OSCE must intensify its efforts to support and defend citizen election observers
EPDE's Senior Programme Officer Adam Busuleanu participated in the OSCE 2023 Warsaw Human Dimension Conference. In his statement, Busuleanu stressed the repression that election observers and human rights defenders are facing in autocratic regimes and calls on the OSCE to increase its engagement in support and defence of election experts and citizen election observers.
"Less than a year ago, in October 2022, the United Nations explicitly recognized citizen election observers as human rights defenders. Unfortunately, for many election observers in the OSCE region, not much has changed since then.
Citizen observers play a prominent role in promoting democratic electoral reforms in their countries. Therefore, they are seen as a threat to authoritarian regimes that use rigged elections to legitimize their power. They are the target of severe repression, being imprisoned or forced to leave their countries.
I would like to recall that our colleagues from the well-known human rights organisation Viasna in Belarus – among them the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Ales Bialiatski, Valiantsin Stefanovic, Uladzimir Labkovich, Marfa Rabkova, and Andrei Chapiuk spent already almost two years in a Belarusian prison. They are expected to spend many more years there simply because they dared to monitor rigged elections and report about massive election falsifications. All this has been done in the spirit of the OSCE, its rules and values.
A particular tool for eliminating citizen election observation is to stigmatize activists and citizen organizations as "foreign agents." In Russia, the "foreign agents" law has been used to effectively destroy independent election observation. On the eve of the municipal elections held a few weeks ago, the Co-Chair of the well-known organization Golos, Grigoriy Melkonyants, was arrested. His imprisonment is intended to intimidate the entire observer community in Russia ahead of the presidential elections, scheduled for March 2024.
The laws on 'foreign agents' and on 'undesirable foreign organizations' are designed to destroy civil society and to isolate its representatives from external partners and support.
Unfortunately, these restrictive laws are being circulated throughout the OSCE region. Developed in Russia, similar regulations can be found in the countries of Central Asia - for example, in Kazakhstan and in Kyrgyzstan. Attempts to introduce Russian-inspired 'foreign agents' law we saw recently in Georgia, where, fortunately, the authorities haven’t succeeded due to strong resistance from civil society.
The laws on 'foreign agents' and 'undesirable foreign organisations' as well as harsh repressions against citizen election observers constitute a direct violation of the fundamental principles and values of the OSCE.
On behalf of the EPDE, I appeal for greater involvement of the OSCE and the ODIHR in supporting the institution of citizen election observation in all participating states. We call upon OSCE to effectively defend election experts and volunteer observers.
Finally, we call on the OSCE to intensify its efforts leading to the release of illegally imprisoned election experts in Belarus and Russia."