By: Vivian Aiyedogbon

Being my first article written in relation to International Human Rights Law (IHRL) I
thought it’d be appropriate to review one of the principles considered essential within
this discipline; that is the principle of democracy. Primarily, it is important to
distinguish the principle from the system of democracy, whilst understanding that the
latter has defined the principle. On this basis, I will first define democracy and how
this can be understood as a principle. Then I will particularly focus on the influence of
democracy in the International Human Rights System. Considering this, I will observe
the principle within the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), especially as the
political tradition common to most European countries is that of democracy. The
Refah Partisi and others v. Turkey (Refah) case is of particular concern here,
considering that the ECtHR essentially equate realising human rights to the “proper
operation of the principle of democracy”. I will offer a critique concerning the
political approach of the ECtHR and their assumption that legal pluralism is
incompatible with IHRL.

The second part of this article focuses on whether the principle should play a material
role in realising IHRL, in relation to the African region. Particularly, reference is
made to Social and Economic Rights Action Centre and Another v Nigeria (SERAC).
This raises complex implications for the application of the principle of democracy in
multi-ethnic communities. Overall, whilst the principle of democracy can and does
play a material role in realising IHRL, it should still respect the “independent space of
the latter”.

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