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Compilation of documents or texts adopted and used by various intergovernmental, international, regional and subregional organizations aimed at promoting and consolidating democracy

"The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government"
Universal Declaration of Human Rights

In his report to the General Assembly at its fifty-first session, the Secretary-General noted that “the word ‘democracy’ does not appear in the Charter.  However, with the opening words of that document ‘We the Peoples of the United Nations’, the founders invoked the most fundamental principle of democracy, rooting the sovereign authority of the Member States, and thus the legitimacy of the Organization which they were to compose, in the will of their peoples.”  Their commitment to democracy was further reflected in the stated “Purposes” of the United Nations which include: to respect the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to promote and encourage respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the General Assembly in 1948, elaborated on this original commitment to democracy by proclaiming that “the will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government” and guaranteeing to everyone the rights that are essential for effective political participation.  The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, adopted by the Assembly in 1966, conferred binding legal status on the right of individuals to participate in the processes that constitute the conduct of public affairs, and further strengthened the protection accorded to participatory rights and freedoms.    

While the Charter, the Universal Declaration and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights provided a strong normative foundation for a United Nations role in promoting democracy, the onset of the cold war effectively stalled United Nations support for democratization.  It was not until the end of the cold war that the drive for democratization gained momentum, bringing with it renewed prospects for pursuing neglected elements of the Charter’s original purposes.  The pursuit of democracy restarted both within and outside the United Nations system in a series of complementary and mutually reinforcing processes.

In 1988, the General Assembly adopted for the first time a resolution on “Enhancing the effectiveness of the principle of periodic and genuine elections” and called on the Commission on Human Rights “to consider appropriate ways and means of enhancing the effectiveness of the principle of periodic and genuine elections”.  Since 1988, the Assembly has adopted at least one resolution annually dealing with some aspect of democracy, and the Commission has examined democracy increasingly from a human rights perspective.  Through a series of resolutions, it has attempted not only to clarify the concept of democracy but also to elaborate on democratic principles, values, processes, institutions and mechanisms.  Two are of particular importance and cover a broad spectrum of issues.  Resolution 2000/47 places emphasis on improving the processes of democracy and the functioning of democratic institutions and mechanisms, all within a regulatory legal and administrative framework.  States are called on to promote and consolidate democracy by taking actions to strengthen human rights and fundamental freedoms; the rule of law; electoral processes; civil society; good governance; sustainable development; and social cohesion and solidarity. 

Resolution 2001/36 looks at democratic development in the broader context of sustainable human development and realization of all human rights, including the right to development.  It examines the interrelationship between poverty and democracy, and includes an international dimension.  The Commission has also sought to enhance its relevance in the promotion of democracy and has committed itself to further exploring the interdependence between democracy and human rights.  It is endeavouring to stimulate dialogue among States on concrete ways and means to promote and consolidate democracy.  Its Sub-Commission has prepared two working papers on the measures provided in the various international human rights instruments for the promotion and consolidation of democracy.

The debates in the General Assembly and Commission have been influenced by the deliberations in international conferences such as the World Conference on Human Rights and the International Conferences of New or Restored Democracies (the first was held in Manila in June 1988; the second in Managua in July 1994; the third in Bucharest in September 1997; the fourth in Cotonou in December 2000; and the fifth is planned for Ulan Bator in June 2003). 

The 1993 World Conference on Human Rights concluded that democracy, development and respect for human rights are interdependent and mutually reinforcing, and recommended that priority be given to national and international actions to promote democracy, development and human rights.  The Plan of Action adopted in 1994 at the Second International Conference of New or Restored Democracies called on the United Nations Secretary-General to undertake a study of ways in which the United Nations system could support the efforts of Governments to promote and consolidate new or restored democracies.  This request was subsequently formalized in General Assembly resolution 49/30, adopted in December 1994. 

More recently, the Fourth International Conference recommended the establishment of a monitoring mechanism to support implementation of the Cotonou Declaration and encouraged the United Nations system to mobilize resources to implement integrated programmes to promote and strengthen democratic development.  At its 2001 session, the General Assembly adopted resolution 56/96 which formally requests the Secretary-General to examine options for strengthening the support provided by the United Nations system for the efforts of Member States to consolidate democracy, including through the designation of a focal point.

With these parallel developments in mind, and in the light of its own efforts to stimulate dialogue among States on ways and means to promote and consolidate democracy, the Commission adopted resolution 2001/41  on “Continuing dialogue on measures to promote and consolidate democracy”.  The resolution encourages giving particular attention to the Secretary-General’s recommendations that the United Nations should work to develop integrated democracy assistance programmes and locally owned, broad-based common country strategies.  It calls for information-sharing and improved coordination in the United Nations system to facilitate the exchange of lessons learned and best practices in promoting and consolidating democracy and encourages the development of democracy expertise drawn from all regions of the world.  It invites Governments, relevant intergovernmental organizations and interested non-governmental organizations to debate ways and means to promote and consolidate democracy.  The resolution is also the legislative basis for the Seminar on the Interdependence between Democracy and Human Rights.

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