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Democracy as an International Obligation of States and Right of the People

Linda Wittor

There is a clear development towards the acknowledgement of democracy as a universal concern. States and international organisations openly support democracy and condemn setbacks in democratisation and consolidation of democracy. But how far does this development go? The author sheds light on the question of an international obligation of states to promote and protect democratic structures as well as a corresponding right of the people. Coming to the conclusion that such norms exist in certain regions and are emerging universally, the author further analyses whether this challenges existing rules of international law, namely the prohibition of the use of force and intervention. Lastly, it is dealt with the question of whether and how such a norm could be enforced under existing mechanisms.
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A. Introduction – Democracy in international law

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Without doubt, there is a worldwide development towards the acknowledgement of democracy as a universal concern. States and international organisations openly support democracy as the favoured political system and condemn setbacks in the process of democratisation and consolidation of democracy. The so-called Arab Spring in 2011 again raised society’s awareness on the fact that what may have become self-evident for most parts of the Western world – to elect one’s leaders, to comment and criticise public administration and legislation, news coverage and so on – is something that other people around the world are willing to die for. Indeed, democracy became an issue of international politics and law. But how far does this development go? The following inquiry shall shed light on the questions of whether and how democracy is defined in international law and whether it plays a legal role in the form that diverse state obligations and rights of the people emerge or existing international rules and standards are modified.

I. Filling the term with life

Democracy derives from the Greek word démokratia which means rule by the people.1 In international law, democracy is not a clearly defined term. The term is, however, used in various international legal documents and academic literature.

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