International Day of Democracy – Focus on Sustainable Development Goals

NEW RELEASES – On the 15th of September each year, democracy is celebrated globally. Remarkably, this is a day to underline the importance of democracy as a core value and principle in the human rights panorama. Democracy and human rights are “intricate, symbiotic and mutually constitutive”1 concepts. One can’t be without the other and, therefore, they must be collectively respected and protected.


The 15th of September

As the United Nations have pointed out: “The International Day of Democracy provides an opportunity to review the state of democracy in the world.”2 Importantly, democracy is both a process and a goal, and only with the full participation of and support by the international community, governing bodies, civil society and individuals we can, as a global community, endorse the idea of democracy and fully make it part of our lives. As IDEA has pointed out in its Report, “A rights based approach to democracy grounded in the rule of law is considered increasingly the most consistent safeguard against human rights abuses.”3 Democracy and human rights are, therefore, two intrinsically connected concepts that can’t be mutually excluded. Democracy provides the environment for human rights to be respected and defended. On the other side, respecting human rights is an essential element of democracy.

These values are embodied in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR) and further developed in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), “which enshrines a host of political rights and civil liberties underpinning meaningful democracies.”4
Article 21(3) of the UDHR, particularly, 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.”5
Moreover, the rights protected by the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and other human rights instruments (safeguarding, for instance, indigenous peoples, minorities, people with disabilities) are also essential for democracy as they “ensure an equitable distribution of wealth, and equality and equity in respect of access to civil and political rights.”6

These are all notable starting points: the presence of strong and solid legislative tools, as well as the presence and involvement of the United Nations in the process of continuously monitoring and controlling the status of democracy in our world. Importantly, however, the needs of people also have to be put in first place since that should be the real basis upon which defining future initiatives and measures. As Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has pointed out, “People want food and shelter; education and health care and more economic opportunity. They want to live without fear. They want to be able to trust their Governments and global, national and local institutions. They want full respect for their human rights and they are rightly demanding a greater say in the decisions that affect their lives.”7


2016 theme

What to expect for the 15th of September 2016? In 2015, all 193 Member States of the United Nations adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which consists in a long-term plan for achieving a better future for the planet. The real core of the project is constituted by the Sustainable Development Goals, 17 ultimate aims whose scope is to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all.8 The presence of these new Goals relies quite consistently on the action of governments, Parliaments and other governing institutions. Their function is essential, when undertaking policy-making processes, drafting pieces of legislation etc. in order for a democratic protection of human rights to be implemented and effectively and practically enacted. This is the real heart of the International Democracy Day 2016: the intersection of democracy, human rights and the realisation of the Sustainable Development Goals.

In particular, Sustainable Development Goal 16 addresses democracy by calling for inclusive and participatory societies and institutions. It aims to “Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.”9 Not only that, but also mentions the aim to “Promote the rule of law at the national and international levels and ensure equal access to justice for all.”10 Goal 16 is both an end and a crucial part of delivering sustainable development in all countries and “it has been seen by many commentators as the transformational goal and key to ensuring that the Agenda can be accomplished.”11

In conclusion, the importance of the International Democracy Day cannot surely be underestimated and its relevance in the global panorama needs to be stressed. The connection with human rights and fundamental freedoms has previously been shown and endorsed. This year, the debate is put forward by looking at the idea of sustainable development and the process of reaching the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. The importance of focusing on these goals on a day like the 15th of September is absolutely fundamental for a proper unfolding of the 17 goals and for their realisation as well as for a continuous and progressive evolvement of democracy itself.


On this occasion, Geneva hosts a week of events to raise awareness on democracy (15 - 24 September), the CIPADH is taking part in the conferences, debates, expositions etc. organised for the duration of the week and reporting some of them.



1International IDEA (2013) “Democracy and Human Rights: The Role of the UN”. Available at:

2United Nations (2015) “International Day of Democracy, 15 September”. Available at:

3 IDEA, Op.Cit.

4OHCHR (2007) “Rule of Law - Democracy and Human Rights”. Available at:

5 Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948. Available at:

6 United Nations, Op.Cit.

7 Ibidem

8United Nations, “Sustainable Development Goals”. Available at:

9 Ibidem

10 Ibidem

11 United Nations, Op.Cit.



MR - Research Assistant at CIPADH



International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966. Available at:

International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights 1966. Available at:

International IDEA (2013) “Democracy and Human Rights: The Role of the UN”. Available at:

OHCHR (2007) “Rule of Law - Democracy and Human Rights”. Available at:

United Nations (2015) “International Day of Democracy, 15 September”. Available at:

United Nations, “Sustainable Development Goals”. Available at:

Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948. Available at: