Democracy is a universally recognized ideal and is one of the core values 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) and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), 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 machinery and judicial systems;
- helping to develop legislation and media capacities to ensure freedom of expression and access to information;
- providing electoral assistance and long-term support for electoral management bodies;
- promoting women’s participation in political and public life.
People showing ink stained fingers after having
voted in Burundi. Photo: Gaspard Nakumuryango
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, including the Millennium Development Goals. 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 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, the United Nations General Assembly created UN Women, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. In doing so, UN Member States took an historic step in accelerating the Organization’s goals on gender equality and the empowerment of women.
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.