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Civil Society Institutions as Election Observers: An Assurance toward Free, Healthy and Fair Elections
Mon 27 04 2009

On the verge of the tenth round of presidential elections, the Committee to Defend Free, Healthy and Fair Elections, has issued an analytical statement which elucidates the current circumstances in which the upcoming elections will be held, adding that observation by civil society institutions can serve as an assurance toward the holding of free, healthy and fair elections. The statement issued by the Committee to Defend Free, Healthy and Fair Elections, which was set up in August 2007 at the suggestion of the Defenders of Human Rights Center, by a group of social and political activists, argues that given the lack of an open political environment, the absence of a free press, and the limitations placed on the activities of political parties and non-governmental organizations, oversight of the upcoming presidential elections provided by national and international civil society institutions provides a legal strategy for ensuring that the upcoming elections are indeed free, healthy and fair. The statement issued by the Committee to Defend Free, Healthy and Fair Elections appears below:
In the Name of God
Civil Society Institutions as Election Observers: An Assurance toward Free, Healthy and Fair Elections
The Committee for Free, Healthy and Fair Elections as an independent civil society group, comprised of a group of political and social activists, in line with its mandate, and also with the intent of carrying out its mandate as an observer of elections, believes that given the lack of an open political environment, the absence of a free press, and the limitations placed on the activities of political parties and non-governmental organizations, oversight of the upcoming presidential elections provided by national and international civil society institutions provides a legal strategy for ensuring that the upcoming elections are indeed free, healthy and fair.
Certain developments during the short period leading up to the tenth round of presidential elections, exemplify that the upcoming election will not meet the necessary standards for the holding of free, healthy and fair elections. These developments include: the actions of the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting Agency (IRIB), and opinions expressed by some military officials as well as some high ranking officials in charge of carrying out the elections or providing oversight to the process of elections. Additionally, the authoritarian interpretation of oversight of the elections and the continued practice of vetting of candidates at the highest of levels raise and increase existing concerns about the fairness of the upcoming elections in June. The position of the Chair of the Expediency Council, as we are approaching elections, warns of the unlikelihood of political groups who differ in their perspectives and political positions from the dominant ruling hierarchy to introduce candidates for the elections.
Unfortunately and despite the fact that according to election laws the right of the people and especially of candidates standing for elections to oversee and serve as observers over the process of elections, is officially recognized, the extreme reactions of some officials and some of those involved in the elections against oversight by the public with the intent to safeguard their votes, has created serious concerns about the fairness of elections among the public and among political and democratic forces. We remind that the “Declaration of Principles for International Election Observers” which was commemorated on 27 October, 2005 at the United Nations in NY, has been endorsed by 21 inter-governmental and non-governmental groups, including the Inter-Parliamentary Union, of which the Islamic Consultative Assembly of Iran (Parliament) is a member. Also, in 1994 the Inter-Parliamentary Union unanimously adopted the “Declaration on Criteria for Free and Fair Elections.”
The first section of the United Nations Declaration of Principles for International Election Observers states: “genuine democratic elections are an expression of sovereignty, which belongs to the people of a country, the free expression of whose will provides the basis for the authority and legitimacy of government. The rights of citizens to vote and to be elected at periodic, genuine democratic elections are internationally recognized human rights.” Besides being adopted by the members of the Inter Parliamentary Union, including Iran, the first section of the Declaration is in line with the 56th Article of the Iranian Constitution, which states: “Absolute sovereignty over the world and man belongs to God, and it is He Who has made man master of his own social destiny. No one can deprive man of this divine right, nor subordinate it to the vested interests of a particular individual or group.”

The fourth section of the United Nations Declaration explains: “International election observation is: 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.”

The ninth section of the Declaration emphasizes that: “International election observation must be conducted with respect for the sovereignty of the country holding elections and with respect for the human rights of the people of the country. International election observation missions must respect the laws of the host country, as well as national authorities, including electoral bodies, and act in a manner that is consistent with respecting and promoting human rights and fundamental freedoms.” In the end and according to the 12th section of the Declaration an international observation mission is possible only if the country holding the election issues an invitation or otherwise indicates its willingness to accept an international election observation mission prior to the holding of elections. Besides the willingness of the government, acceptance of international observer missions by political competitors is a necessity.

It is necessary to explain that international observance of elections in no way constitutes the undermining of national independence or the sovereignty of the country, rather it is in line with international commitments of the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, agreed upon based on the capacity and mechanisms provided in this respect in the Iranian Constitution. States and governments are subject to adhering to national and international standards in pressing for their rights to sovereignty. In other words, the legitimacy of a national state is greatly linked to its ability to observe the rights of its people and the peoples’ right to govern itself. No one equates the presence of Iran’s representative in the United Nations, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) or Iran’s desire to become a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and so forth, as a factor undermining the national sovereignty of the country and there exists no with respect to the importance of establishing and maintaining such relations. Likewise the cooperation of Iran with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the oversight provided over Iran’s nuclear activities by the IAEA or the cooperation of Iran for oversight of elections for the Football Federation, has not inflicted any harm on the government or the people of Iran, nor has it undermined the country’s independence and national sovereignty, rather these types of collaborative relations have been adopted as a logical strategy in line with concepts of international trust building. The proposal on the importance of observation of elections by international and national civil society groups of the tenth round of presidential elections can be assessed in line with this same logic. Of course, it should be noted, that the presence of and interference of foreign governments in elections in various countries has never proved a positive measure and therefore we do not recommended this for Iran or for any other country. Here we are speaking of observation of the Presidential elections by international civil society institutions.

International observance of elections does not take place in developing countries which are fraught with unrest and political upheaval. Nor should international observance of elections in a given country be equated with the absence and lack of internal and national capacities and systems. In recent years, international observation has taken place in stable and independent countries such as: Great Britain, Russia, the Ukraine, Turkey, Malaysia, Pakistan, Nicaragua and Palestine. The elections in Palestine, which resulted in a victory by Hamas and which has on numerous occasions been lauded by the Iranian government as a solid legal development toward ensuring the will of the people, took place with the presence of international observers. When the current President announced that Iran is prepared to observe the elections in the United States, the offer was not taken as a sign that the United States is fraught with unrest and political upheaval which have rendered its government incapable of providing proper oversight, therefore needing Iran to step in and provide oversight and guardianship.

The Committee for the Defense of Free, Healthy and Fair Election contends that if in accordance with the law on elections the safeguarding of the votes of the people is facilitated through a process of oversight and observance by national civil society groups, then there will be no need for international observers. As such, the Committee asks the Iranian government to take steps to strengthen the public’s trust and its own moral legitimacy in holding the tenth round of presidential elections, by facilitating the process of national civil society institutions for serving as observers of the elections. It is a given that if the minimal conditions stated in the third article of the Constitution are observed so that the independent press can provide information freely; national civil society institutions, including political parties and groups as well as social groups and NGOs are provided the right to operate and conduct their activities in a lawful manner; and the judiciary in line with the concept of separation of powers, provides the opportunity for fair judicial proceedings, ensuring the accountability of those in power when faced with criticism, questions and accusations, there would be no need for proposing international oversight and observance over the election process so as to ensure that it is free, healthy and fair.

The Committee for Free, Healthy and Fair Elections
April 19, 2009



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Defenders of Human Rights Center
Member of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)