International election standards
As discussed, international treaties contain democratic requirements. However these are general, stating the aim of periodic multi-party elections, but are not specific about what is required for an election to be acceptable. The Inter-Parliamentary Union state in Free and Fair Elections (Goodwin-Gill 1994) that 'The individual's right to take part in government, either directly or through freely chosen representatives, and the principle that the will of the people shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections, reflect what are called "obligations of result".' States undertake to achieve a specific result, but enjoy substantial choice of means in determining which path they will follow to reach the internationally required objective … Existing universal and regional human rights instruments, provide little detailed guidance on key issues, such as the periodicity of elections, the organisation and entitlements of political parties, voter rights and registration, or the conduct of the ballot. That elections should allow expression of the "will of the people" may offer a standard of effectiveness, but the ways and means by which progress towards that standard can be measured remain variable … a variety of inter-governmental and non-governmental organisations in election monitoring and technical assistance at the field level, is even now producing a body of practice that is contributing to the consolidation of norms and practices.'
The UN Human Rights Committee, which has a supervisory role under the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, established international Standards of Elections in 1996 ('The Right to Participate in Public Affairs, Voting Rights and the Right to Equal Access to Public Service,' General Comment 25, 510th meeting, 57th session):
· Article 25 of the covenant recognizes and protects the right of every citizen to take part in the conduct of public affairs, the right to vote and to be elected and the right to have access to public service. Whatever form of constitution or government is in force, the covenant requires states to adopt such legislative and other measures as may be necessary to ensure that citizens have an effective opportunity to enjoy the rights it protects.
· No distinctions are permitted between citizens in the enjoyment of these rights on the grounds of race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.
· Any conditions which apply to the exercise of the rights protected by Article 25 should be based on objective and reasonable criteria. The exercise of these rights by citizens may not be suspended or excluded except on grounds which are established by law and which are objective and reasonable.
· Citizens also take part in the conduct of public affairs by exerting influence through public debate and dialogue with their representatives or through their capacity to organize themselves. This participation is supported by ensuring freedom of expression, assembly and association.
· The right to vote at elections and referenda must be established by law and may be subject only to reasonable restrictions, such as setting a minimum age limit for the right to vote. It is unreasonable to restrict the right to vote on the ground of physical disability or to impose literacy, educational or property requirements.
· States must take effective measures to ensure that all persons entitled to vote are able to exercise that right. Where registration of voters is required, it should be facilitated and obstacles to such registration should not be imposed. If residence requirements apply to registration, they must be reasonable, and should not be imposed in such a way as to exclude the homeless from the right to vote. Voter education and registration campaigns are necessary to ensure the effective exercise of Article 25 rights by an informed community.
· Freedom of expression, assembly and association are essential conditions for the effective exercise of the right to vote and must be fully protected. Positive measures should be taken to overcome specific difficulties, such as illiteracy, language barriers, poverty, or impediments to freedom of movement which prevent persons entitled to vote from exercising their rights effectively. Information and materials about voting should be available in minority languages.
· In their reports, state parties should indicate and explain the legislative provisions which would deprive citizens of their right to vote. The grounds for such deprivation should be objective and reasonable.
· In conformity with paragraph (b), elections must be conducted fairly and freely on a periodic basis within a framework of laws guaranteeing the effective exercise of voting rights. Persons entitled to vote must be free to vote for any candidate for election and for or against any proposal submitted to referendum or plebiscite, and free to support or to oppose government, without undue influence or coercion of any kind which may distort or inhibit the free expression of the elector's will. Voters should be able to form opinions independently, free of violence or threat of violence, compulsion, inducement or manipulative interference of any kind.
In 1990, the CSCE (the OSCE's predecessor) adopted the Copenhagen Document, which at the time was said to represent the most coherent compilation of international standards for democratic elections, and the first time that states had made specific international commitments concerning election processes. Since 1990, additional commitments have supplemented the initial provisions of the Copenhagen Document in the OSCE area, the most recent example being the Istanbul Summit Declaration's commitment to implement ODIHR election-related recommendations.
ODIHR ( http://www.osce.org/odihr/) notes that during the past eleven years, ODIHR and other institutions 'have contributed to the codification of international standards related to elections. In Europe, the work in the field by the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly, Council for Democratic Elections and the European Commission for Democracy Through Law (Venice Commission), and the case law for the European Court of human Rights have enriched the international standards for democratic elections. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Commonwealth of Independent States is the most recent contributor to the effort. On the global scale, the UN Human Rights Committee adopted a General Comment on standards for democratic elections in 1996 and other UN fora have contributed to a growing list of international documents on the subject as consensus in support of democracy emerged in the 1990s. These commitments, standards, case law, comments and reports are dispersed across a considerable number of documents in various fora.' In November 2002, ODIHR produced a draft paper on standards and commitments, which, when finalized, aims to contribute to the development of consistent methodology in observation and technical assistance. The document strives to 'state norms that can be applied objectively, to provide clear criteria for judging the democratic nature of elections, to be a practical guide to best practice and to initiate debate'.
The ODIHR draft standards include requirements such as:
· Universal and equal suffrage.
· Non-discrimination. 'Every person who has the right of suffrage must be allowed to exercise his/her suffrage right in a non-discriminatory manner on the basis of equal treatment before the law. This principle requires that a person, who has the right of suffrage, be allowed to exercise his/her suffrage right without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, gender, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth, disability, or other status.'
· Any limitation or restriction on the right to elect or be elected must be scrutinized, and any limitation or restriction must clearly be justified due to exceptional circumstances.
· Deprivation of the right to vote and to be elected may occur only under limited circumstances expressly stated in law, and in accordance with the proportionality principle.
· There should be no residency requirement for citizens to vote in national elections. Residency requirements for local and regional elections should be reasonable.
· Human rights protection includes no unreasonable limitations on the right to freedom of speech or expression, freedom of assembly or freedom of association.
· National minorities be effectively represented … without discrimination.
The Inter-Parliamentary Union has adopted a Declaration on Free and Fair Elections which 'urges governments and parliaments throughout the world to be guided the principles and standards set out' (154th session, Paris, 26 March 1994, http://www.ipu.org/cnl-e/154-free.htm). This document comments that: 'states must recognise and make provision for:
· The right of the individual to vote, on a non-discriminatory basis.
· The right of the individual to access an effective, impartial and non-discriminatory procedure for the registration of voters.
· The right of every eligible citizen to be registered as a voter, subject only to disqualification in accordance with clear criteria established by law, that are objectively verifiable and not subject to arbitrary decision.'
Other international organizations that have produced election standards include:
· The Association of Central and Eastern European Election Officials (ACEEEO) draft 'Convention on Election Standards, Electoral Rights and Freedom', http://www.cikrf.ru/conference/conference_en_konv.htm
· The European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission) 'Guidelines on Elections', http://www.venice.coe.int/docs/2002/CDL-AD(2002)013-e.html
· International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), http://www.idea.int/institute/inst-intro.html. 'International Electoral Standards: Guidelines for Reviewing the Legal Framework of Elections' and the 'ACE Project', http://www.aceproject.org
· The International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), 'Universal Standards for Free and Fair Elections', http://www.ifes.org/reg_activities/Pdf/05_21_02_angola_eng_annex2.pdf
· The National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI), 'Democratic Elections: Human Rights, Public Confidence and Fair Competition', http://www.accessdemocracy.org/NDI/library/005_ww_demelections.pdf
· The Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), Parliamentary Forum 'Norms and Standards for Elections in the SADC Region', http://www.accessdemocracy.org/NDI/library/1372_elect_sadcpf_normsstandards.pdf
(See also Elklit and Svensson 1997.)
None of the above-mentioned international election standards include explicit requirements about electoral provision for forced migrants. However, they do contain many points that are relevant and applicable to forced migrants, for example by addressing issues around residency requirements and protection from discrimination.
- Elklit, Jørgen and Svensson, Palle, 'What Makes Elections Free and Fair?'. Journal of Democracy, vol. 8, no. 3, July 1997.
- Goodwin-Gill, Guy S., Free and Fair Elections. Inter-Parliamentary Union, 1994. http://www.ipu.org/english/books.htm