Democracy Day: Human Rights Defenders Under Attack

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres. UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré (file)
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres. UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré (file)

This year’s International Day of Democracy (16 September) is an opportunity to recall that democracy is about people. Democracy is built on inclusion, equal treatment, and participation — and it is a fundamental building block for peace, sustainable development, and human rights.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that “the will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government” (article 21.3), has inspired constitution-making around the world and contributed to global acceptance of democratic values and principles. Democracy, in turn, provides the natural environment for the protection and effective realization of human rights.

“As we mark Democracy Day, I urge all governments to respect the right to active, substantive, and meaningful participation; and I salute all of you who strive tirelessly to make this happen,” said UN Secretary-General, António Guterres.

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According to the UN, true democracy is a two-way street, built on a constant dialogue between civil society and the political class. This dialogue must have real influence on political decisions.

This is why political participation, civic space, and social dialogue make up the very foundations of good governance. It is even more true with the impact of globalization and technological progress.

And yet today, the UN observes, civic space is shrinking worldwide at an alarming rate. Civil society activists are finding it increasingly difficult to operate. Human rights defenders and parliamentarians are under attack. Women remain vastly under-represented. Journalists face interference, and in some cases violence.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development addresses democracy in Sustainable Development Goal 16 recognizing the indivisible links between peaceful societies and effective, accountable, and inclusive institutions.

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Rakesh Raman