About Good Governance


What is good governance?

Governance refers to all processes of governing, the institutions, processes and practices through which issues of common concern are decided upon and regulated. Good governance adds a normative or evaluative attribute to the process of governing. From a human rights perspective it refers primarily to  the process whereby public institutions conduct public affairs, manage public resources and guarantee the realisation of human rights.  

While there is no internationally agreed definition of 'good governance', it may span the following topics: full respect of human rights, the rule of law, effective participation, multi-actor partnerships, political pluralism, transparent and accountable processes and institutions, an efficient and effective public sector, legitimacy, access to knowledge, information and education, political empowerment of people, equity, sustainability, and attitudes and values that foster responsibility, solidarity and tolerance.

In summary, good governance relates to the political and institutional processes and outcomes that are necessary to achieve the goals of development. The true test of 'good' governance is the degree to which it delivers on the promise of human rights: civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights. The key question is: are the institutions of governance effectively guaranteeing the right to health, adequate housing, sufficient food, quality education, fair justice and personal security?

Key attributes of good governance

The Human Rights Council has identified the key attributes of good governance:

  • transparency
  • responsibility
  • accountability
  • participation
  • responsiveness (to the needs of the people)

How are good governance and human rights linked?

Good governance and human rights are mutually reinforcing. Human rights standards and principles provide a set of values to guide the work of governments and other political and social actors. They also provide a set of performance standards against which these actors can be held accountable. Moreover, human rights principles inform the content of good governance efforts: they may inform the development of legislative frameworks, policies, programmes, budgetary allocations and other measures.

On the other hand, without good governance, human rights cannot be respected and protected in a sustainable manner. The implementation of human rights relies on a conducive and enabling environment. This includes appropriate legal frameworks and institutions as well as political, managerial and administrative processes responsible for responding to the rights and needs of the population.

The links between good governance and human rights can be organised around four areas:

1. Democratic institutions

When led by human rights values, good governance reforms of democratic institutions create avenues for the public to participate in policymaking either through formal institutions or informal consultations. They also establish mechanisms for the inclusion of multiple social groups in decision-making processes, especially locally. Finally, they may encourage civil society and local communities to formulate and express their positions on issues of importance to them.

2. Public service delivery

In the realm of delivering state services to the public, good governance reforms advance human rights when they improve the state's capacity to fulfil its responsibility to provide public goods which are essential for the protection of a number of human rights, such as the right to education, health and food. Reform initiatives may include mechanisms of accountability and transparency, culturally sensitive policy tools to ensure that services are accessible and acceptable to all, and paths for public participation in decision-making.

3. Rule of law

When it comes to the rule of law, human rights-sensitive good governance initiatives reform legislation and assist institutions ranging from penal systems to courts and parliaments to better implement that legislation. Good governance initiatives may include advocacy for legal reform, public awareness-raising on the national and international legal framework, and capacity-building or reform of institutions.

4. Anti-corruption

In fighting corruption, good governance efforts rely on principles such as accountability, transparency and participation to shape anti-corruption measures. Initiatives may include establishing institutions such as anti-corruption commissions, creating mechanisms of information sharing, and monitoring governments' use of public funds and implementation of policies.