The presence of international observers can make a dramatic difference in ensuring that elections move a country's democratic process forward, while fraudulent voting can detonate conflict, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said today at a ceremony in New York to adopt set of standards in the electoral field.
"The Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation, and its accompanying Code of Conduct, marks an important step forward," he said to representatives of some two dozen organizations, including former United States President Jimmy Carter of the Carter Centre and former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright of the National Democratic Institute.
The Secretary-General noted that the guidelines serve to enshrine the principle of total impartiality. "They agree also to examine all of the relevant stages of the elections, and not simply parachute in on the day of the vote," he noted. "They commit to take no funding from host governments whose elections they are observing, and to insist on freedom of movement and full access to information throughout the many stages of the election."
The pioneering initiative setting common standards should strengthen the role of the international community in supporting democratic elections around the world, he said.
The mere presence of international election observers, fielded always at the invitation of sovereign States, "can dissuade misconduct, ensure transparency and inspire confidence in the process," Mr. Annan said.
The spread of democracy around the world is an inspiring story interwoven with that of the UN itself, since the world body was first called to observe elections on the Korean Peninsula in 1947, he said.
"Through the era of trusteeship and decolonization, the United Nations supervised and observed plebiscites, referenda and elections worldwide. UN-monitored elections were key elements of the transitions to peace in places such as Namibia, Cambodia, and Central America – and in helping bring about the end to apartheid," he pointed out.
Today the UN rarely fields its own observers, he said, but election assistance remains a strategic and high-profile activity for the world body, particularly in nations emerging from conflict or undergoing fragile political transitions -- from Afghanistan to Burundi to Iraq, and a few weeks ago in Liberia, where President Carter took part in the process.
The Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation and the Code of Conduct for International Election Observers were drafted by a joint secretariat of the UN Electoral Assistance Division, the Carter Centre and the National Democratic Institute.
"Genuine democratic elections cannot be achieved unless a wide range of other human rights and fundamental freedoms can be exercised on an ongoing basis without discrimination based on race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status, including among others disabilities, and without arbitrary and unreasonable restrictions," the Declaration says.
It stresses that human rights and democracy cannot be achieved without the protections of the rule of law.