Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Laura Poitras’ Oscar-winning documentary Citizenfour, the story of the whistleblower Edward Snowden, was shown at the Geneva Human Rights Film Festival and again this afternoon in room XXI of the Palais des Nations.  It should be seen by every adult in the platnet — and most particularly by every Republican and Democrat in the United States of America.  It should be openly discussed in society at large, in colleges and universities — and those responsible for such massive violation of the US Constitution and of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights should be held accountable.  When did we give Government authority to spy on us without a Court warrant?  When did we approve that our tax dollars be used to finance and worldwide Orwellian network? Even before the showing of this documentary I proposed to the annual meeting of UN Special Procedures Mandate holders to create a new rapporteurship on the Right to Privacy, which is crucial to the domestic and international democratic order.  I repeated this proposal in a conversation with President Jimmy Carter on 12 February 2015 at the Carter Center in Atlanta, and mentioned it in my short intervention below: Panel (Session Two): Survey of Global Human Rights Mechanisms and Election Standards Presentation of Mr. Alfred de Zayas, Independent Expert on the Promotion of a Democratic and Equitable International Order The Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council have existed since the 1980’s under the old Commission on Human Rights.  They have demonstrated considerable added value in the past and potential for vigorous independent initiatives in the future, initiatives that give greater visibility and relevance to the work of the Council. Year by year this monitoring mechanism has been expanded, allowing experts from all regions of the world to examine concrete situations and formulate implementable and pragmatic recommendations. At present there are 39 thematic mandates, 14 country mandates and six “working groups” comprised of 5 members each. We liaise with inter-governmental organizations, civil society organizations, academia, think-tanks, and, of course, with victims and their lawyers.  My mandate, for instance, has brought me in frequent contact with the Inter-Parliamentary Union, a key player that in 1997 issued the Universal Declaration on Democracy and in 2013 the Quito Communiqué on Sustainable Development.  We report on our findings and recommendations to the Human Rights Council and the United Nations General Assembly. Whereas some States bemoan that there has been a “proliferation” of mandates, I submit that in the field of human rights we can never do enough, and in the light of the undemocratic, unconscionable and totalitarian mass surveillance of citizens, I think that the creation of a Rapporteurship on the Right to Privacy is overdue.  As to the frequently expressed criticism that there is overlapping and duplication in the system, I submit that far from being negative, duplication is a form of emphasis – learning through repetition. Moreover, the different expert “vantage points” enable a better understanding of the issues and possible solutions. The special rapporteurs perform their duties within the framework of their mandates, contribute to the creation of international standards, provide technical assistance, and carry out country visits. We also consider complaints from victims of human rights violations, and perform good offices with Governments on their behalf. Individually, or jointly, we speak out to the media about pressing issues, of national or global concern, including related to the holding of elections. A key problem with the special procedures system does persist: the lack of an effective follow-up mechanism. There is often little political will to implement our recommendations, including those related to public participation and elections. Sometimes we Rapporteurs feel as if we were on an assembly line producing report after report– but that our findings and conclusions are lost in translation. An effective mechanism of getting civil society, national human rights institutions and governments involved with our recommendations is yet to be devised. The multiple aspects of democratic elections are of relevance to many experts, both thematic and country rapporteurs, bearing in mind that democratic elections require access to information so as to formulate one’s own opinions and an environment where free discussion and dialogue are possible without fear of penal sanctions. Moreover, equal and non-discriminatory access to the media is crucial to ensure pluralism and a level playing field.  Statutory limitations on contributions to political parties and a cap on campaign spending are necessary in a democratic society so as to prevent the disproportionate influence of certain sponsors that render it nearly impossible for an independent candidate —lacking comparable financial backing— to compete. Issues relating to election standards and human rights in the context of elections are of continuing relevance inter alia to the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, the Special Rapporteur on Peaceful Assembly, the Special Rapporteur on Terrorism, the Special Rapporteur on Torture, on Human Rights Defenders, to the Working Group on Disappearances, to the Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions. It bears repeating that because human rights are universal, interrelated and interdependent, a violation of one aspect of the electoral process frequently entails the violation of numerous other human rights. Let me briefly survey what some of my colleagues have been doing with regard to elections. In his 2014 report, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue, paid particular attention to the establishment and enforcement of legal instruments regulating political communications. He detailed the human rights framework applicable to the question of freedom of opinion and expression in political communications and electoral processes, and further described common violations of the right in electoral periods. Mr. La Rue stressed that “the right to participate in public life cannot be fully realized without ensuring the right to freedom of opinion and expression in all its dimensions” and that during electoral processes, States must ensure that the right to freedom of expression is guaranteed to political candidates and their supporters, opposition groups, political lobbies and the whole spectrum of media actors, from news media to bloggers, commentators and analysts.” He stressed that a just and equitable space for public dialogue must be ensured and that elections must never be ruled by market logic, with those having greater access to financial support controlling the public debate through their disproportionate access to publicity and the media (A/HRC/26/30). In 2013, the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association, Maina Kiai, issued an important report (A/68/299) to the General Assembly focusing on the exercise of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association in the context of elections. He noted that these rights play a decisive role in the emergence and existence of effective democratic systems, since they allow for dialogue, pluralism, and tolerance, and where minority or dissenting views or beliefs are respected. Mr. Kiai called on States to ensure that the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association are enjoyed by everyone, any registered or unregistered entities, including women, youth, persons belonging to minorities, indigenous peoples, non-nationals, including stateless persons, refugees or migrants, and members of religious groups, as well as activists advocating economic, social, and cultural rights. He made a number of important recommendations, including the obligation of States to ensure that no one is criminalized for exercising the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, nor is subject to threats or use of violence, harassment, persecution, intimidation or reprisals. Moreover, he called for an enabling framework for the formation of political parties. In an addendum to his 2010 report to the HR Council, the then Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Philip Alston, explored the phenomenon of election/related killings, providing an overview of the perpetrators, victims, timing, motive, methods and effects of election-related killings. He noted that “State responsibility remains central in many cases, such as when (a) State security forces themselves carry out the killings, which have often occurred at public demonstrations, or of rival party candidates, supporters or voters; (b) Government officials plan, direct or order private groups or militias to carry out killings; or (c) the Government fails to adequately protect citizens from non-State violence (e.g. the Government fails to disarm a candidate’s private militia; the security forces fail to account for post-election violence).” He also observed that the International Criminal Court may have an important role to play in some situations. Several reports of the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders express concern about election related violence, including demonstrations calling for free and fair elections, challenging the results of elections, denouncing irregular nomination and registration procedures of candidates, or alleged violations of electoral regulations. In the 2007 report, the expert focused on the elections in Belarus and protests following the March 2006 elections which resulted in mass arrests. In its 2013 report, the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice noted that political transitions do not always lead to inclusive democracy and long-lasting peace, stressing that “women’s capacity for equal participation in all aspects of political and public life depends on a coherent set of social and economic policies directed at the family, workplace and marketplace…. Partial and selective application of gender quotas and other temporary special measures must be replaced by a comprehensive system-wide approach, in permanent as well as ad hoc institutions of governance.” Myself, as Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order since 2012, I have had the opportunity to explore issues of democracy and elections in my 2012, 2013 and 2014 reports.  As you may know, my mandate is a hybrid mandate that encompasses the spectrum of human rights, civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights and aims at a functional convergence of these rights so as to promote and strengthen an international order that is more peaceful, democratic and equitable.  Free elections are thus one of the many components of my mandate, and I have called for enhanced space for civil society, which must have a stronger voice in all political processes. In my reports I recalled that in some countries the situation is particularly grave, since freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association, and free and fair elections, are not ensured; opposition leaders are arrested or killed; journalists, whistleblowers and bloggers are harassed, intimidated and detained; public demonstrations are prohibited; peaceful demonstrators massacred, elections are reduced to masquerades. But even in countries that are ostensibly democratic, there is often a disconnect between power and the people and elections are sometimes rituals rather than genuine expressions of the will of the people. It is crucial that electoral systems be free and fair, and respect the principle of non-discrimination so that all groups, including opposition groups or groups promoting dissenting views, can take part in the electoral process. These rules should apply not only for general or important elections, but also in local consultations.  It bears repeating that public participation entails more than casting votes:  it implies the ability for individuals and people to shape the decisions that affect their community. While elections constitute an important component of a democratic order, the system must be constantly monitored to ensure that elections are the culmination of a process of determining the will of the people with effective popular participation in the selection of candidates and a pluralistic debate on issues, not just on personalities. Democracy is best served when there is vibrant civil society participation, when there is proactive disclosure by governments and frequent public consultations by way of opinion polling and referenda. The Swiss system of direct democracy is a good example, where, for instance, citizens have the power of legislative initiative, which can be exercised by collecting a certain number of signatures and putting the initiative to popular vote. Other aspects of direct democracy including referenda, recall and impeachment should be more generally used in parliamentary or representative democracies. Parliamentarians must see their functions as a temporary trust from the people and should not pretend that their elections had conferred on them carte blanche to do as they will until the next elections, to follow the demands of undemocratic lobbies and pressure groups rather than the wishes of the electorate and implementing campaign promises in good faith.  Alas, Parliaments in many countries frequently adopt legislation that would be solidly rejected if submitted to direct popular vote, particularly on budget and fiscal matters.  Laws that are not supported by the will of the people are undemocratic. Trade agreements that are not subject to consultation and public debate cannot be considered legitimate. As my fellow panellist, Sir Nigel Rodley, will further elaborate, article 25 of the ICCPR, the right to take part in the conduct of public affairs, is crucial to every democratic order. Whenever the UN Human Rights Committee undertakes consideration of an updated general comment on article 25, the Special Procedures mandate holders will gladly contribute their expertise on election related matters. Currently the Human Rights Council in seized of a study on public participation, which may contribute to the drafting process of a new general comment, as endorsed by several national human rights institutions, including the Danish Institute for Human Rights. Ladies and gentlemen, I would be remiss if I did not mention the important role of every UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, who has the overall responsibility to coordinate all human rights activities in the UN system, including Special Procedures. The High Commissioners provide professional support and encouragement to the Rapporteurs and working groups, while always respecting our independence. There is, however, a serious shortage of funds to carry out our mandates, and States in the Fifth Committee of the General Assembly must be reminded of their responsibilities. There is no financial crisis – but a crisis of priorities. I believe that my colleagues and I must continue to speak out jointly, in press releases and through other avenues, to galvanize public opinion on crucial issues of democracy and fair elections, as was done in the run up to the Presidential elections in Senegal in 2012 and in the wake of the post-election violence in Kenya in 2008. We should also look to, and welcome, input and research assistance from academic institutions and think tanks in relation to these vital issues.

Advertisements