Risk of violence means UN electoral support must be more than technical – official

25 October 2011

The political nature of elections means that United Nations assistance must involve more than just technical advice and include mediation and the use of good offices, given the potential for violence to accompany many polls worldwide, a top UN official said today.

“Elections are fundamentally political events. They cannot be dealt with on a purely technical basis,” B. Lynn Pascoe, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, told delegates in the General Assembly committee dealing with social, cultural and humanitarian issues, also known as the Third Committee.

“Since elections all too often run the risk of triggering violence and political turmoil, we must ensure that support available to Member States includes not just technical advice but mediation and good offices, if requested, preferably in collaboration with regional or subregional organizations,” he added.

Presenting Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s report on strengthening the role of the UN in the area of electoral assistance, Mr. Pascoe said the demand for UN support remains strong. The world body assisted over 50 countries in the past two years, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, and requests continue to arrive.

Over the years, he stated, the UN has developed significant expertise in the provision of electoral assistance, including through its roster of electoral experts and its institutional memory and provision of best practices and lessons learned.

“We have also developed a positive track record for effective delivery of electoral assistance, including in some of the most difficult post-conflict and geographical environments. Most importantly, the Organization’s impartiality remains its biggest asset,” he added.

Mr. Pascoe noted that the landmark Constituent Assembly elections held this past weekend in Tunisia are a “superb demonstration” of how the UN can provide countries with the kind of expert advice and support they request while fully respecting national leadership and ownership in the process.

In the report, which the committee is examining as part of its discussion of the effective enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms, Mr. Ban states that the continued demand for electoral assistance is an indication of the general appreciation of the work of the UN in supporting democratic development, including credible, periodic and genuine elections.

This is based largely, he says, on the commitment, as directed by the General Assembly, to carry out assistance in an objective, impartial, neutral and independent manner.

“United Nations assistance is also given with the understanding that there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ model or solution, and that each country must be in charge of its own destiny, but the Organization is ready to make its expertise, best practices and lessons learned available,” he added.

The Secretary-General states that the true measure of an election is whether it engenders broad public confidence in the process and trust in the outcome.

“An election run honestly and transparently, respecting basic rights, with the effective and neutral support of State institutions and the responsible conduct of participants [leaders, candidates and voters] is most likely to achieve an accepted and peaceful outcome,” he writes.

The report, which became public in late August, also highlights progress in the coordination of electoral assistance within the UN and with outside actors; notes work done by the Organization in the area of gender and elections; and calls for issues of sustainability and cost-effectiveness to be given central considerations in the design and provision of electoral assistance.

There is also an emphasis on the issue of governance, with the Secretary-General pointing out that “investments in elections will not yield sustainable peace and development without independent and professional judiciaries, open, pluralistic media, a robust civil society, a credible government and effective governance at all levels.”

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