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.

Photos by Michael Schwarz/The Carter Center.