Good Practice and Other initiatives
The Venice Commission is composed of independent experts who have achieved international fame through their experience in democratic institutions or by their contribution to the enhancement of law and political science. The members are mainly senior academics, particularly in the fields of constitutional or international law, supreme or constitutional court judges, national members of parliament and senior public officials. The Commission’s primary task is to assist and advise individual countries in constitutional matters.
While the Venice Commission originally gathered member states of the Council of Europe, its reach has now become global with member states ranging from the Americas to north Africa and the middle east as well as east Asia.
The SADC Electoral Commissions Forum and the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA) developed and adopted in 2003 the Principles for Election Management, Monitoring, and Observation in the SADC Region (SADC PEMMO). The document provides both guidelines for running democratic elections and benchmarks for election monitoring organisations.
The Lund Recommendations on the Effective Participation of National Minorities in Public Life attempt to clarify in relatively straight-forward language and build upon the content of minority rights and other standards generally applicable in the situations in which the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities (HCNM) is involved. The Lund Recommendations were named after the Swedish city in which the experts last met and completed the recommendations. Among the experts were jurists specialising in relevant international law, political scientists specialising in constitutional orders and election systems, and sociologists specialising in minority issues.
The standards have been interpreted specifically to ensure the coherence of their application in open and democratic States. The Recommendations are divided into four sub-headings, which group the 24 recommendations into general principles, participation in decision-making, self-governance, and ways of guaranteeing such effective participation in public life. The basic conceptual division within the Lund Recommendations follows two prongs: participation in governance of the State as a whole, and self-governance over certain local or internal affairs.
7) Experience in Europe and elsewhere demonstrates the importance of the electoral process for facilitating the participation of minorities in the political sphere. States shall guarantee the right of persons belonging to national minorities to take part in the conduct of public affairs, including through the rights to vote and stand for office without discrimination.
8) The regulation of the formation and activity of political parties shall comply with the international law principle of freedom of association. This principle includes the freedom to establish political parties based on communal identities as well as those not identified exclusively with the interests of a specific community.
9) The electoral system should facilitate minority representation and influence.
Where minorities are concentrated territorially, single-member districts may provide sufficient minority representation.
Proportional representation systems, where a political party’s share in the national vote is reflected in its share of the legislative seats, may assist in the representation of minorities.
Some forms of preference voting, where voters rank candidates in order of choice, may facilitate minority representation and promote intercommunal cooperation.
Lower numerical thresholds for representation in the legislature may enhance the inclusion of national minorities in governance.
10) The geographic boundaries of electoral districts should facilitate the equitable representation of national minorities.
The Brookings Institution is a non-profit public policy organization based in Washington, DC, USA. The Brookings Project since its inception has organised and supported the process by which the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement were developed. The Representative of the Secretary General presented the ‘Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement’ to the UN Commission on Human Rights in 1998.
In September 2005, the heads of state and governments assembled at the World Summit in New York recognised the Guiding Principles as “an important international framework for the protection of internally displaced persons.” (G.A. Res. 60/L.1). The Guiding Principles are based on international humanitarian and human rights law and analogous refugee law. They are intended to serve as an international standard to guide governments, international organisations and all other relevant actors in providing assistance and protection to IDPs.
Section 1 – General Principles
(a) The rights to freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief, opinion an expression; [...]
(d) The right to vote and to participate in governmental and public affairs, including the right to have access to the means necessary to exercise this right; and
(e) The right to communicate in a language they understand.
The ‘Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation’ and the ‘Code of Conduct for International Election Observers’ were developed through a multi-year process involving more than 20 intergovernmental and international nongovernmental organizations concerned with election observation around the world. The process began informally in 2001 at the initiative of the National Democratic Institute and the United Nations Electoral Assistance Division (UNEAD) and included an initial meeting at the UN in New York and a meeting in Washington co-hosted by the OAS and NDI. The declaration was commemorated at the UN on 27 October 2005, and, as of December 2020 was endorsed by 56 intergovernmental and international organisations.
Genuine democratic elections are an expression of sovereignty, which belongs to the people of a country, the free expression of whose will provides the basis for the authority and legitimacy of government. The rights of citizens to vote and to be elected at periodic, genuine democratic elections are internationally recognized human rights. Genuine democratic elections serve to resolve peacefully the competition for political power within a country and thus are central to the maintenance of peace and stability. Where governments are legitimized through genuine democratic elections, the scope for non-democratic challenges to power is reduced.
Genuine democratic elections are a requisite condition for democratic governance, because they are the vehicle through which the people of a country freely express their will, on a basis established by law, as to who shall have the legitimacy to govern in their name and in their interests. Achieving genuine democratic elections is a part of establishing broader processes and institutions of democratic governance. Therefore, while all election processes should reflect universal principles for genuine democratic elections, no election can be separated from the political, cultural and historical context in which it takes place.
Genuine democratic elections cannot be achieved unless a wide range of other human rights and fundamental freedoms can be exercised on an ongoing basis without discrimination based on race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status, including among others disabilities, and without arbitrary and unreasonable restrictions. They, like other human rights and democracy more broadly, cannot be achieved without the protections of the rule of law. These precepts are recognized by human rights and other international instruments and by the documents of numerous intergovernmental organizations. Achieving genuine democratic elections therefore has become a matter of concern for international organizations, just as it is the concern of national institutions, political competitors, citizens and their civic organizations.
International election observation expresses the interest of the international community in the achievement of democratic elections, as part of democratic development, including respect for human rights and the rule of law. International election observation, which focuses on civil and political rights, is part of international human rights monitoring and must be conducted on the basis of the highest standards for impartiality concerning national political competitors and must be free from any bilateral or multilateral considerations that could conflict with impartiality. It assesses election processes in accordance with international principles for genuine democratic elections and domestic law, while recognizing that it is the people of a country who ultimately determine credibility and legitimacy of an election process.
International election observation has the potential to enhance the integrity of election processes, by deterring and exposing irregularities and fraud and by providing recommendations for improving electoral processes. It can promote public confidence, as war- ranted, promote electoral participation and mitigate the potential for election-related conflict. It also serves to enhance international understanding through the sharing of experiences and information about democratic development.
International election observation has become widely accepted around the world and plays an important role in providing accurate and impartial assessments about the nature of electoral processes. Accurate and impartial international election observation requires credible methodologies and cooperation with national authorities, the national political competitors (political parties, candidates and supporters of positions on referenda), domestic election monitoring organizations and other credible international election observer organizations, among others.
The intergovernmental and international nongovernmental organizations endorsing this Declaration and the accompanying Code of Conduct for International Election Observers therefore have joined to declare:
2 In accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights and other international instruments, everyone has the right and must be provided with the opportunity to participate in the government and public affairs of his or her country, without any discrimination prohibited by international human rights principles and without any unreasonable restrictions. This right can be exercised directly, by participating in referenda, standing for elected office and by other means, or can be exercised through freely chosen representatives.
3 The will of the people of a country is the basis for the authority of government, and that will must be determined through genuine periodic elections, which guarantee the right and opportunity to vote freely and to be elected fairly through universal and equal suffrage by secret balloting or equivalent free voting procedures, the results of which are accurately counted, announced and respected. A significant number of rights and freedoms, processes, laws and institutions are therefore involved in achieving genuine democratic elections.
4 International election observation is: the systematic, comprehensive and accurate gathering of information concerning the laws, processes and institutions related to the conduct of elections and other factors concerning the overall electoral environment; the impartial and professional analysis of such information; and the drawing of conclusions about the character of electoral processes based on the highest standards for accuracy of information and impartiality of analysis. International election observation should, when possible, offer recommendations for improving the integrity and effectiveness of electoral and related processes, while not interfering in and thus hindering such processes. International election observation missions are: organized efforts of intergovernmental and international nongovernmental organizations and associations to conduct international election observation.
5 International election observation evaluates pre-election, election-day and post-election periods through comprehensive, long-term observation, employing a variety of techniques. As part of these efforts, specialized observation missions may examine limited pre-election or post-election issues and specific processes (such as, delimitation of election districts, voter registration, use of electronic technologies and functioning of electoral complaint mechanisms). Stand-alone, specialized observation missions may also be employed, as long as such missions make clear public statements that their activities and conclusions are limited in scope and that they draw no conclusions about the overall election process based on such limited activities. All observer missions must make concerted efforts to place the election day into its context and not to over-emphasize the importance of election day observations. International election observation examines conditions relating to the right to vote and to be elected, including, among other things, discrimination or other obstacles that hinder participation in electoral processes based on political or other opinion, gender, race, colour, ethnicity, language, religion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status, such as physical disabilities. The findings of international election observation missions provide a factual common point of reference for all persons interested in the elections, including the political competitors. This can be particularly valuable in the context of disputed elections, where impartial and accurate findings can help to mitigate the potential for conflicts.
6 International election observation is conducted for the benefit of the people of the country holding the elections and for the benefit of the international community. It is process oriented, not concerned with any particular electoral result, and is concerned with results only to the degree that they are reported honestly and accurately in a transparent and timely manner. No one should be allowed to be a member of an international election observer mission unless that person is free from any political, economic or other conflicts of interest that would interfere with conducting observations accurately and impartially and/or drawing conclusions about the character of the election process accurately and impartially. These criteria must be met effectively over extended periods by long-term observers, as well as during the more limited periods of election day observation, each of which periods present specific challenges for independent and impartial analysis. International election observation missions should not accept funding or infrastructural support from the government whose elections are being observed, as it may raise a significant conflict of interest and undermine confidence in the integrity of the mission’s findings. International election observation delegations should be prepared to disclose the sources of their funding upon appropriate and reasonable requests.
7 International election observation missions are expected to issue timely, accurate and impartial statements to the public (including providing copies to electoral authorities and other appropriate national entities), presenting their findings, conclusions and any appropriate recommendations they determine could help improve election related processes. Missions should announce publicly their presence in a country, including the mission’s mandate, composition and duration, make periodic reports as warranted and issue a preliminary post-election statement of findings and a final report upon the conclusion of the election process. International election observation missions may also conduct private meetings with those concerned with organizing genuine democratic elections in a country to discuss the mission’s findings, conclusions and recommendations. International election observation missions may also report to their respective intergovernmental or international nongovernmental organizations.
8 The organizations that endorse this Declaration and the accompanying Code of Conduct for International Election Observers pledge to cooperate with each other in conducting international election observation missions. International election observation can be conducted, for example, by: individual international election observer missions; ad hoc joint international election observation missions; or coordinated international election observation missions. In all circumstances, the endorsing organizations pledge to work together to maximize the contribution of their international election observation missions.
9 International election observation must be conducted with respect for the sovereignty of the country holding elections and with respect for the human rights of the people of the country. International election observation missions must respect the laws of the host country, as well as national authorities, including electoral bodies, and act in a manner that is consistent with respecting and promoting human rights and fundamental freedoms.
10 International election observation missions must actively seek cooperation with host country electoral authorities and must not obstruct the election process.
11 A decision by any organization to organize an international election observation mission or to explore the possibility of organizing an observation mission does not imply that the organization necessarily deems the election process in the country holding the elections to be credible. An organization should not send an international election observation mission to a country under conditions that make it likely that its presence will be interpreted as giving legitimacy to a clearly undemocratic electoral process, and international election observation missions in any such circumstance should make public statements to ensure that their presence does not imply such legitimacy.
12 In order for an international election observation mission to effectively and credibly conduct its work basic conditions must be met. An international election observation mission therefore should not be organized unless the country holding the election takes the following actions:
a Issues an invitation or otherwise indicates its willingness to accept international election observation missions in accordance with each organization’s requirements sufficiently in advance of elections to allow analysis of all of the processes that are important to organizing genuine democratic elections;
b Guarantees unimpeded access of the international election observer mission to all stages of the election process and all election technologies, including electronic technologies and the certification processes for electronic voting and other technologies, without requiring election observation missions to enter into confidentiality or other nondisclosure agreements concerning technologies or election processes, and recognizes that international election observation missions may not certify technologies as acceptable;
c Guarantees unimpeded access to all persons concerned with election processes, including:
i electoral officials at all levels, upon reasonable requests,
ii members of legislative bodies and government and security officials whose functions are relevant to organizing genuine democratic elections,
iii all of the political parties, organizations and persons that have sought to compete in the elections (including those that qualified, those that were disqualified and those that withdrew from participating) and those that abstained from participating,
iv news media personnel, and
v all organizations and persons that are interested in achieving genuine democratic elections in the country;
d Guarantees freedom of movement around the country for all members of the international election observer mission;
e Guarantees the international election observer mission’s freedom to issue without interference public statements and reports concerning its findings and recommendations about election related processes and developments;
f Guarantees that no governmental, security or electoral authority will interfere in the selection of individual observers or other members of the international election observation mission or attempt to limit its numbers;
g Guarantees full, country-wide accreditation (that is, the issuing of any identification or document required to conduct election observation) for all persons selected to be observers or other participants by the international election observation mission as long as the mission complies with clearly defined, reasonable and non-discriminatory requirements for accreditation;
h Guarantees that no governmental, security or electoral authority will interfere in the activities of the international election observation mission; and
i Guarantees that no governmental authority will pressure, threaten action against or take any reprisal against any national or foreign citizen who works for, assists or provides information to the international election observation mission in accordance with international principles for election observation.
As a prerequisite to organizing an international election observation mission, intergovernmental and international nongovernmental organizations may require that such guarantees are set forth in a memorandum of understanding or similar document agreed upon by governmental and/or electoral authorities. Election observation is a civilian activity, and its utility is questionable in circumstances that present severe security risks, limit safe deployments of observers or otherwise would negate employing credible election observation methodologies.
13 International election observation missions should seek and may require acceptance of their presence by all major political competitors.
14 Political contestants (parties, candidates and supporters of positions on referenda) have vested interests in the electoral process through their rights to be elected and to participate directly in government. They therefore should be allowed to monitor all processes related to elections and observe procedures, including among other things the functioning of electronic and other electoral technologies inside polling stations, counting centers and other electoral facilities, as well as the transport of ballots and other sensitive materials.
15 International election observation missions should:
a establish communications with all political competitors in the election process, including representatives of political parties and candidates who may have information concerning the integrity of the election process;
b welcome information provided by them concerning the nature of the process;
c independently and impartially evaluate such information; and
d should evaluate as an important aspect of international election observation whether the political contestants are, on a non-discriminatory basis, afforded access to verify the integrity of all elements and stages of the election process. International election observation missions should in their recommendations, which may be issued in writing or otherwise be presented at various stages of the election process, advocate for removing any undue restrictions or interference against activities by the political competitors to safeguard the integrity of electoral processes.
16 Citizens have an internationally recognized right to associate and a right to participate in governmental and public affairs in their country. These rights may be exercised through nongovernmental organizations monitoring all processes related to elections and observing procedures, including among other things the functioning of electronic and other electoral technologies inside polling stations, counting centers and other electoral facilities, as well as the transport of ballots and other sensitive materials. International election observation missions should evaluate and report on whether domestic nonpartisan election monitoring and observation organizations are able, on a non-discriminatory basis, to conduct their activities without undue restrictions or interference. International election observation missions should advocate for the right of citizens to conduct domestic nonpartisan election observation without any undue restrictions or interference and should in their recommendations address removing any such undue restrictions or interference.
17 International election observation missions should identify, establish regular communications with and cooperate as appropriate with credible domestic non- partisan election monitoring organizations. International election observation missions should welcome information provided by such organizations concerning the nature of the election process. Upon independent evaluation of information provided by such organizations, their findings can provide an important complement to the findings of international election observation missions, although international election observation missions must remain independent. International election observation missions therefore should make every reasonable effort to consult with such organizations before issuing any statements.
18 The intergovernmental and international nongovernmental organizations endorsing this Declaration recognize that substantial progress has been made in establishing standards, principles and commitments concerning genuine democratic elections and commit themselves to use a statement of such principles in making observations, judgments and conclusions about the character of election processes and pledge to be transparent about the principles and observation methodologies they employ.
19 The intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations endorsing this Declaration recognize that there are a variety of credible methodologies for observing election processes and commit to sharing approaches and harmonizing methodologies as appropriate. They also recognize that international election observation missions must be of sufficient size to determine independently and impartially the character of election processes in a country and must be of sufficient duration to determine the character of all of the critical elements of the election process in the pre-election, election-day and post-election periods – unless an observation activity is focused on and therefore only comments on one or a limited number of elements of the election process. They further recognize that it is necessary not to isolate or over-emphasize election day observations, and that such observations must be placed into the context of the overall electoral process.
20 The intergovernmental and international nongovernmental organizations endorsing this Declaration recognize that international election observation missions should include persons of sufficiently diverse political and professional skills, standing and proven integrity to observe and judge processes in light of: expertise in electoral processes and established electoral principles; international human rights; comparative election law and administration practices (including use of computer and other election technology); comparative political processes and country specific considerations. The endorsing organizations also recognize the importance of balanced gender diversity in the composition of participants and leadership of international election observation missions, as well as diversity of citizenship in such missions.
21 The intergovernmental and international nongovernmental organizations endorsing this Declaration commit to:
a familiarize all participants in their international election observation missions concerning the principles of accuracy of information and political impartiality in making judgments and conclusions;
b provide a terms of reference or similar document, explaining the purposes of the mission;
c provide information concerning relevant national laws and regulations, the general political environment and other matters, including those that relate to the security and well-being of observers;
d instruct all participants in the election observation mission concerning the methodologies to be employed; and
e require all participants in the election observation mission to read and pledge to abide by the Code of Conduct for International Election Observers, which accompanies this Declaration and which may be modified without changing its substance slightly to fit requirements of the organization, or pledge to abide by a pre-existing code of conduct of the organization that is substantially the same as the accompanying Code of Conduct.
22 The intergovernmental and international nongovernmental organizations endorsing this Declaration commit to use every effort to comply with the terms of the Declaration and the accompanying Code of Conduct for International Election Observers. Any time that an endorsing organization deems it necessary to depart from any of terms of the Declaration or the Accompanying Code of Conduct in order to conduct election observation in keeping with the spirit of the Declaration, the organization will explain in its public statements and will be prepared to answer appropriate questions from other endorsing organizations concerning why it was necessary to do so.
23 The endorsing organizations recognize that governments send observer delegations to elections in other countries and that others also observe elections. The endorsing organizations welcome any such observers agreeing on an ad hoc basis to this declaration and abiding by the accompanying Code of Conduct for International Election Observers.
24 This Declaration and the accompanying Code of Conduct for International Election Observers are intended to be technical documents that do not require action by the political bodies of endorsing organizations (such as assemblies, councils or boards of directors), though such actions are welcome. This Declaration and the accompanying Code of Conduct for International Election Observers remain open for endorsement by other intergovernmental and international nongovernmental organizations. Endorsements should be recorded with the United Nations Electoral Assistance Division.
The Global Network of Domestic Election Monitors (GNDEM) was created in 2009 to enhance the credibility and impartiality of domestic election observation, inter alia, by setting common standards for citizen observer groups, advancing methodologies for systematic, fact-based election monitoring and supporting the capacities of regional networks and nonpartisan election monitoring organizations.
In 2010, GNDEM members adopted the Declaration of Global Principles for Non-partisan Election Observation and Monitoring by Citizen Organizations, which has been endorsed by the 251 GNDEM member organisations (as of July 2022), including regional networks and individual nonpartisan election monitoring organizations spanning over 88 countries and territories on five continents.