Democracy, Human Rights and Governance (DRG) are the foundation to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (Link). In this section we will explain the main concepts and factors associated with them. Considering the body of work and experience of the USAID in the field, this section will leverage the definitions and frameworks that this Department has been promoting in collaboration with the knowledge produced by other organizations such as the Freedom House, DME for Peace, Mercy Corps, Minorities at Risk Project of University of Maryland, Polity, Collaborative Learning Projects (CDA)and Transparency International among others. In Resource 2.3 we are including the sources and resources from where these definitions are taken to allow for further exploration for those interested.
2.1 Definitions of Democracy, Human Rights and Governance
In this toolkit, we will consider democracy, human rights and governance as follows:
- Democracy refers to “a universal value based on the freely expressed will of people to determine their political, economic, social and cultural systems and their full participation in all aspects of their lives (...) while democracies share common features, there is no single model of democracy and democracy does not belong to any country or region” (United Nations, General Assembly 2010). Other important concepts related to democracy that have been highly validated worldwide by the General Assembly are the need to respect the sovereignty and the right to self-determination, and to see the links between democracy, development and respect for all human rights as they are interdependent and mutually reinforcing (United Nations, General Assembly 2010).
- Human rights refers to the moral principles and norms that recognize that human rights are universal, inalienable and inherent to all human beings, regardless of their nation, location, language, religion, ethnic origin, or any other status, meaning that we are all equally entitled to our human rights without discrimination.
The core international normative body starts in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights formulated by the United Nations General Assembly on December 1948 together with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights from the International Bill of Human Rights.
Other conventions adopted by the United Nations to address the situation of specific populations are:
- The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination;
- The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women;
- The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment;
- The Convention on the Rights of the Child;
- The International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families;
- The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; and
- The International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. (OHCHR, 2012 p.14)
This international normative body provides a framework for the design, implementation and evaluation of DRG initiatives worldwide. However at the national level there are differences in how countries apply this international norms depending on: how many treaties they have ratified, their national normatives to guarantee human rights and policies and how proactively their programs and interventions are to guarantee the protection of human rights.
- Governance refers to the process of decision making and the implementation (or not) of those decisions. It can take place in different settings/levels. An analysis of governance requires then to review the diverse actors and structures involved in decision making and processes. And Good governance should be participatory, consensus oriented, accountable, transparent, responsive, effective and efficient, equitable and inclusive and follows the rule of law (UN ESCAP nd).
Kaufman and Kray from the World Bank Institute defines Governance as the traditions and institutions by which authority is exercised. This is composed by:
- The process by which those in authority are selected and replaced: of which indicators are voice and accountability and political stability and violence
- The capacity of governments to formulate and implement policies: which indicators are government effectiveness and regulatory burden.
- The respect of citizens and state of those that govern interactions among them: rule of law and corruption.
2.2 Critical factors and stakeholders to understand DRG challenges
Based on the definitions and methodology developed by the Freedom House to measure “democratization” in the world below the key categories to assess progress and setbacks of democratic change (Freedom House)
- National Democratic Governance. Considers the democratic character and stability of the governmental system; the independence, effectiveness, and accountability of legislative and executive branches; and the democratic oversight of military and security services.
- Electoral Process. Examines national executive and legislative elections, electoral processes, the development of multiparty systems, and popular participation in the political process.
- Civil Society. Assesses the growth of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), their organizational capacity and financial sustainability, and the legal and political environment in which they function; the development of free trade unions; interest group participation in the policy process; and the threat posed by antidemocratic extremist groups in society.
- Independent Media. Addresses the current state of press freedom, including libel laws, harassment of journalists, and editorial independence; the emergence of a financially viable private press; and internet access for private citizens.
- Local Democratic Governance. Considers the decentralization of power; the responsibilities, election, and capacity of local governmental bodies; and the transparency and accountability of local authorities.
- Judicial Framework and Independence. Highlights constitutional reform, human rights protections, criminal code reform, judicial independence, the status of ethnic minority rights, guarantees of equality before the law, treatment of suspects and prisoners, and compliance with judicial decisions.
- Corruption. Looks at public perceptions of corruption, the business interests of top policymakers, laws on financial disclosure and conflict of interest, and the efficacy of anticorruption initiatives.
Given the profound influence of the country type and political trend in the DRG challenges it is worth considering here another segmentation based on 1) the political system and 2) the trajectory offered by USAID (2014, p.8-9):
1) The political system differentiates a country based on their regime:
- Consolidated democracies are those which have the best policies and practices of liberal democracies such as having the authority of government being based on universal and equal suffrage from free, and fair elections, power rotates among a range of different political parties, Civil society and Media are independent and vibrant, Freedom of expression is protected, National and local governmental systems are stable, democratic, and accountable to the public, The judiciary is independent and impartial, as well as Government, the economy, and society are free of excessive corruption, among others (Freedom House).
- Developing democracies include nascent democracies coming out of a political transition, slightly more established democracies at risk of backsliding or stagnation, and better-performing democracies striving to consolidate their progress. They have the potential to devolve into democratic failure and political crisis, but often have the most potential for assistance impact to consolidate democratic gains.
- Hybrid regimes are an expansive category, ranging from repressive semi-authoritarian regimes to political systems with more civil and political freedoms but with no genuine foundation for democratic governance and institutions.
- Authoritarian regimes include closed societies where autocrats and allied elites maintain firm control over a political process that limits meaningful participation of citizens and where there is little potential opportunity for a democratic opening in the near term.
2) The trajectory segments countries based on their overarching characteristics towards political competition and freedom:
- Conflict and fragility can be seen in all country types but most often emerge in hybrid and developing democracies. Conflict dramatically disrupts development and weakens social and political institutions. Conflict and fragility will in many cases strongly constrain and condition paths to democracy.
- Transitions are characterized by fundamental transformations of the political order. Profound transformations of political (and often social) institutions may render these countries unable to be clearly situated within one of the country contexts. These fluid environments require rapid action and a balanced attention to immediate as well as longer term institutional needs.
- Backsliding countries are those hybrid or developing democracies that have progressed along the democratic continuum only to later retrench due to political elites seeking to consolidate power and restrict freedoms. The existence of backsliding in a country requires a shift in the nature of USAID’s policy strategic and programmatic engagement.