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The activities of OSCE election observation missions

30 September 2004

Mr. Chairman,

At the meeting of the OSCE Permanent Council today, our delegation would like to raise the issue of how the election observation missions of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) operate. The issue of proper monitoring and objective assessment of election processes by the OSCE, inter alia, from the point of view of meeting our common obligations, is highly relevant for many countries.

In particular, the Declaration by the Heads of State of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) of 3 July 2004 concerning the state of affairs within the OSCE, and the Appeal by the CIS States to their OSCE partners of 15 September 2004 devoted a fair amount of attention to the ODIHRs election monitoring activities. To put it mildly, these activities were not viewed in the best light.

A number of critical remarks directed at ODIHR election monitoring were also voiced during a recent discussion of a request by the Office for additional resources to carry out election monitoring.

The ODIHR was set up, first and foremost, for the purpose of providing assistance to participating States in improving their election processes. Since its establishment, the Office has carried out a considerable number of election monitoring missions. However, despite the tradition of monitoring that has developed and a number of individual successes, we feel compelled to mention today that the ODIHRs election monitoring work has, on the whole, not been conducive to the implementation of those tasks entrusted to it by the participating States, and needs to be revised considerably.

More and more, ODIHR monitoring missions are being transformed into a mechanism for carrying out political orders to pass sentence on certain countries, and are no longer an instrument for providing real assistance.

The activities of the missions, from the moment they are formed, lack transparency and in many cases their assessments are, to say the least, controversial. One often has the impression that the missions come to the country to be monitored with a pre prepared and formulaic conclusion, on the basis of which information is gathered systematically and selectively.

In that connection, we are especially concerned by the principles regarding the staffing of ODIHR election observation missions.

Despite the fact that the Office is taking certain steps to diversify the staff of its monitoring missions, inter alia, by using resources from a special fund, for the most part this only concerns short term observation. For example, Belarusian representatives under the auspices of the ODIHR have had the opportunity on more than one occasion to observe the holding of elections in the Balkans. We should like to express our gratitude to the Office for that opportunity.

For the most part, however, the ODIHR is selecting candidates from countries to the west of Vienna for long-term monitoring missions to CIS countries. Representatives of CIS countries, on the other hand, are being rejected because of the fact that owing to a conflict of interests they are unable to perform their duties impartially and objectively.

For example, we quite recently witnessed a situation where only two out of more than ten candidates from CIS countries were selected for a long term observation mission. At the same time, a number of western countries immediately received several places, and the head and deputy head of the long term observation mission were representatives of the same country.

As we see it, this kind of situation is unacceptable because a conflict of interests may exist between a particular country and the representatives of those countries that traditionally have formed the core staff of observation missions, and of whose impartiality far from everyone is convinced.

The procedure for setting up so-called core teams of ODIHR observation missions also appears totally impenetrable and incomprehensible to us. The criteria and method according to which individual experts are selected for this purpose is a complete mystery to us. Have you ever seen a list of these experts? I am referring to experts whose involvement in observation missions we finance through the OSCE budget as opposed to long and short term observers provided by participating States. Or have you perhaps ever seen information about vacancies for the posts of head and deputy head of long and short term observation missions? No? We have not seen any either, and all of this is giving us obvious cause for worry.

This kind of staffing policy on the part of the ODIHR only strengthens our fears regarding the commitment of OSCE election assessment missions in CIS countries, and significant changes should be made to this policy.

The OSCEs linguistic practices also warrant a separate discussion. The day before yesterday, at a meeting of the Preparatory Committee, we heard arguments from Mr. Richard Monk, the OSCEs Senior Police Adviser, on the need in a number of cases to move away from an insistence on a compulsory knowledge of the English language when selecting experts to carry out short term missions.

It seems to us that this way of thinking and argument are also fully applicable to election observation missions in various parts of the OSCE area. Why is English the working language of ODIHR election observation missions in CIS countries? After all, contact through an interpreter deprives the OSCE expert or observer of the opportunity to directly receive and understand information, and also poses the risk of the OSCE expert being manipulated by the mediator. This may also be one of the reasons why observation missions from our Organization and similar missions from the CIS frequently reach opposite conclusions.

The use of the Russian language in a situation of that kind will also make it possible to significantly reduce the financial costs for OSCE participating States. We believe it necessary to study this question in more detail.

Mr. Chairman,

As we have already noted on more than one occasion, there are at present no generally recognized standards within the OSCE for democratic elections, there are only the common principles and commitments set out in the Copenhagen Document of 1990 and in a number of subsequent OSCE documents.

As we see it, it is an unacceptable and counterproductive practice for ODIHR missions to stamp their verdict, like a carbon copy, stating that a particular election does not conform with non existent standards.

On the other hand, it is just astonishing when the ODIHR or certain participating States urge other participating States, again in accordance with these non existent standards, to change their national election legislation, which they characterize as inadequate, while rigorously asserting the inviolability of their own far less democratic election laws on the basis of their proven democratic history.

In the absence of concrete standards, any assessment of elections on the part of the OSCE is particularly subjective, and largely depends upon the degree of impartiality and objectivity of those who write the report on the findings of the observation mission and who choose where to put the political emphasis. We should like to add that there is no particular procedure for preparing final reports that would enable the opinions of all the members of the observation mission to be reflected. The views of those members who disagree with the findings are simply not included.

Mr. Chairman,

During the OSCEs Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting on Electoral Standards and Commitments held in Vienna in July of this year, we proposed that the ODIHR should temporarily refocus its work on elaborating concrete, comprehensible standards for democratic elections on the basis of the OSCEs existing common principles and obligations.

There have already been individual ODIHR proposals; they were, however, highly unco ordinated. As we see it, this kind of work can only be carried out on the basis of a comprehensive and comparative analysis of the election laws of all 55 OSCE participating States and of the degree to which the practices of these States conform with their respective laws in this area. It is this proposal that is also to be found in the Appeal by the CIS member States adopted in Astana.

It goes without saying that we are not expecting to receive a multi volume analytical work, which would take several years to prepare. We are aware of the objective difficulties of the ODIHR in this regard, since, as it turns out, in several of our countries that believe themselves to be democratic models, there is no nationwide or transparent election legislation whatsoever and in over 20 OSCE countries there has, ironically, never been any election monitoring.

We believe, however, that conducting a comparative analysis of the election laws and practices of participating States on the basis of the information that has been gathered throughout the ODIHRs existence as well as on the basis of responses to the relevant questionnaire designed to determine best practices and set minimum standards is a task of which the Office and its staff are more than capable.

We are prepared to provide the ODIHR with additional financial resources so that it can carry out that task and not so that it can continue extremely expensive but essentially deceptive election monitoring. What is more, it seems to us that the funds needed are not that considerable.

We are confident that common election standards will become the reliable objective criteria for the assessment of election processes by the Organization throughout the OSCE area.

Mr. Chairman,

We are hopeful that the whole range of questions that we have touched upon today will be understood by our partners and will become the subject of discussion during the forthcoming OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting in Warsaw. In any case, we reserve the right to return to this set of questions during the discussion of the ODIHR budget for 2005 and during the preparation of the package of documents for the Ministerial Council meeting in Sofia.

In conclusion, we should like to note that, in our view, the principal task and obligation of the OSCE in supporting participating States in improving their election practices should not simply be to point out inaccuracies or mistakes and draw up recommendations for their correction, but also to acknowledge honestly and objectively progress and the efforts that participating States are making with regard to the holding of democratic elections. Only then will it be possible to achieve constructive co operation and positive results.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

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