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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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D. Concluding remarks


Democracy is without doubt highly valued in international documents and statements and democratisation is an internationally appreciated process. However, a strict reading of the relevant international conventions and an analysis of suitable state practice as well as opinio iuris does not allow for the affirmation of a concrete universal state obligation to democracy. Nor do the two main sources of international law generate a right to democracy similar to individual human rights or the right of self-determination. One may say that universally binding commitments to democratisation or the implementation of a minimum democratic standard are on their way. They are certainly expressed in global soft law documents, but the international disaccord regarding the form of democracy and democratisation processes does not allow for the next step. An individual or collective right to democracy is even further away. Even if both existed, they would not challenge the international law as is stands. The use of force and non-forceful interventions in the name of democracy remain unlawful. An (emerging) obligation to democracy cannot challenge these norms. As there is no universal mechanism that could address the violation of any obligation or right to become and remain democratic, such an international norm would further remain an empty promise.

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