Democracy is a universally recognized ideal and is one of the core values and principles of the United Nations.
Democracy provides an environment for the protection and effective realization of human rights. 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.
United Nations activities in support of democracy and governance are carried out 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), the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR),and the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), among others. Such activities are inseparable from the UN’s work in promoting human rights, development, and peace and security, and include:
- assisting parliaments to enhance the checks and balances that allow democracy to thrive;
- helping to strengthen the impartiality and effectiveness of national human rights institutions and justice and security systems;
- helping to develop legislation and media capacities to ensure freedom of expression and access to information;
- assisting to develop policies and legislation to guarantee the right to freedom of association and of peaceful assembly;
- providing electoral assistance and long-term support for electoral management bodies;
- promoting women’s participation in political and public life.
Over the past 20 years the United Nations has provided various forms of electoral assistance
to more than 100 countries — including advisory services, logistics, training, civic education, computer applications and short-term observation.
Democracy has emerged as a cross-cutting issue in the outcomes of the major United Nations conferences and summits since the 1990s and in the internationally agreed development goals they produced. World leaders pledged in the Millennium Declaration to spare no effort to promote democracy and strengthen the rule of law, as well as respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. The Outcome Document of the post-2015 negotiations, “Transforming Our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”, to be adopted by Heads of State and Heads of Government on 25-27 September 2015, reaffirms this commitment to a world in which “democracy, good governance and the rule of law as well as an enabling environment at national and international levels, are essential for sustainable development”.
The UN General Assembly has reaffirmed that “democracy is a universal value based on the freely expressed will of people to determine their political, economic, social and cultural systems and their full participation in all aspects of their lives,” as previously stated in the outcome document of the World Summit in September 2005. At that summit governments renewed their commitment to support democracy and welcomed the establishment of a Democracy Fund at the United Nations. The large majority of UNDEF funds go to local civil society organizations for projects that strengthen the voice of civil society, promote human rights, and encourage the participation of all groups in democratic processes.
The UN supports women’s political participation, including efforts to increase the share of women elected into office and to build women’s capacity as effective legislators once elected. In July 2010, as part of a resolution on system-wide reform, the United Nations General Assembly created UN Women, mandated to coordinate the gender mainstreaming work of the UN System . In doing so, UN Member States took an historic step in accelerating the Organization’s goals on gender equality and the empowerment of women.
2015 Theme: Space for Civil Society
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. The International Day of Democracy provides an opportunity to review the state of democracy in the world. Democracy is as much a process as a goal, and only with the full participation of and support by the international community, national governing bodies, civil society and individuals, can the ideal of democracy be made into a reality to be enjoyed by everyone, everywhere.
Globally, the role of civil society has never been more important than this year, as the world prepares to implement a new development agenda, agreed to by all the world’s Governments. However, for civil society activists and organizations in a range of countries covering every continent, space is shrinking — or even closing — as some Governments have adopted restrictions that limit the ability of NGOs to work or to receive funding.
That is why the theme of this year’s International Day of Democracy is “Space for Civil Society.” It is a reminder to Governments everywhere that the hallmark of successful and stable democracies is the presence of a strong and freely operating civil society — in which Government and civil society work together for common goals for a better future, and at the same time, civil society helps keep Government accountable.
“Civil society is the oxygen of democracy. Civil society acts as a catalyst for social progress and economic growth. It plays a critical role in keeping Government accountable, and helps represent the diverse interests of the population, including its most vulnerable groups.”
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
For more information, see Democracy and the United Nations.
(Source: United Nations, 2015)