En kvinna i den kurdiska delen av Iraq röstar i parlaments- och presidentvalet 2009.

Sida has contributed to general elections in many countries, including Guatemala, East Timor, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Iraq. This picture is from the parliamentary election in Iraqi Kurdistan in July 2009.

Photo: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

Democracy, human rights and freedom of expression

Democracy and human rights

Published: 2 December 2009 Updated: 15 December 2014

Democracy and human rights is the thematic area where Sida contributes with most of its funding. In 2012, Sida allocated 29 per cent of its support to efforts to strengthen democracy, human rights and public administration.

Respect for human rights and fostering democracy has reached different stages in our partner countries. Our development cooperation must therefore be carefully adapted according to the context and political situation of each country.

Some of our partner countries are not governed by democratic principles. There is a continuing discussion about whether it is right or wrong to provide support to these countries. However, most of our development cooperation funding is granted to democracy and human rights organisations that work independently from their governments. This is one way of working towards achieving a long term change.

About one fifth of Sida’s total development cooperation for democracy and human rights (i.e. SEK 5 billion) is allotted to support conflict and post-conflict countries. Equal part is allocated to support through the UN and other multilateral organisations, particularly the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the OHCHR. Supporting reforms in Eastern Europe is another element of Swedish development cooperation.

Almost half of Sida’s development aid for democracy and human rights is granted to Swedish, international, regional and local civil society organisations.

In addition, interventions in other areas also contribute to a greater democracy. For example, education and knowledge are essential for citizens’ participation in political processes and community development. As more rural households gain access to electricity and thereby internet or television, the opportunities to read and interact increase.

A state has many obligations in a democracy, but in many of our partner countries public administration is weak and insufficient. Part of our development cooperation for democracy and human rights is therefore allocated to strengthen state authorities in our partner countries, so that they have better tools to serve their citizens, with rights and needs of people living in poverty as a starting point.

Sweden supports a number of interventions where Swedish authorities, through development cooperation, directly collaborate with their equivalent authorities in developing countries. Statistics Sweden is one such example. Access to statistical data that provide facts about development issues is an important tool in planning relevant contributions to combat poverty. The Swedish National Audit Office and the Swedish Tax Agency are other examples where Swedish authorities are engaged in development assistance efforts. Outlining the state budget in a way that citizens understand reduces the risk of corruption and mismanagement of resources by increasing opportunities for citizens to demand accountability from their government and their elected representatives. Adamant and frequent tax collection is also a crucial tool in ensuring that the state is able to provide services to their citizens. Some examples include supporting the national audit office in Liberia and a major tax reform process in Indonesia.

In many countries, such as Peru, Bolivia and Mozambique, Sida has contributed to creating ombudsmen offices that have the task to monitor and report about human rights abuses and seek redress for people who have been subjected to persecution.

The judicial system

A well-functioning judicial system is central to any democracy. People need a judicial system that will justly resolve all kinds of disputes and ensure an impartial application of laws and regulations.

In addition, a functioning judicial system guarantees safety for every citizen and fosters law enforcement that respects the rights of both victims and criminals. Swedish development aid is used to strengthen the judicial system as a whole, with focus on e.g. improved communication and cooperation between institutions strengthening independence of courts, advancing gender equality within the police, etc.

Many efforts that Sida supports have to do with improving poor people’s access to judicial systems. For example, in Nicaragua Sida has long been supporting the so-called “barefoot lawyers”, so that even the poorest people are able to afford a lawyer. Training lawyers is also an important part of development cooperation.

More free elections

Free elections and being able to choose between multiple parties are obvious parts of any democracy. One requirement is that all citizens are given the opportunity to participate and that they feel free to vote.

Sida provides electoral assistance in many countries. Some of our efforts include establishing well-functioning electoral authorities that help citizens register for elections and exercise their right to vote. Another important factor is including more women in political processes. Development cooperation is also granted for election observers who monitor whether the elections are held free and fair.

Defenders of democracy

Democracy is not a static state. It must constantly be defended and strengthened. In order to strengthen and support the work of democracy defenders, Sida has been supporting special interventions on democratisation and freedom of expression since 2009. This is done in addition to Sida's usual interventions.

Three major areas in democratic development cooperation:

  • Civil and political rights
  • State democratic institutions
  • Defenders of democracy

Page owner: The Communication Department

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