Human rights defenders support CEC’s desire to invite international observers
On July 20, Vienna hosted a conference of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which was devoted to the international standards and commitments of OSCE participating States in the context of elections. The conference was moderated by Director of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights Michael Georg Link. Belarus was represented by an activist of the campaign "Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections" Valiantsin Stefanovich and Chairperson of the Central Election Commission Lidziya Yarmoshyna.
The speakers shared their views on standards, tools and implementation of election standards at the national level, and discussed the effective practice of holding fair and democratic elections.
According to Valiantsin Stefanovich, during the second part of the conference Lidziya Yarmoshyna argued that despite the criticism of the OSCE ODIHR and observations conducted by the organization, Belarus has always been open to monitoring by international organizations and this year’s election will be no exception. All key international initiatives, in particular the ODIHR, the CIS mission and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, have received invitations.
“In addition, the CEC Chair noted that Belarus implemented certain recommendations of the OSCE. In particular, she spoke about the composition of election commissions and the fact that one third of the commissions are representatives of public associations and political parties. Besides, there is a possibility of judicial appealing against a refusal to include a nominee in the commission,” said the human rights activist.
In his speech, Valiantsin Stefanovich said that it is very difficult to talk about holding a truly democratic and free election in the absence of political pluralism in the country, especially against the background that the basic civil and political rights, which are expected to be enjoyed by the citizens during election campaigns, are either restricted or very limited in nature. The human rights defender focused on freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of association, freedom of expression, as well as the right to receive and disseminate information.
Separately, V. Stefanovich spoke of the ODIHR recommendations, which had been earlier mentioned by Lidziya Yarmoshyna.
“These recommendations were implemented quite a long time ago, about five years ago. And we already have a practice which demonstrates that, unfortunately, these recommendations have not led to an improvement in the electoral process.”
In particular, the rate of one-third of NGO members political party activists has not led to greater pluralism of electoral commissions. Representatives of opposition parties are still rarely included in election commissions, while the elections are administered by the five largest pro-government public organizations: the Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus, the Belaya Rus NGO, the Belarusian National Youth Union, the Union of Veterans and the Women's Union.
The possibility of appealing against refusals to include nominees in the commissions does not work in practice in courts. The legislation does not contain explicit criteria for which a person can apply for membership in the election commission, while appealing against such a refusal in court is useless, since the subject of dispute is absent.
Members of the campaign "Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections" insist on the implementation of the OSCE recommendations concerning the counting of votes – introducing a counting procedure, which would allow to relate the counting results with the figures indicated in the voting protocol. Counting should be carried out by one member of each commission, who should demonstrate each ballot and voice the result reflected in the ballot. Human rights activists support the announced desire of the Central Election Commission to hold elections without obstacles for domestic observation and observers from international organizations.
Among other things, Valiantsin Stefanovich said that representatives of the well-known international election observation organization ENEMO sent a letter asking the CEC to allow them to monitor the presidential election in Belarus.