Democracy and Human Rights


Dr. Khine Khine Win

The word “Democracy” does not appear in the United Nations Charter. And in international laws is there not a universally accepted definition of democracy. Nevertheless, there does exist an international consensus on the existence of a link between human rights and democracy.
What is democracy? There seems to be a lot of confusion about the meaning of democracy. Abraham Lincoln, former president of United States said that democracy is the “government of the people, by the people and for the people”. That is one of my favorite quotes for democracy. Democracy must be for the people. According to political scientist Larry Diamond, democracy consists of four key elements: (a) A political system for choosing and replacing the government through free and fair elections; (b) The active participation of the people, as citizens, in politics and civic life; (c) Protection of the human rights, of all citizens, and (d) A rule of law, in which the laws and procedures apply equally to all citizens. There you can see that every element focus on citizens. So, it is noteworthy that active citizenship plays the crucial role in a democratic country and participation is a key role of citizens in democracy. Active citizenship means people getting involved in their local communities and democracy at all levels, from towns to cities to nationwide activity by doing as small campaign to clean up your street or big campaign as educating young people about democratic values, skills and participation. We do believe that active participation leads better democracy.
Why we want democracy? Because democracy allows equal rights and liberty for all. We all want equal rights and equal treatment regardless of race, religion, sex, color, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property etc as we all are human beings and are entitled to all the rights and freedoms.  We all want free and full participation in politics and civic life. It is not only their duty, but also their rights.
If we want democracy, we have to be prepared to live by the principles of democracy. We have to dare to live according to the principles of democracy. So what are the principles of democracy? When I study the principles of democracy, what I found out is that there is no exact expression for principles of democracy. Some people say there are five principles, some six, some seven and some thirteen and so on. These principles often come from part of the constitution. Here are the basic principles of democracy: citizen participation, equality, accountability, rule of law, regular free and fair elections, economic freedom, human rights, transparency, good governance, check and balance etc.
Although no two democratic countries are exactly alike, people in democracies support many of the same basic principles and desire the same benefits from their government.
Let me focus on human rights, one of the principles of democracy. As I mentioned before, we want democracy because we want equality and liberty.  Equality and liberty are the basic principles of human rights. So we can say that we want democracy because we want human rights. Human rights mean those values that reflect  human life and human dignity. It includes freedom of expression, freedom of association, freedom to vote, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion etc.
All democracies strive to respect and protect the human rights of citizens. Democracy emphasizes the value of every human being. In 1993, at the world conference on human rights, the member states of the UN affirmed that “Development, respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms are interdependent and mutually reinforcing.” And also article 21 (3) of the Universal Declaration of human rights  states that “ the will of the people shall be the basic 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 ”.  This article recognizes the link between the democracy and human rights. Today, the relationship between democracy and human rights seems to be an obvious one.
If a nation respects human rights, it automatically may be considered to be a democracy, which automatically respects human rights. Theoretically, all human rights are universal, indivisible and interdependent.  Thus, in order to be “democratic” all civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights would have to be respected. However, this would be sometimes problematic. For instance, not all nations accept all rights to be legally binding upon them and different geographical regions tend to emphasize different human rights. In consideration, the interpretation and implementation may also vary from country to country according to their region.
In conclusion, if we want a truly democratic society, we have to ensure that all human rights are respected and protected. Democracy deficits, weak institutions and poor governance are among the main challenges to the effective realization of human rights. In turn, democracy provides the natural environment for the protection and effective realization of human rights.

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