Equal participation in political and public affairs


Overview

Political and public participation rights play a crucial role in the promotion of democratic governance, the rule of law, social inclusion and economic development, as well as in the advancement of all human rights. The right to directly and indirectly participate in political and public life is important in empowering individuals and groups, and is one of the core elements of human rights-based approaches aimed at eliminating marginalization and discrimination. Participation rights are inextricably linked to other human rights such as the rights to peaceful assembly and association, freedom of expression and opinion and the rights to education and to information.

Obstacles to equal political and public participation exist in many contexts. These barriers may include direct and indirect discrimination on grounds such as race, colour, descent, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, birth, disability, nationality or other status. Even when there is no formal discrimination in connection with political or public participation, inequalities in access to other human rights may impede the effective exercise of political participation rights.

International legal framework

Article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights defines the obligations of States parties in connection with the right to take part in the conduct of public affairs, vote and be elected at genuine periodic elections, and have equal access to public service positions. Article 25 is complemented by the interpretive General Comment and jurisprudence adopted by the Human Rights Committee.

Other international human rights instruments contain similar provisions. These include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (art. 21); the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (art. 8); the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (art. 5 (c)); the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (arts. 7 and 8); the Convention on the Rights of the Child (art. 15); the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (arts. 4 (3), 29, 33 (3)); the International Convention on the Protection of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (arts. 41 and 42); the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities (art. 2 (2)); the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (arts. 5 and 18); the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (art. 22); the Declaration on the Rights to Development (arts 1.1, 2 and 8.2); and the Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (art. 8). At the regional level, equal political rights are protected in several instruments, including Protocol No. 1 to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (art. 3), the American Convention on Human Rights (art. 23) and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (art. 13).