27 OCTOBER 2021

Democracy and the rule of law

Author: Doris Belančić, MA Student International Relations and Diplomacy, Faculty of Political Science, University of Sarajevo

The term democracy originates from the two Greek words demos (meaning people) and kratos (meaning rule). Although there are many different ways to define the term democracy an interesting to describe democracy is that democracy is the government of the people, by the people and for the people which were the words of the 16th president of the United States Abraham Lincoln. From this statement we can conclude that democracy is a government comes from the people, it is exercised by the people, and for the purpose of the people’s own interests. Democracy can also be explained as the belief in freedom and equality between people or a system of government based on this belief.  It is important to emphasize that democracy is a set of ideas and principles about freedom, but it also consists of practices and procedures that have been molded through a long history.

Elections are of the utmost importance for democracy. In a democratic society, citizens are ones that have the right to vote and therefore choose the candidate that will be elected. Democratic elections are free when citizens have the right to choose from several candidates or parties that can run for the election without any restriction. In democratic elections, there must be no way of knowing for which political party or for which particular candidate a citizen has voted. Democratic elections are public and transparent. This means that each citizen has the right to attend the counting of the votes when the ballot box is opened. The media plays a major role when it comes to democratic elections. The public opinion is formed based on what is shown in the media. The presentation of a candidate in the media can affect how the citizens form their opinion about the candidate. Of course, there are different factors that can affect public opinion such as speeches that the candidates give, the candidate’s personality type, the candidate’s cultural background, the candidate’s approach to the audience and other.

Pluralism is a political philosophy explaining that people of different beliefs, backgrounds, and lifestyles can coexist in the same society and participate equally in the political process. In a democracy, pluralism is considered and applied as a form of social order and policy. Pluralist democracy is a political system where there is more than one center of power. Besides the government public and private institutions, legal forums, political parties, organizations, associations can be important in decision making as well.

In such a modern, well developed, digitized society, the democratic approach is the most effective because of the political structure of many countries in today’s society. Citizens should be given a right to vote and express their opinion by doing this.

Human rights are much more than a component of democracy. The development and evolution of human rights are only possible when humans live in a democracy. Human rights can be defined as rights that are inherent to the individuality of each person, in terms of protection against any inclination of the State to harm an individual; a human being is endowed with these rights the moment he/she is born, and the State cannot withdraw them from him/her. Another way to describe Human rights is that Human rights are rights that every human being has by virtue of his or her human dignity. Human rights are universal because they are based on every human being’s dignity, disrespectful of race, sex, ethnic or social origin, religion, language, nationality, age, sexual orientation, disability or any other distinguishing characteristic. Since they are accepted by all States and people, they apply equally and indiscriminately to every person and are the same for everyone everywhere.

The five basic human rights are:

  1. Right to Equality
  2. Freedom from Discrimination
  3. Right to Life, Liberty, Personal Security
  4. Freedom from Slavery
  5. Freedom from Torture and Degrading Treatment

International human rights law emphasizes the obligations of Governments to act in certain ways or to refrain from certain acts, in order to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms of individuals or groups. The creation of a comprehensive body of human rights law is based on a universal and internationally protected code to which all nations can subscribe, and all people aspire.

There are different types of Human rights: in the area of civil and political rights, in the area of economic, social and cultural rights, in the area of collective rights.

Examples of civil and political rights:

  • Right to life
  • Freedom from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
  • Freedom from slavery, servitude and forced labour
  • Right to liberty and security of person

Examples of economic, social and cultural rights:

  • Right to work
  • Right to just and favorable conditions of work
  • Right to form and join trade unions
  • Right to social security

Some of the human rights that must be mentioned are the ones about discrimination against specific groups. The right to equality obliges States to ensure observance of human rights without discrimination on any grounds, including sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, membership of a national minority, property, birth, age, disability, sexual orientation and social or other status. The fight against discrimination remains a struggle for many people around the globe today.

Human rights are universal, indivisible, and interdependent and interrelated. Although we live in a modern well-developed society the need of protection against any inclination of the State to harm an individual remains because not all societies are the same. Many human rights violations still take place in certain societies.

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