Democracy and Human Rights Democracy and human rights are clearly different notions; “they are distinct enough for them to be viewed as discreet and differentiated political concepts. ” Whereas democracy aims to empower ‘the people” collectively, human rights aims to empower individuals. Similarly, human rights is directly associated with the how of ruling, and not just the who, which may be the case in an electoral democracy, though not in a substantive democracy.
Thus, “democracies” exist that do not necessarily protect human rights, while some on-democratic states are able to ensure some, though not all, human rights. On another level, the international acceptance, institutionalizing, and legal aspects of human rights mentioned above do not apply to democracy. These distinctions have influenced the traditional separation of the theories and fields Of human rights and democracy.
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From the human rights perspective, many have adhered to the separation theory, which argues that “democracy is not immediately needed for the observation of human rights and that the maintenance of an essential link between human rights and necromancy may well have the effect of delaying the implementation of human rights norms in various states. ” A recent corollary of the separation theory is the “democracy as neo-imperialism” notion that charges that “democracy is a ‘Western-centric’ approach to government that is not found indigenously in all societies and is not desirable for all peoples. These arguments are subject to several key counter arguments that illustrate the interdependence of human rights and democracy. First, in terms of the neo- imperialist argument, it is certainly true that Western superpowers should not impose their particular forms of democracy on other societies and expect them to be accepted and sustainable, as noted above. However, it is equally culturally insensitive to claim that democracy is only an option in the West, or that it is incompatible with other cultures.
Secondly, in reference to the separation theory, while it would be unwise to “wait’ for democracy to start promoting human rights, it must also be recognized that some human rights are intrinsically linked with institutions and principles of democracy. Furthermore, separating human rights from democracy undermines opportunities for implementation, in that it reduces human rights to standards or norms; as Longish states, “human rights amount to little more than charity if they are not functioning in a democratic framework. Essentially, the inclination to separate human rights from democracy is rooted in the acceptance of their traditional definitions. An electoral democracy that lacks the other institutions and principles of a substantive democracy can function without necessarily guaranteeing human rights, just as some narrowly defined human rights can still be realized in the absence Of democracy. However, the re-conceptualization Of democracy as substantive, and of human rights as being more far-reaching and inclusive, underscores the necessity of linking the two.
This interdependence occurs on the levels of principle, enforcement, and specific rights. On the conceptual level, as Longish notes, “both contemporary liberal democracy and human rights are derived from and express the assumptions of liberalism,” which include individualism, egalitarianism, and universalism. Furthermore, both democracy and human rights pursue a common agenda, and it is “only within democracy [that] human rights standards or norms [are] transcended such that the values articulated by these norms or standards are genuine rights. In addition, it is only in a well-functioning democracy that individual citizens have access to mechanisms to ensure the implementation of their rights. The relationship between human rights and democracy is perhaps most clear through an examination of civil and political rights, especially those articulated in Article 21 of the UDDER and Article 25 of the CIVIC, both of which ensure citizen participation in government through free and fair elections and through direct service and participation.
These rights are related to the rights of expression, association, assembly, and movement, which are also interdependent with democracy, as well as the rights to liberty, security of person, and the guarantee of due process of the law. Economic, social, and cultural rights are also being increasingly recognized as being mutually dependent, if not integral, with democracy. As Gusto writes, “the pursuit of the right to development and socio-economic rights is strongly associated with the social democracy vision of poverty eradication and the equitable distribution of ownership, control, and the benefits of wealth. Indeed, political and civil rights can best (and perhaps only) be realized by citizens who meet a basic level of physical security in terms of access to shelter, water, sanitation, and food, as well as education, healthcare, and employment or income. Socially, democracy is interrelated with rights to equality and non-discrimination, especially for marginalia groups including women and minorities. Culturally, the respect for diversity and pluralism inherent to democracy is linked to the protection of rights related to engage, religion, or ethnicity.
It is thus clear that human rights and democracy are interdependent, especially when defined in the broader conceptualizations of democracy as substantive democracy, and human rights as civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights. These different kinds of rights cannot be realized in a non-democratic system, and likewise, no democracy is sustainable without the presence of these rights. While this relationship is evident in theory, it is perhaps more useful to consider the interdependence of human rights and democracy through the case study of an emerging democracy.