Mr. Chairman, distinguished delegates,
I have the honour to introduce on behalf of the Secretary-General the report on strengthening the role of the United Nations in enhancing the effectiveness of the principle of periodic and genuine elections and the promotion of democratization (A/74/785). In line with General Assembly resolution 72/164 of 19 December 2017, the report discusses developments in the field of elections and provides an update on the UN’s provision of electoral assistance to Member States.
I am pleased to report that during the last two years, the United Nations has assisted, at their request or on the basis of a Security Council mandate, some 55 Member States in conducting elections. While the nature of the requests has varied, our support is mainly provided in the form of technical assistance or the strengthening of the capacity of national electoral authorities.
Our response to Member States is a system-wide endeavour, which includes the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, the Department of Peace Operations, the UN Missions on the ground, the Country Teams, the United Nations Development Programme, as well as other UN partners, among them: the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights; UN Women; UNESCO; and UNOPS.
Let me highlight a few elements of the report.
As the General Assembly designated UN system-wide focal point for electoral assistance, the Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs is responsible for ensuring system-wide coordination and coherence with the partners I mentioned earlier. Over the past two years we have continued to make progress in ensuring that United Nations electoral assistance delivers as one. We have, for example, continued to expand the system-wide internal policy framework.
Beyond the UN system, I am also pleased to report progress made in strengthening our collaboration with regional organizations. We designed and implemented a number of activities in collaboration with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the secretariat of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the League of Arab States (LAS), the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC). This included staff exchange programmes with some of these organizations. We have also engaged in new partnership activities with the Indian Ocean Commission (IOC).
I reaffirm our commitment to continue our strong regional cooperation, which offers a platform to facilitate actions in the electoral field by United Nations and non-United Nations partners.
During the reporting period, elections continued to be compelling and effective ways for citizens to participate in their countries’ political processes. In some case, however, Member States experienced tension or disputes around elections. As noted by the Secretary-General in his report, these experiences have reconfirmed that it is political leaders – from both government and opposition parties – who bear the overriding responsibility for successful elections. Both those who end up winning and those who are defeated face the choice of reaffirming public trust in their country’s political system or undermining belief in its legitimacy. Winning magnanimously entails: recognizing that a part of the electorate preferred another candidate or party; giving appropriate political space to such different views; and refraining from monopolizing a hold on State institutions or harassing opponents. Losing graciously after a credible process involves refraining from broad, potentially provocative comments about an “illegitimate” election without sufficient evidence.
I wish to make few points on the question of women’s political participation and representation. Since 1997 the percentage of women in lower or single houses of parliament worldwide has almost doubled, increasing from 12.4 per cent to 24.3 per cent in 2019.
That is encouraging, but still far short of the gender balance highlighted in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which will be reviewed, at its 25-year mark, in 2020. Clearly, more needs to be done, in both developing and developed countries, to improve the situation. Supporting the efforts of Member States in promoting women’s participation in political and electoral processes therefore remains one of the highest priorities of the Organization.
The violence perpetrated against women in elections is of deep concern. It deprives women of exercising their right to participation and to live a life free from violence; hampers opportunities for their full and equal representation in decision-making; and thereby weakens democratic processes and institutions. We stand ready to support Member States, to understand these forms of violence and develop tools to prevent them.
In his report, the Secretary-General notes that the influence of the Internet and social media in elections has raised complex issues for Member States. The paralyzing suspicion that any information or discourse can be or has been manipulated, leading to the erosion of trust, lies at the heart of the Internet’s challenge to democracy. Furthermore, the spread of hate speech through online platforms can have a damaging impact on an electoral process and be a trigger for violence. The response to these challenges is still evolving, as are opinions on how to best confront them. Member States may wish to focus on building the resilience of their societies to handle potentially false, emotive and incendiary online content, including by promoting critical thinking and digital literacy and supporting professional journalism. Particular attention should be focused on protecting those who are often the target of hate speech, such as women and vulnerable groups.
Mr. Chairman, distinguished delegates
I would like to conclude by recalling that the United Nations system stands ready to support Member States, at their request, in facing these and other challenges in conducting their elections. The strength of the system lies in its political impartiality and in the global expertise accumulated over several decades. It also lies in the fact that United Nations assistance is designed to be multipronged, drawing on the expertise of a range of diverse United Nations entities, while maintaining a cohesive, coordinated framework with a global focal point function and a strong focus on integration and delivering as one. These institutional arrangements have proved to be efficient. Furthermore, electoral assistance is designed to complement other UN activities, in particular, those in support of peaceful transitions, democratic governance, the rule of law, human rights and gender equality.
We look forward to working together as we pursue these important goals.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.