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About democracy and human rights

OHCHR and democracy

Democracy is a universally recognized ideal based on common values shared by people across the world, irrespective of cultural, political, social and economic differences. As recognized in the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, democracy is based on the freely expressed will of the people to determine their own political, economic, social and cultural systems and their full participation in all aspects of their lives.

Democracy, development, rule of law and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms are interdependent and mutually reinforcing. Democracy aims to:

  • preserve and promote the dignity and fundamental rights of the individual;
  • achieve social justice;
  • foster the economic and social development of the community;
  • strengthen the cohesion of society;
  • enhance national tranquility; and
  • create a climate that is favourable for international peace.

Democracy as a form of government is a universal benchmark for human rights protection; it provides an environment for the protection and effective realization of human rights. Today, after a period of increased democratization around the world, many democracies appear to be backsliding. Some Governments seem to be deliberately weakening independent checks on their powers, suffocating criticism, dismantling democratic oversight and ensuring their long-term rule, with negative impact on people’s rights.

The elements of democracy

For several years, the UN General Assembly and the former Commission on Human Rights endeavoured to draw on international human rights instruments to promote a common understanding of the principles and values of democracy.

In 2002, the Commission declared in resolution 2002/46 that essential elements of democracy include:

  • Respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of opinion and expression, and freedom of association;
  • Access to power and its exercise in accordance with the rule of law;
  • The holding of periodic free and fair elections by universal suffrage and by secret ballot as the expression of the will of the people;
  • A pluralistic system of political parties and organizations;
  • The separation of powers;
  • The independence of the judiciary;
  • Transparency and accountability in public administration;
  • Free, independent and pluralistic media.