- Self-determination — Democracy
Beigbeder, International Monitoring of Plebiscites, Referenda and National Elections (1994); Binder and Pippan, ‘Election Monitoring, International’ in the Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law (MPEPIL) (online); Bjornlund, Beyond Free and Fair: Monitoring Elections and Building Democracy (2004); de Raulin, ‘L’action des observateurs internationaux dans le cadre de l’ONU et de la Société Internationale’ (1995) 99 RG 567; Ebersole, ‘The United Nations’ Response to Requests for Assistance in Electoral Matters’ (1992–3) 33 Virginia JIL 91; Fox, ‘Multinational Election Monitoring: Advancing International Law on the High Wide’ (1994–5) 18 Fordham ILJ 1658; Goodwin-Gill, Free and Fair Elections (2006); Ludwig, ‘The UN’s Electoral Assistance: Challenges, Accomplishments, Prospects’ in The UN Role in Promoting Democracy (eds Newman and Rich, 2004); Reisman, ‘International Election Observation’ (1992) 4 Pace Yearbook of International Law 1; Reports of the Secretary-General, Strengthening the role of the United Nations in enhancing the effectiveness of the principle of periodic and genuine elections and the promotion of democratization; Satterthwaite, ‘Human Rights Monitoring, Elections Monitoring, and Electoral Assistance as Preventive Measures’ (1997–8) 30 NYU JILP 709; Stoeling, ‘The Challenge of UN-Monitored Elections in Independent Nations’ (1991–2) 28 Stanford JIL 371; White, ‘The United Nations and Democracy Assistance: Developing Practice within a Constitutional Framework’ in Democracy Assistance: International Cooperation for Democratization (ed Burnell, 2000), 67, at 74–6.
20.01 Electoral assistance1 on the part of the UN dates back to the late 1940s, with the UN observation of elections in the southern part of the Korean peninsula in (p. 687) 1948.2 During the 1960s and 1970s, the UN observed and supervised numerous elections, referenda, and plebiscites, in the context of decolonization.3 The late 1980s and early 1990s represented a turning point for UN involvement in elections, as relations between states transformed following the end of the Cold War and numerous transitions to democracy occurred.4 The UN was receiving a greater number of requests to assist national electoral processes directly through political support and various forms of technical assistance. Accordingly, it needed to professionalize and organize its expertise.
20.02 In 1988, the General Assembly adopted an important resolution on the principle of periodic and genuine elections;5 and an item on the subject was included on the agenda of the General Assembly. In 1991, the Secretary-General published a report on the subject of the principle of periodic and genuine elections, which would become an annual then biennial report.6 Also in 1991, the General Assembly endorsed (p. 688) the designation of a Focal Point for UN electoral assistance efforts; and in 1992, an Electoral Assistance Unit was established.7 During this period, the UN supervised the elections in Namibia and verified the elections in Nicaragua.8 In the decade that followed, the UN shifted from observation of elections to the provision of direct technical assistance upon the request of member states or through a mandate from the UN Security Council. Direct high-profile support and assistance was provided to elections and referenda. This followed the broader trend for armed conflicts to end through peace agreements, which frequently contained provisions on elections.9 Likewise, electoral processes took place in transitions from authoritarian rule.10 By the 2000s, the principal form of UN electoral assistance was the provision of technical assistance.11 Between 1989 and 2006, 391 requests for electoral assistance had been made by 106 states.12 Of the 391 requests, assistance was provided in 289 cases.13
20.03 The rationale behind the provision of electoral assistance on the part of the UN is three-fold: to assist member states to hold democratic elections in accordance with human rights instruments;14 to contribute to the development of a sustainable (p. 689) institutional capacity within member states to organize free and fair elections;15 and to organize all or part of an electoral process, usually with a mandate from the UN Security Council, in substitution for or in partnership with national electoral authorities. As indicated by the Secretary-General, ‘[t]he ultimate objective of electoral assistance is to create its own obsolescence’.16 However, in UN mission settings, because ‘political considerations [often] trump technical considerations’, assistance needs to form part of an integrated UN political strategy.17
20.04 United Nations work in the area of electoral assistance is of several types.18 The principal such types are: the organization and conduct of elections; the supervision, verification, certification, and observation of elections; the coordination of, or support for, observers; and the provision of technical assistance and capacity-building. The form of assistance provided is greatly influenced by whether it is conducted in a UN mission setting, guided by a mandate from the UN Security Council; or a non-mission setting, with no political or peacekeeping mission to support, and guided normally only by an invitation from the host government.
20.05 Although the organization and conduct of elections on the part of the UN is rare,19 this form of assistance has constituted some of the most high-profile and well-known (p. 690) forms of UN support in previous decades. In order for the UN to organize and conduct elections in a member state, a mandate is required from the General Assembly or the Security Council.20 The two instances of organization and conduct of elections by the UN occurred in Cambodia (1992–3), which contributed to the end of the armed conflict; and in Timor-Leste (1999–2002), as part of the exercise of the right of self-determination.21 In other cases, notably Afghanistan (2004–5) and Iraq (p. 691) (2005), international persons were appointed by the UN as members of the national electoral administration authorities.22 However, this too is rare and is an exception to the UN’s usual supporting role, assisting in the national electoral administration.
20.06 United Nations supervision of elections is associated with the period of decolonization. As the name suggests, the elections are organized and conducted by one entity, under the supervision of the UN. This too requires a mandate from the General Assembly or Security Council.23 The leading instance of the UN’s undertaking the supervision of elections is the elections in Namibia (1989–90), in the context of Namibia’s transition to independence.24
(p. 692) 20.07 On occasion, the UN is requested to verify or certify an election. This entails an assessment of the credibility of the electoral process, and a determination that it conformed to relevant international and national laws and commitments.25 This too requires the authorization of the General Assembly or Security Council.26 During the period of decolonization, the mandate of a UN mission not infrequently involved the verification of an election, referendum, or plebiscite. By 2016, requests by member states to the UN to certify elections had become rare.27 One instance of a request for certification is that of the elections in Côte d’Ivoire (2010).28
the systematic, comprehensive and accurate gathering of information concerning the laws, processes and institutions related to the conduct of elections and other factors concerning the overall electoral environment; the impartial and professional analysis of such information; and the drawing of conclusions about the character of electoral processes based on the highest standards for accuracy of information and impartiality of analysis.29
20.09 United Nations standards provide that it is not solely the day of the election that should be observed, but also the electoral processes that lead up to and follow it.30 United Nations observation of elections was a means of building confidence relating (p. 693) to the election.31 By 2016, UN observation of elections had become rare, it being accepted that ‘the UN should not observe an electoral process it is giving technical assistance to, in order to avoid a conflict of interest’.32 With the increase in the provision of technical assistance,33 observation tends to be carried out by regional organizations such as the European Union (EU) and African Union (AU), and by non-profit organizations such as the Carter Center instead.34 However, recent examples of the UN’s observing an election in a member state include Burundi in 201535 and Fiji in 2001.36 On occasion, the UN has provided a single observer for limited, short-term observation.37
20.10 On several occasions, instead of itself observing the election, the UN has been involved in the coordination of international observers.38 This involves the provision (p. 694) of administration assistance to organizations that are observing the election, facilitating the sharing of information and providing logistical support to the observers.39 As, in this case, the UN does not undertake the observation itself; it does not issue a statement concerning the election. The UN has also provided support for national election observers.40
20.11 Technical assistance relates to the advice and support provided by the UN to national authorities concerning the administration of elections. Member states frequently request assistance on the ‘legal, institutional, technical and administrative aspects’ of elections.41 The UN Security Council has also determined, on numerous occasions, that technical assistance is to be provided. At October 2016, 20 Security Council-mandated missions had active electoral assistance mandates.42 Assistance is provided in a range of areas relating to elections, such as:
electoral administration and planning, review of electoral laws and regulations, electoral dispute resolution, boundary delimitation, voter registration, election budgeting, logistics, procurement of election materials, use of technologies, training of election officials, voter and civic education, voting and counting operations, election security and coordination of international donor assistance.43
(p. 695) 20.12 Technical assistance can be provided at all stages of the electoral cycle,44 including well in advance of any election, for example on the issue of electoral reform, rather than solely with respect to a particular election.45 Increasingly, it is technical assistance that is requested of the UN rather than election organization, verification, or observation.46
20.13 Electoral assistance by the UN to a member state is triggered upon a request of the member state and/or on the basis of a Security Council or General Assembly resolution.47 Where the request emanates from the state, a formal, written request for electoral assistance must be made.48 The request is to be made by the appropriate entity within the state, namely the government or the electoral authority.49 Ideally, it should be made at least four months before the date of the relevant election.50
(p. 696) 20.14 Following the request for assistance, the request will be reviewed by the Electoral Assistance Division of the DPA.51 Depending on whether it is a UN mission or a non-mission setting, and the lead Secretariat department supporting that country (DPA or Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO)), the Division will consult with relevant UN entities, such as the UN Resident Coordinator, and, in all cases UNDP. A recommendation is then submitted to the Focal Point as to whether or not a needs assessment is to take place.52
20.15 If a needs assessment is considered necessary, the Electoral Assistance Division dispatches a needs assessment mission.53 The goal of the mission is
to evaluate the political, electoral and security situation in the requesting Member State. The mission will also assess the usefulness, feasibility, advisability, sustainability and potential impact of UN electoral assistance and ascertain whether electoral stakeholders support UN involvement. It will also look at the potential for election-related violence.54
20.16 A needs assessment serves to ensure that the assistance is tailored to the needs at hand.55 In order to ensure gender mainstreaming in UN electoral assistance, all needs assessments that are carried out following a request for electoral assistance by a member state include the specific issue of the representation of women.56 In certain situations, a desk assessment, rather than a needs assessment mission, takes place.57 (p. 697) A recommendation is then made as to whether there should be UN involvement in the relevant election process. A similar process is followed, with some modification, if there is an existing UN mission and Security Council mandate.
20.17 Following the assessment, the Focal Point determines whether electoral assistance will be provided and, if so, the type of assistance. In non-mission settings, the DPA provides oversight, with assistance most commonly provided by UNDP under the leadership of the UN Resident Coordinator. In UN mission settings, all UN entities are required to provide their assistance in an integrated fashion under the leadership of the SRSG, guided by principles of integration established by the Security Council for all mandate areas.58
20.18 In 1991, the Secretary-General recommended that a senior official within the Secretariat act as the focal point for UN electoral assistance.59 This was endorsed by the General Assembly, as was a small number of staff to support the work of the official in this regard.60 In 1992, the Secretary-General appointed the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs to serve as the Focal Point for electoral assistance activities. That same year, the Electoral Assistance Unit was established, which later became the Electoral Assistance Division. The Division is a division of the DPA.61
20.19 The Under-Secretary-General has a number of functions in his/her capacity as Focal Point, including ensuring consistency in the consideration of requests; assisting the Secretary-General in considering requests of member states; channelling requests to the appropriate UN entity; considering requests for electoral verification; developing (p. 698) an institutional memory; maintaining a roster of international experts; and maintaining contact with regional and other intergovernmental organizations.62 The Focal Point also develops and disseminates electoral policies.63
20.20 For its part, the Electoral Assistance Division provides technical support to the Focal Point. It carries out the needs assessments, makes recommendations to the Focal Point, and advises on the electoral assistance to be provided. It also provides advice and assistance to other UN entities that are engaged in the provision of electoral assistance.64 This model has provided the blueprint for many other areas of UN assistance to member states, in particular civilian capacity in conflict-affected countries.65
20.21 United Nations assistance to member states on election matters is a ‘system-wide endeavour’.66 In addition to the DPA, a number of other UN entities are involved in the provision of assistance. These include the DPKO, UNDP, OHCHR, UN Women, UN Volunteers, the UNOPS, and UNESCO.
20.22 As the Electoral Assistance Division does not have the requisite capacity to implement electoral assistance, the DPA and DPKO in general are of particular importance. In mission settings, electoral assistance is provided through electoral assistance components of the relevant mission.67 In such cases, at UN Headquarters, the Electoral (p. 699) Assistance Division works with the lead department (DPA or DPKO) and its integrated task forces of UN entities. Reforms and improvements to deployable UN civilian capacity have made expertise across a range of areas more accessible, such as mediation support and rule-of-law activities, which are made available during electoral processes. In the field, the Electoral Assistance Division works with the political leadership and electoral unit of the mission.68 UNDP, UNOPS, and other UN agencies, funds, and programmes may also have distinct electoral units, which should work under the leadership of one Chief Electoral Officer. With their military and police units and associated transport assets, peacekeeping operations have historically provided by far the greatest capacity assisting countries with their electoral processes. Special political missions rely on specialist civilian expertise and, occasionally, non-armed military and police experts. Electoral assistance invariably requires the engagement of nearly all UN Mission staff and assets, including public affairs, human rights, civil affairs, security, and logistical and transport components.69
20.23 In non-mission settings in which there is no peacekeeping or special political mission, the same headquarters capacities are available with DPA the lead department, but UNDP plays a more significant role in the implementation of the electoral assistance.70 For example, UNDP provides support to the implementation of the technical assistance, coordinates international donor assistance, provides support for international observers, and works with member states in developing and strengthening their electoral management bodies.71 Occasionally, the Electoral Assistance Division and UNDP can take different views on the electoral assistance to be provided.72
(p. 700) 20.24 For its part, the OHCHR monitors the human rights situation in the state ‘before, during and after elections in order to foster an environment conducive to credible elections’.73 It also works to ensure the respect of international standards, for example by providing training and advice on human rights monitoring, and providing advice on electoral laws and institutions in order that they are in compliance with human rights standards.74 The OHCHR has also produced a series of documents on human rights and elections.75
20.25 UN Women provides expertise in the area of gender equality, women’s rights, and the participation of women in the electoral process.76
20.26 The role of UN Volunteers concerns the staffing of electoral operations.77 Together with the Electoral Assistance Division, UN Volunteers selects individuals to staff volunteer posts. These volunteers, inter alia, support local authorities in the organization of elections, and assist with voter registration and civic education.78
20.27 The UNOPS provides services and operational support relating to electoral assistance. This includes the procurement of goods, the provision of support relating to logistics and infrastructure, and the recruitment and administration of support personnel. For example, the UNOPS constructs and renovates election offices and counting centres; installs office equipment and communications systems; vets, recruits, and trains electoral staff; and provides support to electoral observation missions.79
20.28 For its part, UNESCO works towards strengthening the media to provide fair and balanced coverage of elections.80
(p. 701) 20.29 Given the various UN entities that are involved in the provision of electoral assistance, the General Assembly has indicated the need for coordination amongst relevant actors.81 The Inter-Agency Coordination Mechanism for Electoral Assistance was established in 2009 to harmonize the work of the UN in this regard and to assist with the sharing of information. The Mechanism is chaired by the Electoral Assistance Division and meets monthly.82
1 The term ‘electoral assistance’ is used in this chapter to describe the general category of which election supervision, verification, and observation are all part. The term ‘monitoring’ is sometimes used in the literature to describe the same conduct. The terminology used, particularly in UN reports, is not always consistent, with different terms being used to describe the same form of assistance. See Report of the Secretary-General, Enhancing the effectiveness of the principle of periodic and genuine elections (hereinafter ‘Report of the Secretary-General’), UN Doc A/46/609, 19 November 1991, para 5, noting that ‘the terms “supervision”, “observation”, “verification” and “monitoring” are often employed almost interchangeably’.
2 Binder and Pippan, ‘Election Monitoring, International’ in MPEPIL (online), para 8. On the UN observation of the elections, see Beigbeder, International Monitoring of Plebiscites, Referenda and National Elections (1994), 120–6.
3 For a list of plebiscites, referenda, and elections, in trust and non-self-governing territories, that were held under the supervision or observation of the UN, see Report of the Secretary-General, n 1, Annex, ‘Plebiscites, referenda and elections held under the supervision or observation of the United Nations in Trust and Non-Self-Governing Territories’. See also Beigbeder, n 2, 129–43.
4 As late as 1988, UN Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar noted that the UN ‘does not send observers to elections. It could send observers to referendums or elections relating to the exercise of the right of colonial peoples to self-determination, that sort of thing, but it does not take part in political elections.’ Transcript of Press Conference by Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar Held at United Nations Office at Geneva, 5 July 1988, SG/SM/4158/Rev.1 (1988), quoted in Stoeling, ‘The Challenge of UN-Monitored Elections in Independent Nations’ (1991-2) 28 Stanford JIL 371, at 372, fn 1.
5 GA Res 43/157 (1988) emphasized the ‘significance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which establish that the authority to govern shall be based on the will of the people, as expressed in periodic and genuine elections’. It noted further that ‘determining the will of the people requires an electoral process which accommodates distinct alternatives, and that this process should provide an equal opportunity for all citizens to become candidates and put forward their political views, individually and in co-operation with others’. The preamble to the Resolution also recalled that ‘all States enjoy sovereign equality and that each State has the right freely to choose and develop its political, social, economic, and cultural systems’. See also GA Res 44/146 (1989). The resolutions were not uncontroversial, and another resolution on ‘Respect for the principles of national sovereignty and non-interference in the internal affairs of States in their electoral processes’ was adopted alongside. See GA Res 44/147 (1989). Similar pairs of resolutions would be adopted in subsequent years. As Goodwin-Gill, Free and Fair Elections (2006), 24, notes: ‘The resolutions on sovereignty and non-interference operated as counterweight to what many States perceived as an unjustifiable extension of UN activity into the reserved domain of domestic jurisdiction.’ See also Binder and Pippan, n 2, para 10. Over time, the resolutions on sovereignty and non-interference attracted less support. On the possible tension between UN assistance in elections and state sovereignty, see Ebersole, ‘The United Nations’ Response to Requests for Assistance in Electoral Matters’ (1992–3) 33 Virginia JIL 91. For an analysis of the resolutions and the voting pattern of states, see Beigbeder, n 2, 100–4.
6 Report of the Secretary-General, n 1. The exact title of the report has changed over time. In 2013, the report was published as Report of the Secretary-General, Strengthening the role of the United Nations in enhancing the effectiveness of the principle of periodic and genuine elections and the promotion of democratization: Report of the Secretary-General.
7 See section 5.1, ‘The Focal Point and the Electoral Assistance Division’.
8 On the UN role in the elections in Namibia and Nicaragua, see para 20.06 and n 27, respectively.The elections in Nicaragua, which were verified by the UN, were the first instance of the UN monitoring elections in an independent state.
9 See Suhrke, Wimpelmann, and Dawes, Peace Processes and Statebuilding: Economic and Institutional Provisions of Peace Agreements (2007), Fig 1: Frequency of Provisions, available at http://www.cmi.no/publications/file/2689-peace-processes-and-statebuilding.pdf.
10 As Ludwig notes in ‘The UN’s Electoral Assistance: Challenges, Accomplishments, Prospects’ in The UN Role in Promoting Democracy (eds Newman and Rich, 2004), 170: ‘Although the organization had no history of assisting with elections in sovereign states, its international membership and neutrality made it a logical choice for undertaking such a sensitive task.’
11 See section 3.4, ‘Technical assistance and capacity-building’.
12 There were eight requests in 1989 and 28 requests in 2006. One-hundred-and-two requests were from member states and four from non-member states and territories. Report of the Office of Internal Oversight Services on the in-depth evaluation of political affairs: electoral assistance, UN Doc E/AC.51/2007/2/Add.1, 29 March 2007, para 8. Lists of countries and territories that have received electoral assistance from the UN during the period after 2006 can be found in the biennial reports of the Secretary-General on Strengthening the role of the United Nations in enhancing the effectiveness of the principle of periodic and genuine elections and the promotion of democratization. For example, the 2015 report provides that, since the 2013 report, ‘a little over 65 Member States received electoral assistance’: UN Doc A/70/306, 7 August 2015.
14 Art 21(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) provides: ‘Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.’ Art 21(3) further provides: ‘The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.’ This was developed in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Art 25 of which provides:
Every citizen shall have the right and the opportunity, without any of the distinctions mentioned in article 2 and without unreasonable restrictions:
(b) To vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret ballot, guaranteeing the free expression of the will of the electors;
These rights are often recalled in General Assembly resolutions on the issue of periodic and genuine elections. See, eg, GA Res 68/164 (2014).
Associated rights in the ICCPR include Art 19 (the right to hold opinions without interference and the right to freedom of expression), Art 21 (the right of peaceful assembly), and Art 22 (the right to freedom of association).
17 Morrice, Cobos Flores, and O’Shea, Lessons Learned: Integrated Electoral Assistance in UN Mission Settings (2013), 14, available at http://aceproject.org/ero-en/regions/africa/DZ/lessons-learned-integrated-electoral-assistance-in/view.
18 The boundaries of each of the forms of assistance are not always clear and some of the forms of assistance blur into one another. Furthermore, as already noted, the terminology used, particularly in UN reports, is not entirely consistent.
19 This is due to the time and resources that are needed to organize an election. UN Doc A/49/675, n 16, Annex III, Guidelines for Member States considering the formulation of requests for electoral assistance, para 8.
20 ibid, para 7.
21 The Agreement on a Comprehensive Political Settlement of the Cambodia Conflict (1992) 31 ILM 183, was concluded on 23 October 1991. In Art 2 of the Agreement, the signatories invited the Security Council to establish a United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC). Art 13 of the Agreement provided that UNTAC shall have the responsibility for the organization and conduct of elections to the Constituent Assembly. Pursuant to SC Res 745 (1992), UNTAC was established. This was the first occasion on which the UN organized and conducted elections, and stemmed from the desire expressed in the Settlement Agreement. The electoral component of UNTAC was tasked, inter alia, with establishing a legal framework for the elections, registering voters, registering political parties, tabulating votes, verifying the election, and compiling the results of the election. See Report of the Secretary-General on Cambodia, UN Doc S/23613, 19 February 1992, paras 23–51; Report of the Secretary-General on the conduct and results of the elections in Cambodia, UN Doc S/25913, 10 June 1993; Beigbeder, n 2, 197–212; Doyle, UN Peacekeeping in Cambodia: UNTAC’s Civilian Mandate (1995); Findlay, Cambodia: The Legacy and Lessons of UNTAC (1995); UN, The United Nations and Cambodia, 1991–1995 (1995).
UN organization of the elections and popular consultation in Timor-Leste stemmed from the Agreement on the question of East Timor, which was concluded by Indonesia and Portugal in May 1999, and annexed to Question of East Timor, Report of the Secretary-General, UN Doc A/53/951-S/1999/513, 5 May 1999. That Agreement requested the Secretary-General to put a proposed constitutional framework, providing for a special autonomy for East Timor within the unitary Republic of Indonesia, to the East Timorese people for their consideration through a popular consultation. The Secretary-General was also requested to establish a Mission in East Timor for the popular consultation to be carried out. Two additional agreements concerning the modalities for the popular consultation were concluded by the UN, Indonesia, and Portugal, UN Doc S/1999/513, Annexes II–III. Pursuant to SC Res 1246 (1999), the United Nations Mission in East Timor (UNAMET) was established. UNAMET was mandated to ‘organize and conduct a popular consultation … in order to ascertain whether the East Timorese people accept the proposed constitutional framework providing for a special autonomy for East Timor within the unitary Republic of Indonesia or reject the proposed special autonomy for East Timor, leading to East Timor’s separation from Indonesia’. The popular consultation was ‘planned, organized and conducted in three and a half months, an unprecedentedly short time-frame’: Report of the Secretary-General, UN Doc A/54/491, 25 October 1999, para 29. The Secretary-General also appointed an international electoral commission, made up of three members, to oversee the process. On UNAMET and the popular consultation, see the Reports of the Secretary-General on the Question of East Timor; Kingsbury (ed), Guns and Ballot Boxes: East Timor’s Vote for Independence (2000); Martin, Self-Determination in East Timor: The United Nations, the Ballot, and International Intervention (2001). Following the rejection of the proposed constitutional framework (on which see Letter dated 3 September 1999 from the Secretary-General addressed to the President of the Security Council, UN Doc S/1999/944, 3 September 1999), the ensuing violence (on which see the Report of the International Commission of Inquiry on East Timor to the Secretary-General, UN Doc A/54/726-S/2000/59, 31 January 2000), and the deployment of a multinational force (on which see SC Res 1264 (1999)), the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) was established as a transitional administration mission. SC Res 1272 (1999) endowed UNTAET ‘with overall responsibility for the administration of East Timor’. In October 2000, the UN deployed electoral experts to East Timor to establish the electoral component of UNTAET. The main tasks of the experts were ‘to design the structure of the electoral management body in charge of preparing and conducting the elections, develop a comprehensive operational plan for the conduct of the 2001 elections, design a capacity-building programme and establish the basis for a voter education and information programme’: Report of the Secretary-General, UN Doc A/56/344, 19 October 2001, p 16. In SC Res 1338 (2001), the Security Council acknowledged that it was ‘the responsibility of UNTAET to ensure free and fair elections in collaboration with the East Timorese people’. Elections to the Constituent Assembly were held in August 2001 and presidential elections were held in April 2002. See UNTAET, Reg No 2001/2, On the Election of a Constituent Assembly to Prepare a Constitution for an Independent and Democratic East Timor, UNTAET/Reg/2001/2, 16 March 2001; Benzing, ‘Midwifing a New State: The United Nations in East Timor’ (2005) 9 MPUNYB 295; Chesterman, ‘East Timor in Transition: Self-Determination, State-Building and the United Nations’ (2002) 9 International Peacekeeping 45; Chesterman, You, The People: The United Nations, Transitional Administration, and State-Building (2004), 231–3; Stahn, The Law and Practice of International Territorial Administration (2008), 332–47; Wilde, International Territorial Administration (2008), 178–88.
22 In Afghanistan, a Joint Electoral Management Body, comprising the members of the Interim Afghan Independent Electoral Commission and international experts, oversaw the organization of elections in 2004 and 2005. The international persons were appointed by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan, and one of the international experts was the Chief Election Officer of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. On the precise composition of the Joint Electoral Management, Body, which varied over time, see Wilde, n 21, 90. See also Report of the Secretary-General, UN Doc A/60/431, 14 October 2005, paras 39–43.
With respect to Iraq, a number of Security Council Resolutions provided for a role for the UN in the ‘restoration and establishment of national and local institutions for representative governance’. See, eg, SC Res 1483 (2003) and SC Res 1511 (2003). In 2004, the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq was established. A Board of Commissioners headed the Commission, which comprised nine members, seven of whom were voting members and two of whom were non-voting members. The UN Secretary-General appointed an international electoral expert to the Commission to serve as one of the non-voting members. See UN Doc A/60/431, above, para 58; Coalition Provisional Authority Order No 92, CPA/ORD/31 May 2004/92, Sections 4 and 5; Wilde, n 21, 90, 92. The UN also provided additional electoral assistance for the elections. See UN Doc A/60/431, paras 57–61.
24 In SC Res 632 (1989), the Security Council decided ‘to implement its resolution 435 (1978) in its original and definitive form to ensure conditions in Namibia which will allow the Namibian people to participate freely and without intimidation in the electoral process under the supervision and control of the United Nations leading to early independence of the Territory’. Pursuant to the Resolution, the United Nations Transition Assistance Group (UNTAG) was established, to assist the Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG). The elections were organized and run by a South African Administrator-General, under the supervision and control of the SRSG. The SRSG certified each stage of the electoral process, from voter registration through to the publication of the final result. On the UN role in the Namibian elections, see Further Report of the Secretary-General concerning the implementation of Security Council Resolution 435 (1978) concerning the question of Namibia, UN Doc S/20967, 14 November 1989; Beigbeder, n 2, 157–63; Ludwig, n 10, 174; Stahn, n 21, 220–5; Szasz, ‘The Electoral Process’ in The Namibian Peace Process: Implications and Lessons for the Future (eds Weiland and Braham, 1994).
27 GA Res 46/137 (1991), one of the key resolutions in the area, notes in its preamble that ‘electoral verification by the United Nations should remain an exceptional activity of the Organization to be undertaken in well-defined circumstances, primarily in situations with a clear international dimension’. See also Report of the Secretary-General, UN Doc A/46/609, 19 November 1991, para 79; Report of the Secretary-General, UN Doc A/47/668, 18 November 1992, paras 53–4.
The UN has verified a number of electoral processes, starting with the elections in Nicaragua in 1989. On which, see GA Res 44/10 (1989); Letter dated 6 July 1989 from the Secretary-General addressed to the President of the General Assembly, UN Doc A/44/375, 7 July 1989, Appendix: Establishment and Terms of Reference for the United Nations Observer Mission to Verify the Electoral Process in Nicaragua; reports of the United Nations Observer Mission to Verify the Electoral Process in Nicaragua to the Secretary-General; Beigbeder, n 2, 164–9.
28 The UN mandate to certify elections in Côte d’Ivoire stemmed from the Pretoria Agreement on the Peace Process in the Côte d’Ivoire, 6 April 2005. In SC Res 1765 (2007), acting under Chapter VII of the Charter, the Security Council decided that the SRSG in Côte d’Ivoire ‘shall certify that all stages of the electoral process provide all the necessary guarantees for the holding of open, free, fair and transparent presidential and legislative elections in accordance with international standards’. After some delay, the first round of the presidential elections took place on 31 October 2010, and a second round on 28 November 2010. On the UN role in the elections, see Twenty-sixth progress report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire, UN Doc S/2010/600, 23 November 2010; Twenty-seventh progress report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire, UN Doc S/2011/211, 30 March 2011.
30 GA Res 52/129 (1998) ‘recommends that United Nations electoral assistance be geared towards comprehensive observation of the electoral process, beginning with registration and other pre-election activities and continuing through the campaign, election day and the announcement of the election results, in instances where more than technical assistance is required by the requesting State’.
31 As the Secretary-General put it: ‘An international observer presence help[s] to impress upon the voting public the importance of the election as well as their concern that international standards be maintained.’ The confidence-building extends to the broader international community. UN Doc A/49/675, n 16, para 41.
32 Department of Political Affairs of the United Nations Secretariat and the United Nations Development Programme: Revised Note of Guidance on Electoral Assistance (2010), para 7(m). Likewise, in 2003, the UN Secretary-General noted that ‘As the provision of technical assistance has increased, requests for direct United Nations electoral observation has decreased. This is in part because the United Nations never observes elections that it organizes or conducts, owing to the obvious conflict of interests.’ Report of the Secretary-General, UN Doc A/58/212, 4 August 2003, para 8.
33 See section 3.4, ‘Technical assistance and capacity-building’.
35 In 2015, the Government of Burundi requested that the UN deploy an electoral observer mission for the 2015 elections. Pursuant to SC Res 2137 (2014), the Secretary-General established the United Nations Electoral Observation Mission in Burundi. The Mission observed the legislative and communal elections, the presidential election, and the local council election. In his Report on the United Nations Electoral Observation Mission in Burundi, the Secretary-General noted that ‘despite peaceful polling days and the adequate operational management provided by the electoral authorities, the conditions were not in place for the 2015 electoral process in Burundi to be credible and transparent’: UN Doc S/2015/985 (2015).
36 At the request of the caretaker Government of the Republic of the Fiji Islands, the General Assembly authorized the Secretary-General ‘to establish the United Nations Electoral Observer Mission to monitor the general elections in Fiji [in August 2001] and the immediate post-election environment’: GA Res 55/280 (2001). Some 38 observers from 19 states were deployed to Fiji, and the Mission observed the elections and the period immediately afterwards. See United Nations Electoral Observer Mission for the general elections in Fiji in August 2001, UN Doc A/56/611, 10 November 2001.
37 The single observer has been an international expert, as well as, on occasion, the UN Resident Coordinator in the state in question. UN Doc A/47/668, n 27, para 60. A single observer was used when a request for observers was made too late for proper observation to take place. UN Doc A/49/675, n 16, para. 30. However, observation by a single observer is considered to provide limited benefit to the state in which the election is taking place, whilst also proving costly for the UN. Accordingly, the Secretary-General considered that such assistance ‘should be authorized only in special cases’: Report of the Secretary-General, UN Doc A/52/474, 16 October 1997, para 31. Precisely what constitutes a special case is unclear.
38 This was the case, eg, in the elections in Sierra Leone in May 2002. The United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone supported the ‘207 independent international observers’, eg through the provision of briefings and through the facilitation of their accreditation with the electoral authorities. See UN Doc A/58/212, n 32, paras 47–8. The UN has also coordinated international observers for elections in, amongst other states, Algeria, Azerbaijan, Burundi, Chad, the Comoros, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Mali, Nepal, Niger, Nigeria, and Tanzania. UN Doc A/52/474, n 37, para 28; Report of the Secretary-General, UN Doc A/48/590, 18 November 1993, para 39.
39 Coordination of international observers ensures that observation will be consistent and takes place as an integrated whole rather than through piecemeal parts. UN Doc A/49/675, n 16, Annex III, para 11; UN Doc A/48/590, para 38. However, caution has been expressed by the Department of Political Affairs (DPA) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), given that the UN coordination of international observers could ‘give the impression that the UN itself is conducting electoral observation’: Department of Political Affairs of the United Nations Secretariat and the United Nations Development Programme: Revised Note of Guidance on Electoral Assistance (2010), para 7(n).
40 This was the case with national observers of the national elections in Mexico in August 1994, to whom the UN provided training. This was done for some 30,000 observers: Ludwig, n 10, 176. Assistance was also provided on such matters as ‘observation methodology, logistics, strategic planning and the conduct of quick counts’: UN Doc A/49/675, n 16, para 13. Support for national observers facilitated the creation of a network of election observers and enabled a consistent observation of the elections. It also supported the building of capacity within the state. UN Doc A/49/675, above, paras 26–8.
As the Secretary-General has noted, over time, ‘[r]equests from Member States have tended to become more focused on highly specialized areas such as voter registration, electoral legislation reform and training of electoral officials’: Report of the Secretary-General, UN Doc A/64/304, 14 August 2009, para 6.
42 See Field Missions Mandate table, 1 October 2016, available at http://www.un.org/en/sc/repertoire/data.shtml#rel-1.
43 See further at http://www.un.org/undpa/elections. For example, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), the UNDP, and the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) provided a range of technical assistance activities, eg supporting ‘operational planning, gender mainstreaming, training, voter education, procurement, deployment of personnel and electoral materials and information technology, such as setting up a website and updating the voter database’. The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) assisted in the development of training materials on gender mainstreaming in electoral processes; and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) provided training for journalists on the reporting on elections. See UN Doc A/68/301, 9 August 2013, Annex I, para 5. In the Central African Republic, the Electoral Assistance Division, with the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic, was tasked with providing technical and logistical assistance to the Transitional Authority, in order to prepare and hold the constitutional referendum as well as free, fair, and inclusive presidential and legislative elections; security for the electoral process, by developing a joint election security plan between the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) and counterparts (CAR Armed Forces, gendarmerie, and national police), and coordinating international technical assistance through the good offices of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of MINUSCA, as well as through the different national and international partners. See SC Res 2217 (2015).
45 An election is both an event and a process. At one time, UN assistance was provided with respect to the events of election day. Over time, with many member states having conducted their first multi-party election, UN assistance has moved away from the specific event that is election day and towards ‘the consolidation of institutions and processes which are essential to viable democracies’: UN Doc A/52/474, n 37, para 3.
46 However, the Secretary-General has emphasized that ‘elections are fundamentally political, rather than technical, events; and more importantly they are not an end in themselves’: Report of the Secretary-General, UN Doc A/68/301, n 43, para 45. The Secretary-General continues (at para 50): ‘United Nations electoral assistance, where it is requested and provided, should complement other United Nations system activities—to the extent that they are mandated or requested—in support of peaceful transitions, democratic governance, the rule of law, human rights and gender equality. Just as elections are not isolated technical events but are an integral part of domestic political processes, United Nations electoral support should be part of a broader approach to promoting peace and stability, as well as democratic governance. A good election alone is rarely sufficient to produce good governance; good governance on the other hand tends to produce good elections. I encourage Member States to pay attention to integrating these political, security and technical perspectives when adopting mandates for United Nations peace operations.’
48 It can be made to the local UNDP representative, or through the permanent mission of the relevant state. UN Doc A/49/675, n 16, Annex III, Guidelines for Member States considering the formulation of requests for electoral assistance, para 3.
50 ibid, para 7(a). Not infrequently, requests for assistance are made a week or two prior to the relevant election. Such requests are made too late for assistance to be provided. See UN Doc A/56/344, n 21, para 28.
51 See section 5.1, ‘The Focal Point and the Electoral Assistance Division’.
In general terms, a needs assessment will be undertaken for the reasons set out in n 54 and para 20.16. However, it might not be considered necessary where there is a ‘well-defined request for strictly technical assistance’: UN Doc A/49/675, n 16, Annex III, Guidelines for Member States considering the formulation of requests for electoral assistance, para 7.
On the Focal Point, see section 5.1, ‘The Focal Point and the Electoral Assistance Division’.
On occasion, a government might request assistance to gain the UN stamp of approval for its election, without being willing to make the necessary changes to ensure that the election is free and fair. In other instances, a government might request assistance to obtain funds from donors, while being unwilling to make changes to the election procedure, eg to allow freedom of the press. Needs assessment missions thus enable the UN to ensure that it is not being used to legitimize a substandard process. Ludwig, n 10, 172.
For further information on needs assessment missions, see United Nations Focal Point for Electoral Assistance, Guideline, United Nations Electoral Needs Assessments, 11 May 2012; Ludwig, n 10, 171–3.
55 UN Doc A/66/314, n 47, para 5. It also ‘allows direct discussion of concerns, priorities and resources’; enables the UN to determine which entity is best placed to provide assistance; and contributes to the establishment of a working relationship between relevant individuals. UN Doc A/49/675, n 16, para 44.
57 A desk assessment will be conducted where, eg, ‘the assistance is not further to a mandate from the Security Council or another UN organ’; electoral assistance has been provided for more than one electoral cycle and the request relates to continued assistance; and where the Electoral Assistance Division considers the political and electoral environmental circumstances are such that a desk assessment is warranted. Department of Political Affairs of the United Nations Secretariat and the United Nations Development Programme: Revised Note of Guidance on Electoral Assistance (2010), para 7(d).
58 For a study of UN integrated electoral assistance, comparing seven large-scale elections and reviewing member state and UN integration and electoral assistance policy, see Morrice, Cobos Flores, and O’Shea, n 17.
61 At the outset, there was some debate surrounding the location of the Unit, in particular whether it should be located within the DPA or within what is now the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). Ludwig, n 10, 171, suggests that the location of the Division within the DPA reflected the view that elections were seen as a tool of conflict resolution. On the issue of whether electoral assistance is best conceived as a human rights issue or a peace-building issue, see Fox, ‘Multinational Election Monitoring: Advancing International Law on the High Wire’ (1994–5) 18 Fordham ILJ 1658, at 1660.
For a time, the Electoral Assistance Unit was transferred to the Department of Peace-Keeping Operations, and the Under-Secretary-General for Peace-Keeping Operations was the Focal Point for Electoral Assistance Activities. This was done ‘in an effort to rationalize the functions of both departments and to consolidate those Secretariat units working directly with the field’: UN Doc A/49/675, n 16, paras 5–6.
63 UN Doc A/66/314, n 47, para 10; Department of Political Affairs of the United Nations Secretariat and the United Nations Development Programme: Revised Note of Guidance on Electoral Assistance (2010), para 6(a).
64 UN Doc A/66/314, n 47, para 11. The DPA and UNDP have described the work of the Electoral Assistance Division thus: ‘[T]he main tasks of the Division are to evaluate requests for electoral assistance, assist the focal point in coordinating electoral assistance activities within the UN system, formulate UN policy and guidelines on electoral matters, undertake needs assessment missions, assist the organizations of the UN system and other appropriate bodies in the design of electoral assistance project activities, develop operational strategies for electoral components of peacekeeping operations, maintain contact with regional and other inter-governmental organizations to ensure appropriate working arrangements with them and avoid duplication of efforts, maintain a roster of electoral experts and serve as the institutional memory of the UN in the electoral field.’ Department of Political Affairs of the United Nations Secretariat and the United Nations Development Programme: Revised Note of Guidance on Electoral Assistance (2010), para 6(b).
65 Petrie and Morrice, ‘Scrambling and Pulling Together the UN’s Civilian Capacities in Conflict-Prone states’ in Peacebuilding Challenges for the UN Development System (eds Browne and Weiss, 2015), available at http://futureun.org/en/Publications-Surveys/Article?newsid=73&teaserId=4.
66 UN Doc A/66/314, n 47, para 10. For example, following the death of President Lansana Conté of Guinea, and a coup d’état in 2008, presidential elections were held on 27 June 2010, and a second round on 19 September 2010. Technical support was provided by UNDP; and the Deputy Director of the Electoral Assistance Division provided support to UNDP on the ground. Following a request from the Government, funding for security for the election was provided from the Peacebuilding Fund. The UNOPS provided logistical support for the election. And the OHCHR office in Guinea monitored the human rights situation on the ground before, during, and after the elections. UN Doc A//66/314, above, paras 39–40.
67 For example, pursuant to SC Res 1509 (2003), the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) was established. The mandate of UNMIL included providing assistance to the transitional government for the national elections, which were scheduled to take place no later than the end of 2005. Following an electoral needs assessment mission on the part of the Electoral Assistance Division in April 2004, it was decided that the UNMIL would ‘provide significant electoral technical assistance’. Accordingly, UNMIL created an electoral division, which comprised some 30 staff and 150 UN volunteers. UN Doc A/60/431, n 22, paras 62–4.
68 For example, the Division provides advice and support to the electoral unit of the mission, coordinates the recruitment of personnel to the electoral unit, and provides input on the electoral aspect of the budget. Report of the Office of Internal Oversight Services on the in-depth evaluation of political affairs: electoral assistance, n 12, para 29.
70 UNDP might also have a role to play in states in which there is a peacekeeping or peacebuilding mission. Report of the Office of Internal Oversight Services on the in-depth evaluation of political affairs: electoral assistance, n 12, para 22. See also UNDP, Electoral Assistance Implementation Guide (2007), 25.
72 A report of the Office of Internal Oversight Services indicates that UNDP is seen as ‘a close partner of the Government and, as such, may not be as objective as the Division. Similarly, the stakeholders perceive the Division as being more concerned with maintaining electoral assistance standards, ensuring the impartiality of the United Nations and following credible electoral conduct.’ Report of the Office of Internal Oversight Services on the in-depth evaluation of political affairs: electoral assistance, n 12, para 26.
73 UN Doc A/66/314, n 47, para 14. For example, in Togo, at the request of the Government, the OHCHR monitored the human rights situation before, during, and after the elections of October 2007. This was considered to have contributed to the peaceful electoral environment. UN Doc A/64/304, n 41, para 15. In Timor-Leste, the OHCHR monitored polling stations to ensure that vulnerable voters could vote. This also had the effect of preventing intimidation. UN Doc A/62/293, n 71, para 11.
74 UN Doc A/66/314, n 47, para 14. For example, the Centre for Human Rights deployed a Mission to Lesotho in November 1991, which advised and commented on the electoral law of Lesotho. It also advised on instructions to polling stations and instructions to voters. See UN Doc A/47/668, n 27, 27; Beigbeder, n 2, 115–16.
77 For example, in June 2009, UN Volunteers had deployed some 400 volunteers to 16 states. UN Doc A/64/304, n 41, para. 16. UN Volunteers sometimes comprise the core electoral staff in the field. UN Doc A/52/474, n 37, para 9, giving the example of the UN Transitional Administration in Eastern Slavonia, Baranja, and Western Sirmium (UNTAES).
79 UNOPS, Census and Elections (2010), 1. For example, the UNOPS coordinated observers for the elections in the DRC in 2006; and assisted the national electoral commission of Iraq and the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) with the logistics of the referendum in October 2006 and the elections in December 2006. UN Doc A/62/293, n 71, para 14.
80 See at http://www.un.org/undpa/en/elections.