Democracy and human rights: irreconcilable or not?



Many in the human rights community sense an increasing tension in the relationship between the functioning of status quo democratic institutions and the principles enshrined for decades in global human rights frameworks. Challenges to conventional democratic and rights principles are now a common feature of political mobilization. These challenges are emerging from popularly elected nationalist governments that reject any legitimacy of universal human rights. They are also, however, coming from historically marginalized and excluded groups who demand a more expansive understanding of democracy and rights and sometimes reject the very concept of rights as too limited or culturally specific in nature. This series examines the relationships between global rights and democracy by considering: under what conditions do global frameworks in areas like human rights, women’s rights, environmental rights, and indigenous rights promote a deepening of democracy and when do they undermine democracy? Can collective rights and individual rights be simultaneously respected and accommodated in democratic institutions? Should we shift ultimately from a rights-based understanding of democratic inclusion to an entirely different logic?

Collaborating Editor (2017): Lisa Sundstrom

Photo: Women's March on January 21, 2017, Washington D.C. Jerry Kiesewetter/Unsplash (Some rights reserved)



Global Rule of Law Index reveals worrying trends for human rights protection

By: Elizabeth Andersen & Alicia Evangelides

The rule of law is the foundation for human rights, and a global index shows respect for this fundamental ...

Turkey’s democratic deficit and the European Court of Human Rights

By: Dilek Kurban

Erdoğan will likely succeed in removing the only genuine political opposition in the Turkish Parliament. ...

Five key battles for re-imagining democracy in a radically changed world

By: Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah

The challenges facing civil society now aren’t about reviving our weakening de-mocracies—they are about ...

Evidence indicates that we should be hopeful—not hopeless—about human rights

By: Kathryn Sikkink
Español | Português

We compare our current human rights situation not to the past but to an imagined ideal world, and thus ...

Building up vs. trickling down: human rights in Southern Africa

By: Kristi Heather Kenyon
Español | Setswana | Zulu

Do we achieve human rights by enacting UN-sanctioned treaties at the legislative level, or at the grassroots ...

The Achilles’ heel of the European Court of Human Rights

By: Sergei Golubok

The whole European system of human rights protection is powerless when confronted with bad faith, and ...

Indigenous rights in the Russian Arctic: self-determining communities or stakeholders?

By: Laura A. Henry

When indigenous rights are not observed, communities that shift their demands from the state to the ...

Losing the battle for hearts and minds

By: Stephen Hopgood

The battle for human rights—as seen in the treatment of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar—may be losing ground ...

Contesting regression: citizen solidarity vs. the decline of democracy

By: Alison Brysk

Even where rights are on the rocks, citizen solidarity and resilient rule of law are the best bets to ...

Irreconcilable tensions? Global human rights institutions and democracy

By: Lisa Sundstrom

To restore people’s faith in liberal democracy, will the human rights community need to scale back to ...

Will human rights law actually protect us from fascism?

By: Eva Nanopoulos

Human rights regimes such as the European Convention on Human Rights are unlikely to shield citizens ...

Modi and Trump - voting strongmen, voting hate

By: Zahir Janmohamed

Donald Trump’s win in the US and Narendra Modi’s in India two years ago are both about the majority ...

Human rights as a grassroots, transformative response to Trump’s “America”

By: Chris Grove
Español | العربية

Human rights—as a movement that critiques systemic inequalities and affirms our common humanity—offers ...

Making the human rights movement great again—amidst rising nationalism

By: James A. Goldston

As angry rhetoric and illiberal nationalism soars globally, the human rights movement needs clear thinking ...

Trump’s victory could push the human rights movement to transform

By: César Rodríguez-Garavito

Donald Trump’s victory is a threat to human rights, but could it also push the movement to transform ...

Trump’s election makes US human rights pariah

By: David Petrasek
Español | Français

A Trump presidency poses a grave threat to human rights—not only in the US but also worldwide. For ...

Trump and the limits of human rights

By: Samuel Moyn
Español | Français

No matter how good our ancestors were in creating the international human rights system, it cannot change ...

Fascism rising

By: Stephen Hopgood
Español | Français

Global institutions and principles now face their sternest test. Trump’s victory suggests human rights ...

Human rights, democracy, and development: partners at last

By: J. Brian Atwood
Español | Français | العربية

The human rights movement, the democracy-promotion community, and development donors have common goals, ...