Prof. Chan Cho-wai: On the “International Standards” of Democracy

Original Facebook post by HKU Prof. Joseph Chan Cho-wai


Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) (1948)
3. The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government;
this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall
be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by
equivalent free voting procedures.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) (1966)
Article 25
Every citizen shall have the right and the opportunity, without any of the distinctions mentioned in article 2, and without unreasonable restrictions:
(b) To vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret ballot, guaranteeing the free expression of the will of the electors;

General Comment 25 of UN Human Rights Committee: The Right to Participate in Public Affairs, Voting Rights and the Right of Equal Access to Public Service (Art. 25) (1996)
15. The effective implementation of the right and the opportunity to stand for
elective office ensures that persons entitled to vote have a free choice of
candidates. Any restrictions on the right to stand for election, such as minimum age, must be justifiable on objective and reasonable criteria. Persons who are otherwise eligible to stand for election should not be excluded by unreasonable or discriminatory requirements such as education, residence or descent, or by reason of political affiliation. No person should suffer discrimination or disadvantage of any kind because of that person’s candidacy.

17. The right of persons to stand for election should not be limited unreasonably by requiring candidates to be members of parties or of specific parties. If a candidate is required to have a minimum number of supporters for nomination this requirement should be reasonable and not act as a barrier to candidacy. Without prejudice to paragraph (1) of article 5 of the Covenant, political opinion may not be used as a ground to deprive any person of the right to stand for election.


American Convention on Human Rights (AmCHR) (1969)
Article 23 Right to participate in government
1. b) to vote and to be elected in genuine periodic elections, which shall be by
universal and equal suffrage and by secret ballot that guarantees the free
expression of the will of the voters.

Convention of the Commonwealth of Independent States on Human
Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (1995) – former USSR republics
Article 9 Genuine Elections
2. Genuine elections shall make it possible for voters to elect candidates on the
basis of the constitution and laws. In genuine elections there is real political pluralism, ideological diversity and a multi-party system realized through the functioning of political parties whose lawful activity is under the legal protection of the state.

African Union Declaration on the Principles Governing Democratic Elections in Africa (2002)
IV. Elections: Rights and Obligations
3. Every citizen has the right to fully participate in the electoral processes of the country, including the right to vote or be voted for, according to the laws of the country and as guaranteed by the Constitution, without any kind of discrimination.

Declaration of Political Principles of the Economic Community of West
African States (1991)
6. We believe in the liberty of the individual and in his inalienable right to participate by means of free and democratic processes in the framing of the society in which he lives. We will therefore strive to encourage and promote in each of our countries, political pluralism and those representative institutions and guarantees for personal safety and freedom under the law that are our common heritage.

(Excerpts from “Compendium of International Standards for Elections” 2007)