Democracy is one of the universal and indivisible core values and principles of the United Nations. It is based on the freely expressed will of people and closely linked to the rule of law and exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms i . Democracy, and democratic governance in particular, means that people’s human rights and fundamental freedoms are respected, promoted and fulfilled, allowing them to live with dignity. People have a say in decisions that affect their lives and can hold decision-makers to account, based on inclusive and fair rules, institutions and practices that govern social interactions. Women are equal partners with men in private and public spheres of life and decision-making, and all people are free from discrimination based on race, ethnicity, class, gender or any other attribute. Democratic governance feeds into economic and social policies that are responsive to people’s needs and aspirations, that aim at eradicating poverty and expanding the choices that people have in their lives, and that respect the needs of future generations. In essence, democratic governance is the process of creating and sustaining an environment for inclusive and responsive political processes and settlements.
The United Nations does not advocate for a specific model of government, but promotes democratic governance as a set of values and principles that should be followed for greater participation, equality, security and human development.
Democracy in international law
Although the United Nations Charter does not include the word “democracy”, the opening words of the Charter, “We the Peoples”, reflect the fundamental principle of democracy that the will of the people is the source of legitimacy of sovereign states and therefore of the United Nations as a whole.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the General Assembly in 1948, projected the concept of democracy by stating “the will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government.” ii The
Declaration spells out the rights that are essential for effective political participation.
Since its adoption, the Declaration has inspired constitution-making
world and has contributed greatly to the
An Afghan woman exercises her right to vote in the presidential and provincial council elections. (UN Photo)
global acceptance of democracy as a universal value. iii
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) lays the legal basis for the principles of democracy under international law, particularly:
freedom of expression (Article 19);
the right of peaceful assembly (Article 21);
the right to freedom of association with others (Article 22);
the right and opportunity to take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives (Article 25);
the right to vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret ballot, guaranteeing the free expression of the will of the electors (Article 25).
The Covenant is binding on those States that have ratified it. As of July 2012, the number of parties to the Covenant was 167, which constitutes approximately 85 per cent of the United Nations’ membership. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women stipulates that its 187 States parties (as of July 2012) shall ensure to women, on equal terms with men, the right to vote and stand for elections, and participate in public life and decision-making (Article 7).
Supporting democracy around the world
United Nations activities in support of democracy and governance are implemented through the
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Democracy Fund (UNDEF), the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), the Department of Political Affairs (DPA) and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), among