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Crisis is the when a state lacks stability due to a natural disaster or a political conflict or fragility. During these times, which may last for years or even decades, a country is vulnerable to situations and conditions that can result in violence, upheaval, loss of property and the violation of human rights, including democratic rights.

Conflict, especially violent conflict, is not only a threat to human rights, but also a barrier to development. Fragile countries – whether affected by war, emerging from armed conflict, or acutely vulnerable to political and economic instability – are the furthest from achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).  Violent conflicts can reverse decades of development gains. The costs of preventing conflict are far lower than the costs associated with recovery (see UNDP BCPR Fact Sheet).

Fragility is a term used to describe those countries that are not prone to open conflict or civil war but are facing prolonged political upheaval or the overthrow of a non-democratic regime with limited violence.

Parliaments and Crisis

Parliaments are pillars of democratic governance, with a critical role in spurring and sustaining national action towards the achieving human development. They can be powerful agents of change, particularly during and after times of crisis. Parliament’s contribution to conflict prevention and peace building is embodied in its everyday work of representing constituents through law-making, oversight of government action and process of political contest. Effective and empowered parliaments and political parties can act as important actors in crisis prevention and post-conflict recovery, particularly through mediation, the promotion of dialogue and national reconciliation, the adoption of conflict-sensitive laws which address the very sources of violence and a better representation of the population by increasing the political inclusion and participation of women, youth and minority groups.  

It is integral to the mandate of a parliament that it acts in a time of crisis.  For there is no other body constituted in a country to promote a consensus  amongst disparate groups that may be conflict or can approve the resources required to address the ramifications of a natural disaster.

In particular, a parliament should be able to address the following aspects of crisis as they arise:


  • Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) – the process by which warring factions are provided the opportunities and tools to transition from conflict to peace;
  • Gender Based Violence – women and girls are particularly vulnerable to violence during a crisis and a parliament must not only be aware of this fact but must take action to address all forms of such violence;
  • Political Violence – a growing area of conflict is related to violence that erupts in the contestation of elections. Parliament, and in particular the parliamentary groups and parties represented within it, must take responsibility for such violence;
  • Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) – every country is vulnerable to natural disasters. The true test is how a country and, in turn its parliament, act to prevent or minimize the impact of such disasters and learn from the state’s response to ensure the next disaster has less of an impact.


Parliaments have many tools and roles that it should use in a time of crisis. One of the key roles of a parliament is to be a venue for national dialogue where groups that are in conflict with each other are provided a voice and space to resolve their differences without resorting to violence.

Where a crisis is the result of a violent conflict, the reform of the military, police or intelligence services is usually a key aspect of any resolution to the conflict. Parliament must have the capacity to ensure oversight of the security sector as such reforms progress and to ensure further violence and violations of human rights are being addressed.

In many countries transitioning from a crisis, the hope is that a new state that is based on democratic principles will emerge. In such situations it is not uncommon for an interim or temporary parliament to be created while awaiting free and fair elections of a permanent parliament and/or the creation of a new constitution. Such parliaments have a great burden and usually have limited or no capacity to fulfill their important mandate to lead a transition to democracy, but there are lessons that have been gained from such situations that can be applied to parliaments that are put in this role.