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Human Rights, democracy and rule of law

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Human Rights, democracy and rule of law


For Democracy International the rule of law, human rights and democracy are the core principles of a modern democracy. However, what is the relationship between these terms? And when is it justified to claim that rule of law and democracy are threatened in different countries around the world?

The rule of law and the protection of human rights are necessary for a democracy to function/ to exist in reality.

This is because in a democracy the people (“citizens”) are the sovereign and hence govern themselves. For this democratic governance, the citizens must agree in democratic processes on the rules and law.

However, if for example rules of simple majority apply, there is the danger of a “tyranny of the majority” violating the needs of some people over others /minorities.  

Human Rights

This is the point in democracy human rights and civil rights come into play. According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights (see source).

Countries that have adopted the Universal Declaration and claim to be a democracy, hence must guarantee and recognise these inalienable human rights.

Civil rights

Moreover, civil rights are necessary to carry out the process of democratic decision-making. Only when there are rights such as freedom of speech, press and assembly, the right to privacy and equal voting rights, people can participate as active citizens in negotiating new rules and legislation to come into force.

Separation of powers     

To avoid any abuse of power and to control that the principles of law are applied coherently, separation of powers secures the procedures in a democracy. This core principle assumes that a democracy can only function if there is a clear division between those who pass the laws (legislature), those who implement them (executive), and those who monitor and check them (judiciary).

It is this separation of powers and the recognition of human and civil rights that presupposes the rule of law in a democracy. Or, putting it differently, rule of law and democracy are threatened when the separation of powers and human and civil rights are undermined.  

This text by Cora Pfafferott is the summary of Democracy International’s background dossier “The Rule of Law – When is it threatened?”. In this paper the relationship between democracy, rule of law and human rights is developed in –depth. Also there you find a concrete set of parameters Democracy International uses to analyse the situation of rule of law and democracy in nation states around the world.

Audio: Do we currently have to witness a backlash against human rights and democracy in different countries around the world? Listen to this podcast produced with participants of the Venice Academy of Human Rights in July 2016.


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