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“In marking this year’s International Day of Democracy, let us […] work to bring democracy education to all, and in particular, to those societies in transition that need it most.” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
Timor-Leste Holds Parliamentary Elections, July 2012. (UN Photo/Martine Perret )
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 their lives.
While democracies share common features, there is no single model of democracy. Activities carried out by the United Nations in support of efforts of Governments to promote and consolidate democracy are undertaken in accordance with the UN Charter, and only at the specific request of the Member States concerned.
The UN General Assembly, in resolutionA/62/7 (2007) encouraged Governments to strengthen national programmes devoted to the promotion and consolidation of democracy, and also decided that 15 September of each year should be observed as the International Day of Democracy.
The subject of this year’s theme — democracy education — is essential for the long-term success of democracy. All citizens in all nations need to fully understand their rights and responsibilities, especially in countries that have recently transitioned to more democratic societies. Questions such as, “Why should I vote?”, “How can I influence my leaders?” “What can I reasonably expect from my elected officials?” or “What are my constitutional rights?” need to be addressed through civic institutions, in the free press and in classrooms. It is only with educated citizens that a sustainable culture of democracy can emerge.
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.
The values of freedom, respect for human rights and the principle of holding periodic and genuine elections by universal suffrage are essential elements of democracy. In turn, democracy provides the natural 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 Rightswhich enshrines a host of political rights and civil liberties underpinning meaningful democracies.
The link between democracy and human rights is captured in article 21(3) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states:
“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.”
The rights enshrined in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and subsequent human rights instruments covering group rights (e.g.indigenous peoples, minorities, people with disabilities) are equally essential for democracy as they ensure an equitable distribution of wealth, and equality and equity in respect of access to civil and political rights.
To mark the International Day of Democracy at UN Headquarters, the UN Democracy Fund (UNDEF), the UN Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR, New York Office), and the Council for a Community of Democracies are joining Governments, the Organization of American States, and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) at an event on democracy education on 17 September. Thepanel discussion will be webcast live from 1:15 to 2:45 p.m. New York time.
The event coincides with the launch of a new UNDEF-funded project to put democracy education into wider practice.
Please register online at http://www.unitar.org/event/new-york.