2016 Theme: Democracy and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development
In September 2015, all 193 Member States of the United Nations adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development — a plan for achieving a better future for all, laying out a path over 15 years to end extreme poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and protect our planet. At the heart of the Agenda are the Sustainable Development Goals, which call for mobilizing efforts to end all forms of poverty, fight inequalities and tackle climate change, while ensuring that no one is left behind.
The new goals result from a process that has been more inclusive than ever, with Governments involving business, civil society and citizens from the outset. Now, the task of implementing and monitoring the Sustainable Development Goals requires States to work in close partnership with civil society. Parliaments in particular have a critical role in translating the new sustainable development agenda into concrete action through passing legislation, making budget allocations and holding governments accountable.
Speaking at the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s Fourth World Conference of Speakers of Parliament, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon commended the parliamentarians of the world for the valuable role they played in shaping the new framework. He also underscored that their contribution to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda will be equally critical: “People will look to you to hold your governments accountable for achieving the goals, and to write the laws and invest in the programmes that will make them a reality,” he said, noting that democratic principles also run through the entire document “like a silver thread.”
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.”
The Goal is both an end in itself and a crucial part of delivering sustainable development in all countries. It has been seen by many commentators as the transformational goal and key to ensuring that the Agenda can be accomplished.
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 Rights which 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.