What Is the Role of Human Rights in Elections?

High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. UN Photo/Pierre Albouy
High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. UN Photo/Pierre Albouy

The right to take part in the conduct of public affairs, including the right to vote and to stand for election, is at the core of democratic governments based on the will of the people.

Genuine elections are thus a necessary and fundamental component of an environment that protects and promotes human rights, suggests the UN Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR).

The right to vote and be elected in genuine, periodic elections is intrinsically linked to a number of other human rights, the enjoyment of which is crucial to a meaningful electoral process.

These prerequisite rights include the right to freedom from discrimination, the right to freedom of opinion and expression, the right to freedom of association and of peaceful assembly, and the right to freedom of movement.

OHCHR works to ensure that elections meet international human rights standards and that they are held in an environment in which all are able to exercise their fundamental rights.

To do so, it deploys an array of methods from its headquarters and field locations, which include advocacy, provision of technical assistance, monitoring of human rights in the electoral context and public or confidential reporting.

Through their joint initiative on Human Rights and Election Standards, OHCHR and The Carter Center have worked to build stronger ties between human rights mechanisms and the international election observation and assistance communities.

As a result of this joint initiative, a Plan of Action on Human Rights and Elections was developed, which compiles a number of recommendations formulated throughout a series of expert consultations that took place between 2015 and 2017.

The Plan of Action provides ideas on how to increase cooperation between the human rights and the electoral observation communities and on how to advance a human rights-based approach to elections.

Interested organizations and individuals are invited to disseminate and act upon the recommendations of this Plan of action.

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Rakesh Raman