Statement by Mr. Alyaksandr Sychov, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Belarus to the OSCE, at the Meeting of the OSCE Permanent Counsil
13 July 2006
Results of the monitoring of the elections in the Republic of Belarus
Speaking at the meeting of the Permanent Council on 8 June of this year, our delegation reserved the right to explain the standpoint of the Republic of Belarus regarding the final report of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), which was distributed among the delegations on 7 June of this year. Today we should like to return to that subject.
It is a secret for no one that we have long since amassed serious objections regarding the objectivity and working methods of the ODIHR in the area of election monitoring. Despite this, the Belarusian authorities have been at pains to ensure constructive co operation with the OSCE mission and have put into place all the necessary conditions for its work.
When they invited in the OSCE mission, the Belarusian authorities for their part wished to convince themselves once again to what degree the ODIHR was prepared to take a responsible and professional approach to its work and to carry out an unbiased and objective assessment of the elections.
Let us begin with a fundamental aspect, indeed the point of departure for the ODIHR analysis. As stated in the final report, the ODIHR and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly assessed the elections in Belarus to determine “the degree to which they complied with commitments agreed by all OSCE participating States”. At the same time, the ODIHR’s preliminary report noted that “compliance of the election process with national legislation” was also a subject of evaluation. Here there can be no mistake, since the final report on the results of the elections in Ukraine also clearly speaks of national legislation. We consider this aspect to be of fundamental importance for an understanding of the approach taken by the ODIHR. In fact, despite its own methodology and practices, the ODIHR excluded from the monitoring process and its objectives an evaluation of the degree to which the elections were in line with the national laws of an OSCE participating State.
We have no doubt that the presidential elections held in Belarus took place in complete accordance with the Constitution of the country and its national laws. The ODIHR observer mission also failed to detect any substantial violations of existing laws on the part of the authorities in conducting the elections. It is obvious that here lies the reason why the ODIHR decided to evaluate the elections not from the point of view of national legislation but on the basis of some abstract “international standards”.
Moreover, even taking into account the critical remarks contained in the preliminary findings and conclusions of the OSCE mission, it is clear that the Republic of Belarus is meeting the overwhelming majority of the Copenhagen commitments and that, on the whole, the recent presidential elections were in line with existing OSCE criteria.
The run up to the elections and the elections themselves were monitored by more than 30,000 domestic observers and, at the invitation of the Republic of Belarus, by more than 1,200 international observers, both independent as well as representing a number of international bodies of which the Republic of Belarus is a member. In the opinion of the vast majority of the monitors, and in particular of the monitoring mission from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the election campaign and the elections themselves were held in conformity with the existing Election Code and with the Belarusian Republic’s international obligations as regards the holding of democratic elections.
It is entirely possible that individual comments by the ODIHR are valid and that certain irregularities did in fact take place during the course of the election campaign. At the same time, one also needs to clearly understand what real influence these irregularities might have had on the course of the elections and on their outcome. For the fact is that even the most critically minded observers have no doubt that the incumbent president enjoyed the overwhelming support of the population. Given this situation, the Belarusian authorities had neither any interest in nor intention of consciously violating any rules. At the same time it must be recognized that the elections were held under conditions of extremely intense external pressure and efforts to organize provocations and mass altercations within the country. It was precisely the fact that these efforts were thwarted in good time and were dealt with appropriately by the legal authorities that made it possible to ensure a calm and peaceful atmosphere on election day.
I should like to draw your attention to the Consolidated Commentary that our delegation has distributed regarding the preliminary ODIHR report on the presidential elections in Belarus and the translation of that Commentary by the Office. The majority of the comments contained in it continue to be relevant.
Despite the fact that the final report should have reflected all the work of the mission and the entire electoral process, up to and including the day of the elections, the report focuses its main attention on matters having to do with the political situation in Belarus. In this connection, here and there it cites statements by individual candidates regarding their lack of confidence in various aspects of the election process. In this way, the ODIHR, hiding behind the irresponsible utterances of these politicians, is actually taking their side. What kind of objective monitoring is that? We can confidently say that the ODIHR mission abandoned any attempt to provide an unbiased assessment of what was going on, choosing instead in effective to focus attention on those aspects of the campaign that, in its opinion, demonstrated “gross violations” on the part of the authorities.
It is altogether clear that all of these factors explain why the conclusions reached by the OSCE mission are diametrically different from those of the other international observers. It is not surprising that, given this situation, the short term observers included in this OSCE mission from the Russian Federation were also in disagreement with the mission’s findings and that, on the basis of their own observations, declared the conclusions drawn to be at odds with the results of their own monitoring. All of this strengthens us in our belief in the need for a thoroughly rigorous re examination of the ODIHR’s working methods in the election area and in the need for treating all participating States in the same way.
I must call the meeting’s attention to a number of aspects having to do with the way the elections were observed by the ODIHR mission that very seriously undermine confidence in the results of that monitoring.
— An absolute lack of transparency in the way the missions were formed and the mission leaders appointed. No one can explain why the OSCE dispatched only two dozen observers to the United States to monitor the presidential elections in that country, and about 700 to Belarus — with this number including persons who, in a breach of the principle of political neutrality, declared that they were going to Belarus for the purpose of supporting specific political forces in organizing some kind of revolution. And what are we to say about the so called concept of a “conflict of interests”, the presence of which was occasionally referred to by representatives of the ODIHR when refusing participation in the mission to representatives of countries that are in favour of a more balanced and objective approach to the work of that Office?
— A “top secret” mechanism for arriving at the final assessments. One gains the impression that the missions bring with them to the country they are observing some kind of prepared standard conclusion. The monitoring itself in this case is of a purely formal nature and consists of selectively choosing the facts and “making them fit” findings that have been arrived at in advance. The opinions of individual monitors, if they do not agree with the opinion of the mission leader, are simply ignored.
— ODIHR monitoring mission files that are off limits even to the country that invited in that mission. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Belarus sent a written request to the Head of the ODIHR Mission asking for copies of the complete questionnaire forms, the protocols on violations discovered or the results of their processing. This request went unanswered, which indirectly confirms the statement by the Russian observers and the fact of possible manipulation by senior officials at the ODIHR of the actual data presented by the monitors.
— The absence of uniform criteria for assessing elections and of transparency in the way the various monitoring stages are organized as a source of “double standards”. In carrying out its work, the ODIHR is guided only by its own precedents and its own particular understanding of how the principles and obligations laid down in the Copenhagen Document are to be implemented. As a consequence, it has become a common occurrence for ODIHR missions, acting like a copying machine, to print out their verdicts as to whether or not particular elections are or are not in conformity with non existent standards.
All these questions that we have raised were transmitted to the ODIHR in written form so that they might be taken into account when preparing the report for the OSCE Ministerial Council meeting to be held in Brussels. Moreover, as was called for in the decision adopted at the Ministerial Council meeting of 2005 in Ljubljana, the ODIHR, when preparing this report, is to hold consultations with the participating States and respond to their questions.
We are convinced that the next stage following the preparation of the report must be a wide ranging discussion by the participating States themselves of how to ensure that the work of the ODIHR genuinely meets the expectations and needs of the participating States and how more effective co operation can be achieved.
Without serious dialogue and a review of the Office’s working methods, greater transparency and accountability vis à vis the political institutions of our Organization, the ODIHR will remain an instrument of political pressure.
We are sometimes reproached for an unwillingness to engage in dialogue with the ODIHR, to discuss its documents and consider recommendations. In that connection, I would note that the Belarusian authorities, acting in good time (at the beginning of May), sent the ODIHR a consolidated commentary on the interim report. At the invitation of Ms. Lydia Yermoshina, the Chairwoman of the Belarusian Central Election Commission, at the beginning of June, she met in Minsk with the Head of the ODIHR mission, Mr. Geert Hinrich Ahrens, and with a representative of that Office. At that meeting, the Belarusian authorities requested that they be given an opportunity to familiarize themselves with the draft of the final report before it was published and that the ODIHR take into account the comments transmitted to it indicating inaccurate assertions and factual errors in the interim report or, if that were not possible, to include our comments as an attachment to the final report. In addition, the Belarusian side reaffirmed its interest in obtaining any monitoring documents that would confirm instances involving violations of law or of international standards. Not one of these requests was satisfied.
Today, following this meeting of the Permanent Council, we are holding a special briefing devoted to a more detailed exposition of our experience of collaboration with the ODIHR in matters of election monitoring, using as an example the recent elections in our country.
I would imagine that this subject should be of interest to all the delegations and that our presentation will make it possible to focus on particular elements of the forthcoming ODIHR report to the OSCE Ministerial Council meeting.
One final remark. Initially, we had planned to address the Permanent Council in a somewhat different format. We were counting on senior representatives of the Central Election Commission of Belarus being able to come to Vienna. We sincerely regret and are deeply disappointed that the Government of Belarus has been refused the right to determine on its own the composition and level of participation of its representatives in a meeting of the Permanent Council.
In this way we see that the conclusions reached by the ODIHR have been used as a pretext for the introduction by a group of States of sanctions directed against a number of Belarusian officials. Actions of this kind, in our view, seriously undermine the authority of the OSCE and must be dealt with legally in the appropriate manner. We shall return to this question at a later date.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
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