The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) has its origins in the Conference for Security and Co-operation in Europe which started in 1972 as a multilateral forum for dialogue and negotiation between East and West. Its name was changed to OSCE in 1994. All 57 participating states have equal status and are represented on the basis of common interest and common OSCE commitments. Decisions are reached by consensus, except in the case of “clear, gross and uncorrected violations” of OSCE commitments by a participating State. The OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) is located in Warsaw and is responsible for the promotion of human rights and democracy in the OSCE area. It serves as the OSCE’s focal point for all election-related matters, including election observation, technical assistance, and the review of electoral legislation. OSCE commitments require participating states to invite other participating states to observe their elections, and the ODIHR provides the methodology and co-ordination framework for such observation.
The freedom of political choice, familiar to us from the Universal Declaration and the ICCPR, is also reflected in the OSCE commitments devised in the Copenhagen Document, which was adopted following the Cold War. Paragraph 3 declares that the participating States recognise the importance of pluralism with regard to political organisations. The Copenhagen Document maintains that ‘the will of the people, freely and fairly expressed through periodic and genuine elections, is the basis of authority and legitimacy of all government’. It is emphasised that ‘citizens should be able to take part in the governing of their country, either directly or through representatives freely chosen by them through fair electoral processes’.
Paragraphs 7.1 and 7.2 of the Copenhagen Document make the same point at the level of political competition. Paragraph 7.2 stipulates that the participating States will ‘permit all seats in at least one chamber of the national legislature to be freely contested in a popular vote’. This is sustained in Paragraph 7.6, which emphasises the necessity of legal guarantees to enable political parties and organisations to compete with each other on a basis of equal treatment before the law and the authorities. Competition between political contestants will be the basis for the expression of the electors' free will.
The Copenhagen Document, and the work of the OSCE more broadly, has been important to the development of electoral rules in Europe. The OSCE has played an important role in the development of election observation, through the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), which is mandated to observe participating States’ compliance with the election-related commitments contained in the Copenhagen Document.
In addition, the OSCE has been active in the area of minority protection, another field touched upon in the Copenhagen Document.
The OSCE Copenhagen Document (1991)
(3) They [participating states] reaffirm that democracy is an inherent element of the rule of law. They recognize the importance of pluralism with regard to political organizations.
(5) They solemnly declare that among those elements of justice which are essential to the full expression of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all human beings are the following:
(5.1) free elections that will be held at reasonable intervals by secret ballot or by equivalent free voting procedure, under conditions which ensure in practice the free expression of the opinion of the electors in the choice of their representatives;
(5.2) a form of government that is representative in character, in which the executive is accountable to the elected legislature or the electorate;
(5.4) a clear separation between the State and political parties; in particular, political parties will not be merged with the State;
(6) The participating States declare that the will of the people, freely and fairly expressed through periodic and genuine elections, is the basis of the authority and legitimacy of all government. The participating States will accordingly respect the right of their citizens to take part in the governing of their country, either directly or through representatives freely chosen by them through fair electoral processes. They recognize their responsibility to defend and protect, in accordance with their laws, their international human rights obligations and their international commitments, the democratic order freely established through the will of the people against the activities of persons, groups or organizations that engage in or refuse to renounce terrorism or violence aimed at the overthrow of that order or of that of another participating State.
(7) To ensure that the will of the people serves as the basis of the authority of government, the participating States will
(7.1) hold free elections at reasonable intervals, as established by law;
(7.2) permit all seats in at least one chamber of the national legislature to be freely contested in a popular vote;
(7.3) guarantee universal and equal suffrage to adult citizens;
(7.4) ensure that votes are cast by secret ballot or by equivalent free voting procedure, and that they are counted and reported honestly with the official results made public;
(7.5) respect the right of citizens to seek political or public office, individually or as representatives of political parties or organizations, without discrimination;
(7.6) respect the right of individuals and groups to establish, in full freedom, their own political parties or other political organizations and provide such political parties and organizations with the necessary legal guarantees to enable them to compete with each other on a basis of equal treatment before the law and by the authorities;
(7.7) ensure that law and public policy work to permit political campaigning to be conducted in a fair and free atmosphere in which neither administrative action, violence nor intimidation bars the parties and the candidates from freely presenting their views and qualifications, or prevents the voters from learning and discussing them or from casting their vote free of fear of retribution;
(7.8) provide that no legal or administrative obstacle stands in the way of unimpeded access to the media on a non-discriminatory basis for all political groupings and individuals wishing to participate in the electoral process;
(7.9) ensure that candidates who obtain the necessary number of votes required by law are duly installed in office and are permitted to remain in office until their term expires or is otherwise brought to an end in a manner that is regulated by law in conformity with democratic parliamentary and constitutional procedures.
(10.3) ensure that individuals are permitted to exercise the right to association, including the right to form, join and participate effectively in nongovernmental organizations which seek the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, including trade unions and human rights monitoring groups;
Democratic government is based on the will of the people, expressed regularly through free and fair elections. Democracy has as its foundation respect for the human person and the rule of law. Democracy is the best safeguard of freedom of expression, tolerance of all groups of society, and equality of opportunity for each person. [...]
Everyone also has the right: [^] to participate in free and fair elections, [...].
(26) The participating States reaffirm the right to freedom of expression, including the right to communication and the right of the media to collect, report and disseminate information, news and opinions. Any restriction in the exercise of this right will be prescribed by law and in accordance with international standards. They further recognize that independent media are essential to a free and open society and accountable systems of government and are of particular importance in safeguarding human rights and fundamental freedoms.
(26.1) They consider that the print and broadcast media in their territory should enjoy unrestricted access to foreign news and information services. The public will enjoy similar freedom to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority regardless of frontiers, including through foreign publications and foreign broadcasts. Any restriction in the exercise of this right will be prescribed by law and in accordance with international standards.
(26.2) The participating States will not discriminate against independent media with respect to affording access to information, material and facilities.
(40) The participating States recognize that full and true equality between men and women is a fundamental aspect of a just and democratic society based on the rule of law. In this context they will [...]
(40.8) encourage and promote equal opportunity for full participation by women in all aspects of political and public life, in decision-making processes and in international co-operation in general;
Istanbul Summit Declaration (1999)
The League of Arab States was founded in Cairo in 1945 and is a voluntary association of countries whose peoples are mainly Arabic speaking. Its stated purposes are to strengthen ties among the member states, coordinate their policies in the fields of politics, economics, culture and social programmes, and promote their common interests. From only seven founding members, the League has grown to a membership of 22. As of July 2022, the Arab Charter on Human Rights has 16 States parties.
Arab Charter on Human Rights (2004-2008)
Every citizen has the right to:
The present Charter shall ensure the right to information, freedom of opinion and freedom of expression, freedom to seek, receive and impart information by all means, regardless of frontiers.
Such rights and freedoms are exercised in the framework of society’s fundamental principles and shall only be subjected to restrictions necessary for the respect of the rights or reputation of others and for the protection of national security or of public order, health or morals.
The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) was formed in December 1991 by the leaders of the Republic of Belarus, the Russian Federation and the Ukraine. Later that month they - along with eleven other former Soviet Union states - unanimously adopted the Alma-Ata Declaration, which confirmed the commitment of the former Soviet republics to cooperation in various fields of external and internal policies. CIS decisions are reached through regular summits of heads of state and through the formation of ministerial committees.
The CIS Convention on Human Rights foresees a control mechanism in the form of the Human Rights Commission of the Commonwealth of Independent States. The CIS commission monitors the execution of the convention by issuing recommendations. The members of the commission are appointed representatives of the States Parties.
In 1995, the CIS adopted a Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms which contained election-related norms. The CIS Convention contains in Article 29 language similar to Article 25 of the ICCPR, but with the difference that participation through elections is guaranteed in accordance with national legislation. The problematic return of the right from the level of international human rights law to the level of national law may to some extent be mitigated by the 2002 Convention on the Standards of Democratic Elections, Electoral Rights and Freedoms in the Member States of the CIS. The Convention spells out its own definitions of various election elements, including funding issues, the involvement of the State in informational support and campaigning, the status and powers of both domestic and international observers, complaints procedures and measures that are not to be considered discriminatory (for instance, positive measures concerning minorities).
In accordance with national legislation, everyone shall have the right and opportunity and in the State of which he is a citizen:
Nothing in Articles 11, 12 and 20 shall be regarded as preventing the Contracting Parties from imposing restrictions on the political activity of alien citizens and stateless persons.
Convention on Ensuring the Rights of Persons Belonging to National Minorities (1994-1997)
Agreement on the Cooperation in Solving Problems of Disability and Persons with Disabilities (1996-1997)
The ten members of the Association of the Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) adopted a Human Rights Declaration in its November 2012 meeting in Phnom Penh. The declaration is not legally binding and is not explicitly connected to the mandate of the ASEAN Human Rights Commission. In its Article 25, the ASEAN Declaration contains a provision on the right to participation and on the right to vote.
The Declaration has been criticised by human rights organisations, inter alia, for its failure to address several fundamental human rights, and for provisions marred by cultural relativism, such as “the realization of human rights must be considered in the regional and national context” (Art. 7).
The ASEAN Human Rights Declaration (2012)
(1) Every person who is a citizen of his or her country has the right to participate in the government of his or her country, either directly or through democratically elected representatives, in accordance with national law.
(2) Every citizen has the right to vote in periodic and genuine elections, which should be held by universal and equal suffrage and by secret ballot, guaranteeing the free expression of the will of the electors, in accordance with national law.
The International Organisation of La Francophonie (IOF), more commonly called ‘The Francophonie’, was founded in 1997 to function as an international link between countries which are French-speaking or in which the French language or the interest in the French language or culture is strong. It has 88 member states and governments (54 members, 7 associate members and 23 observers) worldwide.
The Charter of La Francophonie was adopted in 1997 and revised in 2005. The objectives of the lOF are to assist in the establishment and development of democracy and in the prevention, management and resolution of conflicts, and in support for the rule of law and human rights. In the year 2000, La Francophonie adopted the Bamako Declaration concerning the principles of democracy.
We, Ministers and Heads of Delegation of the States and Governments of Countries using French as a common language, meeting at Bamako for the International Symposium on the status of practices of democracy, rights and freedoms in the Francophone world,
The CPF [Permanent Council of the Fracophonie] may take the following measures:
The Commonwealth is an intergovernmental organisation of 56 States, many of which are former British colonies, dependencies and territories. The British monarch is the Head of the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth has adopted a Charter in December 2012 committing members to the values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
We the people of the Commonwealth: [...]
Reaffirming the core values and principles of the Commonwealth as declared by this Charter:
We recognise the inalienable right of individuals to participate in democratic processes, in particular through free and fair elections in shaping the society in which they live. Governments, political parties and civil society are responsible for upholding and promoting democratic culture and practices and are accountable to the public in this regard. Parliaments and representative local governments and other forms of local governance are essential elements in the exercise of democratic governance.
We support the role of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group to address promptly and effectively all instances of serious or persistent violations of Commonwealth values without any fear or favour.
We are committed to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other relevant human rights covenants and international instruments. We are committed to equality and respect for the protection and promotion of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development, for all without discrimination on any grounds as the foundations of peaceful, just and stable societies. We note that these rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated and cannot be implemented selectively.
We are implacably opposed to all forms of discrimination, whether rooted in gender, race, colour, creed, political belief or other grounds.
Tolerance, respect and Understanding
We emphasise the need to promote tolerance, respect, understanding, moderation and religious freedom which are essential to the development of free and democratic societies, and recall that respect for the dignity of all human beings is critical to promoting peace and prosperity.
We accept that diversity and understanding the richness of our multiple identities are fundamental to the Commonwealth’s principles and approach.
Freedom of expression
We are committed to peaceful, open dialogue and the free flow of information, including through a free and responsible media, and to enhancing democratic traditions and strengthening democratic processes.
Separation of powers
We recognise the importance of maintaining the integrity of the roles of the Legislature, Executive and Judiciary. These are the guarantors in their respective spheres of the rule of law, the promotion and protection of fundamental human rights and adherence to good governance.
Rule of law
We believe in the rule of law as an essential protection for the people of the Commonwealth and as an assurance of limited and accountable government. In particular we support an independent, impartial, honest and competent judiciary and recognise that an independent, effective and competent legal system is integral to upholding the rule of law, engendering public confidence and dispensing justice.
We recognise that gender equality and women’s empowerment are essential components of human development and basic human rights. The advancement of women’s rights and the education of girls are critical preconditions for effective and sustainable development.
The role of Civil Society
We recognise the important role that civil society plays in our communities and countries as partners in promoting and supporting Commonwealth values and principles, including the freedom of association and peaceful assembly, and in achieving development goals.
The Harare Commonwealth Declaration (1991)
We affirm that there should be no discrimination based on race, colour, sex, descent or national or ethnic origin in the acquisition or exercise of the right to vote; [...]
The Inter-Parliamentary Union was established in 1889 and is the international organization of parliaments of sovereign states. 178 national parliaments are currently members of the IPU, with 14 associate members. Its aims include contributing to the defence and promotion of human rights and fostering contacts among parliaments and parliamentarians.
In any State the authority of the government can only derive from the will of the people as expressed in genuine, free and fair elections held at regular intervals on the basis of universal, equal and secret suffrage.
(1) Every adult citizen has the right to vote in elections, on a non-discriminatory basis.
(2) Every adult citizen has the right to access to an effective, impartial and non-discriminatory procedure for the registration of voters.
(3) No eligible citizen shall be denied the right to vote or disqualified from registration as a voter, otherwise than in accordance with objectively verifiable criteria prescribed by law, and provided that such measures are consistent with the State’s obligations under international law.
(4) Every individual who is denied the right to vote or to be registered as a voter shall be entitled to appeal to a jurisdiction competent to review such decisions and to correct errors promptly and effectively.
(5) Every voter has the right to equal and effective access to a polling station in order to exercise his or her right to vote.
(6) Every voter is entitled to exercise his or her right equally with others and to have his or her vote accorded equivalent weight to that of others.
(7) The right to vote in secret is absolute and shall not be restricted in any manner whatsoever.
(1) Everyone has the right to take part in the government of their country and shall have an equal opportunity to become a candidate for election. The criteria for participation in government shall be determined in accordance with national constitutions and laws and shall not be inconsistent with the State’s international obligations.
(2) Everyone has the right to join, or together with others to establish, a political party or organization for the purpose of competing in an election.
(3) Everyone individually and together with others has the right:
(4) Every candidate for election and every political party shall have an equal opportunity of access to the media, particularly the mass communications media, in order to put forward their political views.
(5) The right of candidates to security with respect to their lives and property shall be recognized and protected.
(6) Every individual and every political party has the right to the protection of the law and to a remedy for violation of political and electoral rights.
(7) The above rights may only be subject to such restrictions of an exceptional nature which are in accordance with law and reasonably necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others and provided they are consistent with States’ obligations under international law. Permissible restrictions on candidature, the creation and activity of political parties and campaign rights shall not be applied so as to violate the principle of non-discrimination on grounds of race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.
(8) Every individual or political party whose candidature, party or campaign rights are denied or restricted shall be entitled to appeal to a jurisdiction competent to review such decisions and to correct errors promptly and effectively.
(9) Candidature, party and campaign rights carry responsibilities to the community. In particular, no candidate or political party shall engage in violence.
(10) Every candidate and political party competing in an election shall respect the rights and freedoms of others.
(11) Every candidate and political party competing in an election shall accept the outcome of a free and fair election.
(1) States should take the necessary legislative steps and other measures, in accordance with their constitutional processes, to guarantee the rights and institutional framework for periodic and genuine, free and fair elections, in accordance with their obligations under international law. In particular, States should:
(2) In addition, States should take the necessary policy and institutional steps to ensure the progressive achievement and consolidation of democratic goals, including through the establishment of a neutral, impartial or balanced mechanism for the management of elections. In so doing, they should, among other matters:
(3) States shall respect and ensure the human rights of all individuals within their territory and subject to their jurisdiction. In time of elections, the State and its organs should therefore ensure
(4) In order that elections shall be fair, States should take the necessary measures to ensure that parties and candidates enjoy reasonable opportunities to present their electoral platform.
(5) States should take all necessary and appropriate measures to ensure that the principle of the secret ballot is respected, and that voters are able to cast their ballots freely, without fear or intimidation.
(6) Furthermore, State authorities should ensure that the ballot is conducted so as to avoid fraud or other illegality, that the security and the integrity of the process is maintained, and that ballot counting is undertaken by trained personnel, subject to monitoring and/or impartial verification.
(7) States should take all necessary and appropriate measures to ensure the transparency of the entire electoral process including, for example, through the presence of party agents and duly accredited observers.
(8) States should take the necessary measures to ensure that parties, candidates and supporters enjoy equal security, and that State authorities take the necessary steps to prevent electoral violence.
(9) States should ensure that violations of human rights and complaints relating to the electoral process are determined promptly within the timeframe of the electoral process and effectively by an independent and impartial authority, such as an electoral commission or the courts.
 The English version of the Bamako Declaration is not an official translation. It is retrieved from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/RuleOfLaw/CompilationDemocracy/Pages/OIF.aspx
The original French version of the Bamako Declaration can be found at http:// www.francophonie.org