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Conclusions

Conclusions

Despite international commitment to electoral participation, such rights for forced migrants frequently remain marginalized, if they are recognized at all. The PEP comments that: 'Many post-conflict elections have not provided for the participation of refugees and IDPs.' Further work is needed to identify the number of forced migrants that have been or are disenfranchised. Very approximately, if there are 37 million forced migrants (refugees, asylum seekers, and IDPs), and if 55 per cent are eligible to vote (e.g., are 18 or over), then over 20 million people could be disenfranchised. Of course, many of these forced migrants will be from countries that are not likely to be holding meaningful elections.

As democratic credentials become increasingly important internationally, the implementation of elections has become a subject for scrutiny. However, emerging election standards do not specifically address provision for forced migrants. This leaves forced migrants in a difficult position for challenging decisions and practices - in addition to having to make a complaint from another country, they are left without explicit international standards to refer to.

Forced migrants' non-participation has implications not only for the forced migrants themselves, but for the whole country, which may be left without a representative government, and with reduced chances of peaceful political solutions based on dialogue and negotiation. There may also be consequences for the international community, which may have to deal with a government that could be regarded as illegitimate, with the increased chance of continuing conflict, and with the reduced likelihood that refugees will return.

There are many issues that warrant further study. These include the impact on forced migrants of being disenfranchised; the most effective and economical means for conducting forced migrants' electoral registration and voting; observation methodologies; and ways of promoting electoral engagement in forced migrants - to name but a few.

What is clear so far, however, is that forced migrants' electoral rights need to be put securely on the agenda. There are various ways that this may be achieved: through developing international standards, legal cases, and technical support, making provisions within peace and settlement agreements, developing monitoring systems, and inviting special comments and rapporteurs from international organizations. There is legal argument to support forced migrants' participation. General practice and policies need to be developed accordingly, so that forced migrants, who have after all not chosen to leave their homes, are not stripped of their most basic political voice and human right.

Last updated Aug 17, 2011