Article 21 of the United Nations seems to suggest that democracy is a part of fundamental human rights. In the first clause of the article, it says that “Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his/her country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.” (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, & United Nations. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, 2006). This in a way seems to suggest that democracy should be respected as a part of fundamental human right. Simply because one is a human being, they have the right to choose or elect people that hold government positions. I believe this should be the case: democracy should be considered a fundamental human right.
We can do it today.
Since governments are the policy makers in a country, and the policies affect the lives of people, it is only right for people to have a voice or say in who is elected to hold government office. The will of the people should be upheld through democratic elections. For example, government policies affect economic growth, and according to Sen, (1999), wrong government policies in authoritarian governments, since they are not criticized by any opposition parties, affect negatively their economic growth. This can be disastrous to the citizens of those countries, and their fundamental rights to food, shelter, education, right to own property, etc. These rights are most of the time violated in a nondemocratic government.
Sen argues that a nondemocratic government does not necessarily bring economic development, as it has been thought previously. In fact, it affects negatively the economy of the country, because most of them are riddled with corruption. And corruption has a detrimental effect on the economy of a country. Since this affects the lives of people negatively, it also affects their fundamental human rights. For example, Botswana, a pillar of democracy in Africa, has one of the best economic growths in the world. Sen explains it very well—economic growth requires a friendly economic climate rather than a tough authoritarian rule. When people are given a chance to choose their leaders, they respect and obey the laws they set for them (Sen, 1999, p. 3).
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As Sen explains, democratic governments act swiftly in case of calamities to alleviate suffering, so that they will be elected into office again—they are accountable to the people. However, nondemocratic governments do not care about the will of the people, and they are not accountable to the people. Therefore, they can oppress people, and violate their rights without being contradicted. This should not be acceptable. For example, major calamities such as famine, affect mostly authoritarian governments where there is no democracy, such as Somalia, Ethiopia, and Sudan (Sen, 1999). Also, authoritarian governments can commit atrocities against the people without opposition, such as Hitler.
To uphold other fundamental rights, democracy should be part and parcel of the fundamental rights. According to article 21 of the UN fundamental human rights, statement three, “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”(Universal Declaration of Human Rights et al., 2006). This means that for the free will of the people to be respected, democracy must be upheld. Since democracy allows for the people to choose what they want and not be dictated, it must be a part of the fundamental rights.
According to Sen, political freedom is a part of human freedom—exercising political and civil rights is an important part of good lives of people as social beings (Sen, 1999, p. 6). That is the reason Bunch (2014) argues that it is important for women to be involved in governments so that their issues can be addressed. Most women have been marginalized, and their fundamental human rights violated because they are not allowed to hold government positions; therefore they are denied the chance to express their free will. This oppression against women can be curtailed by democratic election where people are allowed to choose their leaders irrespective of their gender or age.
To add on to this, most oppressive regimes exist against the free will of the people. Therefore, when democracy is practiced in a country, people remove the oppressive regimes and enact laws that are in accordance with their will. For instance, Bunch (2014, p. 4) argues that there is a sense of democracy in practice when women are allowed to voice their opinions regarding issues affecting them. When people are not allowed to participate in democratic elections, their right to participate in cultural life is violated.
Hayashi ( 2006, p. 70) puts the importance of democracy very clearly when she claims that it has a universal value shared by many countries, however, it should not be practiced equally in all countries since democratic systems vary from country to country. On the other hand, it is important to note that, democracy is a universal value that should be embraced by all. Therefore, it should be considered as a fundamental human right—the right to democracy.
In conclusion, people cannot be free, without being the given the freedom to choose their leaders in a democratic election. Political freedom is, therefore, a part of human freedom, and it should be protected just like any other human right. Therefore, democracy should be a human right.
- Bunch, C. (2014). Beijing, Backlash, and the Future of Women’s Human Rights. HEALTH AND HUMAN RIGHTS. Retrieved from https://cdn2.sph.harvard.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/13/2014/03/8-Bunch.pdf
- Hayashi, S. (2006). Japan and East Asian Monetary Regionalism: Towards a Proactive Leadership Role? Routledge.
- Sen, A. (1999). Democracy as a Universal Value. Journal of Democracy, 10, 3–17.
- Universal Declaration of Human Rights, United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, & United Nations. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. (2006). Universal declaration of human rights. United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).