September 17, 2020

International Day of Democracy
The General Assembly of the United Nations (UN) resolved in 2007 to observe September 15th as the International Day of Democracy, with the charge of promoting and upholding the tenets of democracy across the globe. All member states and organizations were invited to commemorate the day by raising public awareness. While there is no universal standard of democracy, the UN resolution sought to provide a basic democratic structure to promote free-will of individuals across systems. The preamble of the resolution states: “…while democracies share common features, there is no single model of democracy and that democracy does not belong to any country or region... …democracy is a universal value based on the freely-expressed will of people to determine their own political, economic, social and cultural systems, and their full participation in all aspects of life.”

The UN declares that democracy is as much a process as it is a goal. That goal, in turn, aims to provide an environment where the protection and effective realization of human rights can naturally flourish.

The core principles of democracy as defined by the United Nations:
  • Freedom
  • Respect for Human Rights
  • Holding Elections by Universal Suffrage (General and Periodic)

These core principles are reflected in the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights and further refined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights links democracy and human rights, stating: “The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.” These rights are further elaborated on in the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights and includes subsequent measures to protect vulnerable groups (indigenous populations, minorities, individuals with disabilities).

This year, International Democracy Day is highlighting Democracy during COVID-19. Though COVID-19 has presented major social, legal, and political challenges globally, the UN Secretary General António Guterres is urging member states and countries around the world to be transparent, accountable, and responsive during this unprecedented time to ensure that responses are lawful, proportional, essential, and inclusive. The UN Secretary General has published a policy brief mandating that all states uphold and protect freedom of the press, information, association, and assembly. The main challenges member states are being urged to combat are:

  • Measures to control the flow of information and crackdown on freedom of expression of individuals and the press against an existing background of shrinking civic space.
  • Arrest, detention, prosecution or persecution of political opponents, journalists, doctors and healthcare workers, activists and others for allegedly spreading “fake news”.
  • Aggressive cyber-policing and increased online surveillance.
  • Postponement of elections is raising serious constitutional issues in some cases and may lead to rising tensions.

UN International Day of Democracy:

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