entire point of democracy is that elected representatives act as servants to the people. Hence the term ‘public servant’. They do not rule, they serve.
It is essential that all world leaders are held to the same standard of accountability as any other citizen regarding criminal activity. There must exist some form of protection to prevent the opposition from making false accusations to usurp authority, but there cannot be full immunity from prosecution.
This means that if a leader is suspected of criminal activity, they need to be investigated with all due process of law. Democratic governments have ways to balance protection with accountability, and they’re often built into the foundations of governance.
In the United States for example, a sitting President cannot be indicted. But if accusations are made and an investigation proves that there is sufficient evidence, the official may be impeached. Impeachment removes the shield and allows for formal charges to be laid.
Did You Know?
No sitting or former President of the United States has ever been indicted for a crime. Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton are often cited as Presidents who have committed wrongdoings while in office, but neither faced any form of formal justice.
Bill Clinton was impeached but was acquitted upon further investigation. Nixon was pardoned by his successor shortly after he resigned from office, and he was never presented with charges. He was accused, he voluntarily left his post, and then he was forgiven which prevented an indictment from being brought down.
Such processes provide public assurance that those in power are being held to the highest standards and that democracy is working the way it ought to.
If justice does not apply equally to all, it ceases to be just at all.
Criminal Justice for Those in Power
Holding powerful people accountable is not an easy task.
We’re all aware that people of wealth and privilege rarely face justice even when they’re accused of wrongdoing. A combination of political connections, the wealth and resources to hire strong legal counsel, and the sheer intimidation factor of fame can contribute to difficulty in prosecution.
It’s really difficult to find impartial, unbiased jurors when you’re dealing with somebody that everybody and their dog has heard of.
The common everyman citizen, especially people in poverty or from marginalized communities, they just don’t have that backing. They don’t have the funds, they don’t have the connections, they don’t have the fame.
Nobody has heard of them.
As such, we have an imbalance in how justice is applied in North America, and in most places across the world. For the reasons I outlined in the previous section, this is a problem.
I always try to include a little bit of information about how people can get involved to help rectify the problems I highlight. As far as holding powerful people accountable, it really comes down to fighting against corruption.
Getting money out of politics is an important battlefield. As long as lobbying is allowed, there’s going to be an issue with democracy. Money changing hands allows for corporations to exert an undue force on policy, which takes power out of the hands of its rightful wielders: the people.
An example of an organization working on this issue is the Brennan Center for Justice. This group works in the United States, where lobbying is a serious threat to the democratic process.
In terms of the poor lacking access to legal help, there are charities and organizations that work to help provide people with assistance. The Equal Justice Initiative is a solid place to start looking. You can also take a look at the Legal Services Corporation.
Canada has its own lists of legal aid charities and organizations, such as Pro Bono Canada.
If you know of any other good organizations working on this problem, I’d encourage you to share them in the comments. You never know who might be looking for help, or where. I can’t cover the whole world on my own!
Remember, we win through solidarity. Getting involved can be as simple as providing someone with a way to ask for help.