Democracy, a system of government in which the citizens of a country rule by majority vote, is a political system that the United Nations describes as "a universally recognized ideal." More than half of the world's population lives in countries that are at least partially democratic, and international organizations hope to help this number increase. Their efforts are based on the idea that democracy benefits people by protecting basic human rights.
Protection from Abuse of Power
The United States, a type of representative democracy known as a republic, has three branches of government: the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches. No branch is able to obtain more power than the other two because each is legally restricted with a series of checks and balances. Checks and balances are a critical part of any democratic system because they spread power among multiple groups and thus prevent a dictatorship from forming. This balance of power helps to ensure that the will of a country's citizens is enforced rather than the will of a small group of political leaders.
Limited Majority Rule
An indispensable part of democracy is majority rule, which is carried out by voting. However, unrestricted majority rule poses a threat to the liberty of a population's minority members. All modern democracies operate within a framework of laws that restrict majority rule by guaranteeing all citizens the same rights. Representative democracies further limit majority rule by placing responsibility for legislation in the hands of elected representatives. Representatives are expected to vote in the interests of those who elect them, but they must also consider the long term impact of legislation before responding to a popular opinion.
In the early 2000s, the U.N. organization then known as the Commission on Human Rights determined that no society without basic civil liberties can be classified as a democracy. Freedoms of association, speech, voting and media access are all protected by democracy in addition to other basic human rights. Civil liberties are necessary to democracy because without them, the citizens of a country cannot govern themselves. Speech and uncensored media access are critical to the dissemination of new ideas and the process of consensus-building through debate.
Another important aspect of a democracy is its legal system. In the United States, all citizens are given legal rights guaranteeing, for example, a speedy trial and impartial jury. A democracy's inherent respect for human rights and its established rules providing rights to an accused person ensure that all people are fairly tried and given the opportunity to defend themselves. The rights of the accused are further protected in a democratic society by guaranteeing that a convicted person will not be subjected to torture or inhumane punishment.
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