Human Rights and Election Standards

The Carter Center believes that greater and more sustained interaction between the international elections community and human rights mechanisms is needed to promote electoral reform, strengthen democratic governance, and foster the evolution of relevant international law on elections.

About Human Rights and Election Standards (HRES)

Genuine elections that reflect the will of the people are a fundamental human right. Yet international mechanisms for reviewing states’ fulfillment of their commitments do not often consider election-related issues. Public international law must evolve to meet emerging challenges, and U.N. treaty bodies and the Universal Periodic Review of the Human Rights Council, for example, rely on input from stakeholders to advance new interpretations of the law. Until now, however, there have been no organizations with a specific focus on electoral and democratic rights working to support and enhance these mechanisms.

The Carter Center’s HRES initiative builds on a history of consultation and common values, if not sustained formal collaboration, to strengthen the partnership between the global elections and human rights communities.

HRES aims to advance the creation of new international law on elections and empower citizens to hold their governments accountable at both the national and international level. Planned activities include capacity-building for civil society organizations, workshops with human rights experts and election practitioners, and submission of regular reports to human rights mechanisms supported by observer data.

Initial HRES Conference, February 2015

During this two-day conference in February 2015, participants from the human rights and election observation communities came together for the first time to examine collaboration between the international election assistance community and human rights mechanisms, explore paths to electoral reform, and establish consensus on a human rights-based approach to elections. The conference was co-chaired by President Jimmy Carter and U.N. Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights Ivan Šimonović. Participants included members of election observation groups and civil society organizations, United Nations human rights experts, representatives of human rights commissions, and scholars.

Several concrete ideas were identified as potential areas of future engagement on the part of the two groups:

  • Educating election groups on the international human rights system, including mapping different mechanisms and their access points;
  • More outreach to states by the election community regarding election obligations in public international law;
  • Mapping treaty ratifications and advocating for states to ratify ICCPR and regional treaties;
  • Drafting a common declaration of principles on elections and human rights;
  • Forming an advisory group to discuss how public international law can be applied to specific electoral issues;
  • Exploring creation of a new special rapporteurship and/or shaping the mandate of the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Promotion of a Democratic & Equitable International Order;
  • Requesting thematic reports and/or special panels on democratic elections from the Human Rights Council;
  • Increasing field-level engagement with long-term human rights monitors and national human rights institutions (NHRIs); and
  • Identifying gaps in the public international law framework for elections, and working to address those gaps.

Link to February 2015 Summary of Proceedings

Photos by Michael Schwarz/The Carter Center.

Meeting with Special Rapporteurs, January 2016

This two-day conference was held at The Carter Center in Atlanta, Georgia, and convened U.N. Special Procedures mandate holders and members of the elections community. Participants took part in seven sessions over two days, reflecting on the elements of a human rights-based approach to elections and advancing strategies for collaboration between the human rights and elections communities. Specifically, participants focused on how special rapporteurs and election practitioners can benefit from and contribute to each other’s work as well as potential challenges and how to address them. The participants discussed several concrete recommendations for the human rights and election observation communities, both individually and collectively.

Special rapporteurs present during the workshop recommended that representatives of the election observation community be invited to the next annual meeting of Special Procedures in Geneva. In addition, Special Procedures mandate holders should review reports from election observation missions, when available and whenever relevant, before conducting country visits and should consider including a focus on elections in their reports and their schedule of country visits.

It was recommended that election observer groups should structure reports so that it is easier for the Special Procedures mandate holders to identify relevant information, and that election observer groups should develop and use common terminology in their reporting. The election community should also consider and suggest ways that Special Procedures mandate holders can help follow up on recommendations, for example, by conducting analyses of laws or specific recommendations on legal reform.

It was also suggested that both communities advocate for the creation of a thematic mandate on Article 25 regarding participation in public affairs and work to improve the use of the communications procedure (for example, allegation letters) to bring allegations of violations in the context of elections to the attention of Special Procedures mandate holders.

Link to January 2016 Summary of Proceedings

Meeting with U.N. Treaty Body Members, June 2016

The Human Rights and Election Standards workshop convened members of U.N. treaty bodies and of the international election community on- June 16 – 17, 2016, at Palais Wilson in Geneva, Switzerland. During six sessions over two days, participants reflected on the elements of a human rights-based approach to elections and advancing strategies for collaboration between the human rights and elections communities. This meeting built on discussions from previous meetings but focused on areas of potential collaboration between election practitioners and the U.N. human rights treaty bodies with mandates that relate to issues that arise in electoral processes. The participants discussed several concrete recommendations for the human rights and election observation communities, both individually and collectively.

It was recommended that the human rights community place a special focus on elections during the annual meeting of treaty bodies and use the “special reports” within the treaty bodies to encourage reporting and compliance on obligations related to election issues or to highlight serious human rights concerns in electoral contexts. It was also suggested that they develop practical guides and training materials for the elections community and other stakeholders to facilitate interaction with the treaty bodies.

It was suggested that the election observer community integrate more of the work of the treaty bodies into election observation reports and analysis, specifically the “concluding recommendations.” It was also suggested that election groups submit information to the treaty bodies and monitor and assess the outcomes from state reviews and/or state responses to recommendations to track progress.

It was also suggested that both communities continue informal and formal contacts, including possible joint events. They should also strive for greater information sharing and cohesion on key issues as well as increased coordination and collaboration with civil society organizations in the field.

Link to June 2016 Summary of Proceedings


Meeting on the U.N. Universal Periodic Review Process, February 2017

The third Human Rights and Election Standards workshop co-convened by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and The Carter Center, brought together representatives of the international human rights and elections communities and representatives of States active in the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on February 21, 2017, at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. Participants took part in five sessions in which they considered how the topic of elections has been addressed in the UPR process, discussed practical steps to make recommendations regarding elections more effective in the UPR context, and identified collaborative measures to ensure follow-up and implementation of election-related UPR recommendations.

Link to the February 2017 Summary of Proceedings