Guidance Note of the UN Secretary-General on Democracy

(UN Secretary-General, November 2007)


Core democratic principles are outlined in this note. Some of the more important procedures to develop, maintain, improve… democracies are described. The following are identified as essential elements of democracy:

  • Democracy is government by and for the citizens
  • Respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms are written into constitutions
  • Freedom of association: citizens have the right to form independent associations and organisations, including independent political parties and interest groups
  • Freedom of expression and opinion: citizens have the right to express themselves on all matters including politics without the risk of state punishment; citizens are ethically, morally, legally… responsible for their actions
  • Access to power and its exercise is in accordance with the rule of law:
    • All adults have the right to vote in elections
    • All adults have the right to run for public office
  • As an expression of the will of the people, elected representatives:
    • Are chosen in frequent and fair elections by: universal suffrage; secret ballot
    • Exercise their constitutional powers without facing overriding opposition from unelected officials
  • A pluralistic system of political parties and organizations is essential
  • The separation of powers – executive, legislative, judicial – is written into constitutions
  • The independence of the judiciary is written into constitutions
  • Transparency and accountability in public administration is constitutional
  • Free, independent, pluralistic… media: citizens have the right to seek out alternative sources of information, such as the news media. Such sources are protected by law
  • Control over government decisions about policy constitutionality is vested in the elected representatives
  • Government is autonomous and able to act independently from outside constraints such as those imposed by alliances, blocs… other powerful entities