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Conference Getting to 2030: Forced displacement and sustainable development 18 October 2018, Domaine de Penthes, Geneva

Review of
Hannah Roberts (International Foundation for Electoral Systems / IFES)
Tetyana Durnyeva (Civil Holding GROUP OF INFLUENCE)

This presentation will cover the position of the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) on IDPs and electoral participation. Since 1987 IFES has worked in more than 145 countries promoting electoral integrity and supporting citizens’ participation in elections, including the under-represented such as IDPs. In September 2016, IFES issued a white paper on IDP electoral participation to promote more attention to this under-addressed issue. I will talk from this and then be followed by Tetyana who will give the case study of Ukraine.

IFES argues that IDPs’ electoral participation is crucial for reconciliation and preventing marginalization. The political voice of IDPs is needed for making governments more responsive and accountable, including in regards to provisions, services and solutions for IDPs. Securing IDPs’ electoral rights in their area of origin or current location is a key component of a durable solution for IDP settlement. However realizing such rights in practice is complex and politically-sensitive.

While there is a lack of available data, what is evident is that IDPs under-participate. In some cases this may be due to a lack of full legal rights and in other cases there may be practical obstacles.

International treaty obligations relevant to elections refer to citizens having the right and opportunity to vote and to stand as candidates, without unreasonable restrictions and discrimination. Therefore it may be argued that there is an onus on states to take special measures to enable electoral participation by IDPs in principle and in practice. And of course SDG 16 refers to “peaceful and inclusive societies” and “effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels”. This can be made real by including IDPs in the electoral process, as voters and as candidates for office.

IDP electoral participation can be extremely politically sensitive, especially given that it can change constituency electorates and alter election outcomes. IDPs are often perceived as predominantly representing the interest of one party, thereby creating an incentive for other parties not to address enfranchisement issues. Uncertainty over return to constituencies of origin is highly sensitive. IFES argues that IDPs should individually be given the choice of whether to vote for constituencies of origin or current constituencies, without any consequence for IDP status or access to humanitarian assistance.

Operational complexities are multiple. Residency requirements can create legal and practical barriers to IDP participation. Documentation requirements can also result in exclusions. Furthermore, IDPs may have difficulties in accessing information through regular methods, including for reasons of language or iliteracy. IDPs are disproportionally affected by the existing barriers to electoral participation of marginalized groups since women, the elderly and persons with disabilities are frequently overrepresented in IDP populations. This calls for special measures during registration, candidate nomination and polling to promote IDP franchise. Such special measures, including arrangements for voting for constituencies of origin, need to be carefully worked out on a case-by-case basis so as not to compromise the overall integrity in the electoral process.

The process of how IDPs electoral rights are provided for is therefore crucial. Consensus-based decisions increase the chances of acceptance of provisions for IDPs, the process overall and ultimately the electoral outcome. Development of policies and laws should be undertaken well in advance of an election, to allow time for research, consultations, consideration of different implementation options, consensus-building, and the implementation of changes. IFES argues that groups representing IDPs, civil society and the election management body should all be involved. The more IDP electoral rights are secured in law, the less risk there is of non-fulfillment.

Public data on IDP numbers and electoral participation is needed so problems can be identified and addressed. Civil society needs to keep IDP participation on the agenda and advocate for reform. Without such pressure, state authorities can often neglect the sensitive and complex issue of realizing IDPs’ rights to vote and to be elected.

IFES’s White Paper includes 17 recommendations. These seek to support the realization of Guiding Principle 22(1) which states that IDPs “shall not be discriminated against as a result of their displacement in the enjoyment of… the right to vote and to participate in governmental and public affairs, including the right to have access to the means necessary to exercise this right.” Furthermore principle 29(1) states that IDPs “who have returned to their homes or places of habitual residence or who have resettled in another part of the country shall not be discriminated against as a result of their having been displaced. They shall have the right to participate fully and equally in public affairs at all levels and have equal access to public services.”

Twenty years on, we see that there is still a long way to go in realizing IDPs’ full political rights in practice. Issues are avoided and practicalities struggled with, risking deepening marginalization and divisions. One such example is Ukraine…

My name is Tetyana Durnyeva, I‘m from Donetsk and had to leave my home due to the Russian aggression. Now I’m a head of Ukrainian NGO “Group of Influence” and we protect the rights of conflict-affected people.

Military aggression of the Russian Federation and occupation has led to a large-scale internal displacement of persons in my country.

As for September 3, 2018 according to the Ministry of Social Policy of Ukraine 1 519 132 IDPs has their voting rights restricted, which is about 4% of the Ukrainian electorate.

IDPs in Ukraine can vote for President of Ukraine, elect Members of Parliament by Party-list proportional representation system and stand as candidates for President, Parliament, Local elections, but are not able to elect Members of Parliament in single-member districts, mayors and local representatives.

In the parliamentary elections in October 2014, all IDPs (about 500 000 people as of October 2014), had no right to elect a deputy of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine in majority district at the new place of residence. In October 2015 in local elections, 1,3 million IDPs did not participate in the election and were not able to elect local councils’ deputies.

Aiming to resolve the outlined problem, in 2016 a group of independent experts developed a draft law №6240 on Ensuring Access to the Right to Vote of Internally Displaced Persons and Other Internal Migrants . The Draft Law was prepared by the NGO “Group of Influence” together with Civil Network OPORA and International Foundation for Electoral Systems in consultation with Central Election Commission, representatives from the Verkhovna Rada, Ministry of temporarily occupied territories and IDPs in Ukraine, IDPs and other key stakeholders.

On March 27, 2017, Draft Law No 6240 was registered at the Verkhovna Rada. The Draft Law, if adopted, would amend the Law on State Register of Voters, along with other relevant legislation, to guarantee full voting rights for Ukraine’s internally displaced persons (IDPs). The Draft Law would also enable all Ukrainian citizens to vote in their actual places of residence by simplifying voter registration procedures and decoupling them from one’s registered place of residence.

The Constitution of Ukraine and international standards clearly define the equality of rights of all citizens, particularly in matters of electoral law. International principles also oblige Ukraine to ensure these rights.

Thus, Group of Influence in partnership with IFES will continue an advocacy campaign to grant IDPs the right to vote on all kind of elections.

Video (English subtitles)

Conference Overview
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