Our modern system of democracy can be seen then to be comprised of six pillars, each of which acts as a defence against the abuse of power by pathologically disordered leaders and elites. Political participation through democratic elections and direct participation of citizens in government, the rule of law applied equally to all, Constitutional constraints on the power of government, a prohibition on the imposition of state sponsored ideology, social democracy to ensure social stability, and finally the protection of fundamental human rights through international law.
The Second World War provided the catalyst for the development of this final pillar in our modern system of democracy – the legal protection of fundamental human rights.That a new fundamental principle of national and international law was needed became abundantly clear when Hermann Goering asserted during the Nuremberg Trials that the murder of six million Jews ‘was our right! We were a sovereign State and that was strictly our business.’ In the aftermath of the Holocaust, the protection of the basic rights of every individual, even against the will of the majority, was now seen as an essential duty of government and a duty which had to be enforced by international law. How governments treat their own citizens could no longer be left purely as a matter of domestic concern.
Through the signing of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, the principle of fundamental human rights, enunciated in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, was finally put into practice. The French Revolution enjoyed, at last, its long delayed victory. The rights established in the Universal Declaration were arrived at through a debate that encompassed the global community. In adopting the Declaration, the nations of the world agreed that every person has the right to life, liberty and security of person; that every person is equal before the law; that everyone is entitled to freedom of conscience, of religion, of expression, and of assembly; and that every person is entitled to the right to work, to food, to shelter, and to education. In adopting the Declaration, the world’s governments agreed that these rights apply to every human being regardless of race, gender or social class and are not negotiable on the basis of traditional or local cultural or religious practice. Religious or cultural diversity can be only valid if as it does not betray our common humanity.
Since the Declaration’s signing, a body of international law and an array of institutions have been established around the world to protect the rights of citizens. Three regional human rights systems have been set up. The European human rights system is the most developed, but regional systems are also in place in the Americas and in Africa. Independent Human Rights Commissions have also been established by many governments around the world to protect human rights within national boundaries.
The creation of the International Criminal Court in 2001 marked a further strengthening of the international human rights system. It has been established to act when a state commits serious human rights abuses and is unwilling or unable to prosecute the perpetrators itself. In 2012, the Court issued its first ever verdict, convicting Thomas Lubanga Dyilo of conscripting child soldiers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Also in 2012, it set legal precedent by sentencing Charles Taylor to fifty years in prison for aiding and abetting rebels who carried out atrocities in Sierra Leone during its harrowing civil war.
There is a crucial link between human behaviour and effective democracy, including crucially the protection of the basic human rights of every human being. The more progress we make towards truly democratic societies, the more likely we will be to behave with humanity towards one another. The further we move from democracy’s ideals, the more intolerant and aggressive we become.
Our future depends crucially on us recognising this basic psychological fact about ourselves and acting upon it.
 Quoted in Paul Gordon Lauren, The Evolution of International Human Rights: Visions Seen, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003:202