United Nations Standards for Elections and Human Rights

Bipin Adhikari
September 2005 (Liberia)

Elections are meant for producing a 'representative government'. In order to ensure that elections are democratically held through a fair means, certain standards and guidelines are outlined by the United Nations and other international agencies for this purpose.

A. Basic Standards:

The three central rights with respect to elections

International standards on elections involve three central rights spelt out in Article 21 of the UDHR, Article 25 of the ICCPR and Article 13 of the ACHPR :

• Right to take part in government (for all and according to one's own will)
• Right to vote and to be elected (by a fair means and without fear and intimidation)
• Right to equal access to public services (eg. facilities, properties, media etc)

These basic standards are clearly reflected in the Security Council Resolution 1509 and Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 18 August 2003 and the electoral reform laws are enacted for holding election in the spirit of international standards.

A.1. Article 21 of UDHR:

1. Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.
2. Everyone has the right to equal access to public service in his country.
3. The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.

A.2 Articles 2 and 25 of ICCPR:
Article 2 of ICCPR mainly talks about the state's responsibility to ensure application of ICCPR equally to all individuals and it obliges the state to give effect to the covenant through constitutional, legislative and other measures.

Article 25:
Every citizen shall have the right and the opportunity, without any of the distinctions mentioned in article 2 and without unreasonable restrictions:

a) To take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives;
b) To vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret ballot, guaranteeing the free expression of the will of the electors;
c) To have access, on general terms of equality, to public service in his country.

A.3 Article 13 of ACHPR:

1. Every citizen shall have the right to participate freely in the government of his country, either directly or through freely chosen representatives in accordance with the provisions of the law.
2. Every citizen shall have the right of equal access to the public service of his country.
3. Every individual shall have the right of access to public property and services in strict equality of all before the law.

A.4 Comprehensive Peace Agreement(CPA)
The Article XVIII of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) signed in Accra on 18 August 2003 clearly states that the reconstituted National Elections Commission (NEC) will be independent and it shall operate in conformity with UN standards, "in order to ensure that the rights and interests of Liberians are guaranteed, and that the elections are organized in a manner that is acceptable to all."

A.5 UNMIL Mandate through SC Resolution 1509:
The UN Security Council Resolution of 19 September 2003 has further mandated UNMIL, "to assist the transitional government, in conjunction with ECOWAS and other international partners, in preparing for national elections,… ." The tasks specified by the CPA to the UNMIL in its Article XIX are:

• To conduct, monitor, and supervise the next elections in the country (jointly with the African Union, ECOWAS and other members of the international community).
• To supervise voter education and registration programs, as organized by the newly reconstituted NEC, in collaboration with other national and international organizations.

A.6 Human Rights Mandates:
Compared to the mandates granted to the electoral division, human rights mandates provided by the CPA and SC Resolution 1509 to UNMIL, are wider and also include "the right to take part in the governance of one's country". It is but natural that due to the nature of about two decade-long political conflicts, leading to repeated civil wars, the CPA has laid priority basically on the guarantee of civil and political rights in Article XII(1a-b) of the agreement, as it states:

• The Parties agree that the basic civil and political rights enunciated in the Declaration and Principles on Human Rights adopted by the United Nations, African Union, and ECOWAS, in particular, the Universal Declaration of Human rights and the African Charter on Human and People's Rights, and as contained in Laws of Liberia, shall be fully guaranteed and respected within Liberia.

• These basic civil and political rights include the right to life and liberty, freedom from torture, the right to a fair trial, freedom of conscience, expression and association, and the right to take part in the governance of one's country.

In addition to the overall mission of promoting and protecting human rights of the people in Liberia, especially those who have suffered most from gruesome violations of their basic human rights, the SC Resolution has equally put emphasis on the strategy 'to consolidate governmental institutions; including a national legal framework … ' It is for this purpose therefore the Security Council through its Resolution has tried to ensure 'an adequate human rights presence, capacity and expertise within UNMIL to carry out human rights promotion, protection and monitoring activities;…'

B. Non-discrimination:
Both UDHR and ICPPR in their respective Article 2 clearly state that the enjoyment of all listed rights shall be without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

C. Self-determination:
The notion of democratic elections has in fact been deeply rooted in the fundamental concept of right to self-determination, as recognized by UN Charter (Article 1, para. 2) and in Article 1 of each of ICCPR and ICESCR. This right has also been further elaborated in other international instruments including Declarations on Right to Development (1986), Right of Peoples to Peace (1984), and Declaration on Social Progress and Development (1969), UN Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples (1960) and GA Resolution on "permanent sovereignty over natural resources" (1962) .

D. Political participation:
Numerous international instruments recognize inherent right of peoples to participate in the decision making process of the state and its related institutions that have a direct bearing on their life or interest. All core human rights instruments have recognized, one way or the other, the right to political participation in furtherance of the stated rights under each of the stated international human rights instruments.

2. International Criteria:
International human rights standards contain a number of fundamental criteria for ensuring free and fair elections.

a) Free elections:

1. freely chosen representatives reflecting free will of the people.
2. freedom of expression, opinion, information, assembly and association
3. Freedom from fear and intimidation
b) Fair elections:
1. Equal, universal and non-discriminatory suffrage
2. One person, one vote
3. Assurance of technical assurance
4. Equal access to public services and facilities right to get redress from an independence tribunal
c) Periodicity of election: periodic elections enable people to ensure accountability also.
d) Genuine elections (secret ballots, recognized and accepted by impartial observers as meeting all criteria)

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