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Rule of Law - Democracy and Human Rights

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, people 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 Unit stands as OHCHR focal point for democracy activities. The Unit 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 newly established UN Working Group on Democracy.  Legal and expert advice are provided as required to OHCHR field operations on relevant issues such as respect for participatory rights in the context of free and fair elections, draft legislation on  national referenda and training activities. 

Guiding national and regional efforts for consolidating democracy and the rule of law

The former Commission on Human Rights adopted several landmark resolutions. 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.
Two expert workshops  were organized by OHCHR under the auspices of the Commission, in 2002, with a report presented in 2003 and in 2005 (Comment 8: CHR.reportseminar.58.E.doc), on the inter-linkages between democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Their deliberations contributed to a better understanding of democracy underpinnings in international law; and in identifying challenges leading to democratic deficits in both contexts, mature and emerging or resorted democracies.

A regional workshop on Human Rights, Democracy, and the Rule of Law for Latin America was held in San Jose, Costa Rica, from 5-7 September 2005

Pursuant to the Commission on Human Rights request, OHCHR prepared a compilation of seventy-three documents and texts aimed at promoting and consolidating democracy.  It provides a handy reference tool for use in comparative research and the elaboration of national policies as it reflects various approaches and degrees of progress in the elaboration of relevant norms and guidelines.

Cooperation with Parliaments

The primary focus of the current programme is placed on empowering the legislatures to exercise their legislative and oversight responsibilities in a manner conducive to an effective enjoyment and protection of rights and freedoms.

To this effect, a series of regional seminars was initiated in 2007 to update parliamentarians on the latest developments in international human rights standards, procedures and mechanisms including the UPR. The Human Rights Handbook for Parliamentarians is used as a training and guidance tool in this exercise.  The first seminar was organized in South Africa in October 2007, in cooperation with the SADC parliamentary Forum, and addressed almost 19 parliamentarians from 9 countries. The second regional seminar was held in Panama, in Central America, in October 2009 and gathered 18 parliamentarians from 12 countries.

Cooperation with UNDEF

Since August 2005, OHCHR provides substantive guidance and support for the establishment and operationalization of the programme of the UN Democracy Fund (UNDEF) located in NY under the authority of UNFIP Executive-Director. In 2008 and 2009, as a member of UNDEF Programme Consultative Group (PCG), OHCHR participated actively in the  review of 65 regional and local project proposals relating to Cameroon, Ethiopia, Fiji, Indonesia, Liberia, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Palestine, Tanzania, Togo and Turkey. The exercise engaged OHCHR staff in NY, at HQ and in relevant field operations. A parallel review was conducted by UN agencies represented in the PCG and by relevant Resident Coordinators. OHCHR is currently chairing the PCG.

Other parts of OHCHR, including the Human Rights Treaties Branch, has cooperated with IPU since 2006 in a UNDEF- funded project aiming to sensitize francophone African parliamentarians to the importance of reporting to UN treaty bodies and the follow-up to concluding observations of treaty bodies on State reports. The pilot regional training course took place in Ougadougou from 29 September to 1 October 2007, addressing 55-60 participants (mostly parliamentarians) from about 15 francophone African countries.  They issued a consensus declaration emphasizing the importance of paying due regard to treaty body concluding observations, and the necessity of UN technical cooperation for the States concerned. Between February and July 2008, national follow-up workshops took place in Togo, Mali, Mauritania and the Republic of Congo. Additional follow up workshops are planned in Mauritania, DRC, Central African Republic and Congo Brazzaville.

Other activities

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:

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 in September 2008.

On 15 September 2009, the High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a press release to commemorate the second International Day of Democracy. .

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.

Human Rights Handbook for Parliamentarians:

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