Monitoring human rights during elections

Fifty years of independence were marked in Africa by numerous crucial electoral processes. The citizens of 22 African countries went to the polls in 2010 and OHCHR presences on the continent monitored the human rights situation during elections in several countries.

Training of security personnel in Cote d’Ivoire © ONUCI/DDHMost recently, the UN Human Rights office advocated for peaceful electoral processes respectful of the human rights of voters in Côte d’Ivoire and Guinea.

The long awaited presidential polls in Côte d’Ivoire, which were postponed six times since 2005, saw an estimated 85 per cent voters’ turnout, mainly women. The Human Rights Division of the UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (ONUCI) organised a series of workshops promoting human rights during the electoral process, with a particular emphasis on the protection of women and girls in rural areas.

ONUCI deployed a number of staff throughout the country who worked with national authorities, civil society and international observers.

A month before the polls, human rights officers trained some 300 security personnel in Bouaké, fief of the former Ivorian rebellion. The agents were trained on ten rules to enforce law and order during the elections, in line with international human rights norms and standards.

The training was part of ONUCI’s strategy to ensure elections respectful of human rights. Human rights officers from eight sub-offices undertook advocacy activities and capacity building of Ivorian political leaders, civil society and media. Former rebel Major Dramane Soro of the Forces Nouvelles acknowledged that “The errors of the past are due to lack of knowledge of human rights”, adding that he would make good use of the training he acquired.
In Guinea, while the first round of the presidential elections in June 2010 was predominantly peaceful, tensions between the two remaining candidates and disputes over the leadership of the Electoral Commission jeopardized the organisation of the second round. At least four civilians were killed and scores injured during clashes involving the candidates’ supporters and security forces in the capital Conakry between 15-17 November.

Other human rights violations linked to the organisation of the elections were also reported by staff of the newly established OHCHR office in Guinea. The UN Human Rights office expressed concern over the manner in which Guinea’s security forces had quelled supporters’ demonstrations both in October and November 2010.

In the run-up to the polls, OHCHR-Guinea helped train 175 human rights monitors operating across the country. The office also engaged in conflict prevention activities, including holding talks with both presidential candidates and their teams, human rights training of security forces and youth groups. Staff also worked closely with NGOs and other local partners throughout the country to monitor the human rights situation before, during and after the elections.

Following the violence in the country, the Government declared a state of emergency and curfew on 17 November. The Supreme Court is expected to announce the final results by 2 December. Until then, the state of emergency and the curfew will be maintained. OHCHR will continue to monitor the situation, to provide assistance to the authorities to prevent violence and human rights violations.

1 December 2010