Democracy is one of the universal core values and principles of the United Nations. Respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and the principle of holding periodic and genuine elections by universal suffrage are essential elements of democracy. These values are embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and further developed in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which enshrines a host of political rights and civil liberties underpinning meaningful democracies.
The rights enshrined in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and subsequent human rights instruments covering group rights (e.g. indigenous peoples, minorities, persons with disabilities), are equally essential for democracy as they ensure an equitable distribution of wealth, and equality and equity in respect of access to civil and political rights.
The Rule of Law and Democracy Section stands as OHCHR focal point for democracy activities. The Section works to develop concepts and operational strategies to enhance democracy and provide guidance and support to democratic institutions through technical cooperation activities and partnership with the relevant parts of the UN, notably the UN Democracy Fund, the Department of Political Affairs and the UN Working Group on Democracy. Legal and expert advice are provided as required to OHCHR field operations and headquarters on relevant issues such as respect for participatory rights in the context of free and fair elections, draft legislation and training activities.
Democracy and the rule of law at the Human Rights Council
The former Commission on Human Rights adopted several landmark resolutions regarding democracy. In 2000, the Commission recommended a host of legislative, institutional and practical measures to consolidate democracy (resolution 2000/47). In 2002, the Commission defined the essential elements of democracy in resolution 2002/46.
Since its establishment in 2006, the Human Rights Council (successor to the former Commission on Human Rights) has adopted a number of resolutions highlighting the interdependent and mutually reinforcing relationship between democracy and human rights. Recent examples include resolution 19/36 on “Human rights, democracy and the rule of law”. Further to this resolution, OHCHR, in consultation with States, national human rights institutions, civil society, relevant intergovernmental bodies and international organizations, published a study on challenges, lessons learned and best practices in securing democracy and the rule of law from a human rights perspective. Based on the study, in June 2013 OHCHR organized a panel discussion on these issues, with the participation of international experts.
Cooperation with Parliaments
The primary focus of the Section’s work with Parliaments is placed on empowering the legislatures to exercise their legislative and oversight responsibilities in a manner conducive to an effective enjoyment and protection of all human rights and freedoms.
In cooperation with the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the Section is in the process of updating a Human Rights Handbook for Parliamentarians: http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Publications/training13en.pdf
As a member of UNDEF Programme Consultative Group (PCG), OHCHR provides expert advice and support to UNDEF’s Advisory Board and Secretariat on project proposals and funding criteria. Since 2006, and with the involvement of OHCHR staff in Geneva, New York and the field, OHCHR has participated in the review of national, regional and global project proposals from all regions.
UNDEF 2014 call for project proposals has been issued. You can find more information here.
OHCHR contributed to the drafting of the Secretary-General’s Guidance Note on Democracy, adopted in 2009.
At the inter-agency level, OHCHR is a member of the Working Group on Democracy and of the Inter-agency Consultative Meeting on Electoral Assistance, which meet regularly.
OHCHR also ensures the follow-up to the General Assembly resolutions on the “Universal realization of the right of peoples to self‑determination”; and regular input to relevant Secretary-General reports to the General Assembly on democracy related subjects:
- A/66/353 – Support by the United Nations system of the efforts of Governments to promote and consolidate new or restored democracies
- A/64/372 – Support by the United Nations system of the efforts of Governments to promote and consolidate new or restored democracies
- A/62/296 – Support by the United Nations System of the efforts of governments to promote and consolidate new or restored democracies
- A/60/556 – Support by the United Nations system of the efforts of Governments to promote and consolidate new or restored democracies
- A/58/392 – Support by the United Nations System of the Efforts of Governments to Promote and Consolidate New or Restored Democracies
The International Day of Democracy
On 8 November 2007, the General Assembly proclaimed 15 September as the International Day of Democracy, inviting Member States, the United Nations system and other regional, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations to commemorate the Day. OHCHR contributed to the Info-Kit produced by DPI for public distribution to commemorate the first International Day of Democracy and marks the day through press releases, social media, and other special activities.
Further guidance on the various dimensions of the interrelation between democracy and human rights can be obtained in General Comment 25, and Commission on Human Rights resolutions 2000/47 and 2002/46.