Three-day ECOWAS – UN Workshop on Sharing Experiences and Good Practices on the Prevention and Mitigation of Election-related Violence held in Accra on September 10, 2019
Opening Remarks by the RC ai at the ECOWAS–UN Workshop on Sharing Experiences and Good Practices on the Prevention and Mitigation of Election-related Violence
- The Chairperson of the Electoral Commission of Ghana
- The Representative of the ECOWAS Commission
- The Representative of the UN Electoral Assistance Division
- Representatives of MDAs
- Representatives of the diplomatic corps, colleagues from the UN, the civil society
- Members of the Press
- Invited Guests and participants,
- Ladies and gentlemen
It is a great honor and a pleasure for me to make a few remarks on behalf of the United Nations and to welcome you all very warmly to this workshop, that is jointly organized by the ECOWAS Secretariat and the United Nations. The UN and the ECOWAS Secretariat enjoy a solid partnership and this workshop is another example of the impact that we can make when we join forces.
I would also like to give a particularly warm welcome to representatives of electoral management bodies from the ECOWAS region, representatives from different regional, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations of the continent, including the African Union, the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, the Southern Africa Development Region and the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa, as well as representatives of civil society organizations.
Before anything else, allow me to extend our sincere appreciation to the Electoral Commission of Ghana for accepting to be our host for this event.
Ladies and gentlemen
What we will discuss over the next three days is of critical importance. The rights to vote and to participate in elections are part of the basic human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights. The right to vote is a human right and that is something we often forget.
Elections allow citizens to exercise their power to choose their leaders. Something we know is dear to all of us but should certainly not be taken for granted. Elections, when they are credible, genuine and inclusive also consolidate democracy and promote human rights. Successful electoral processes and the stability that they bring, play a central role in creating sustainable peace and through that the opportunity for sustainable development in societies. It is indisputable that there is a direct link between violence-free elections, peace and development.
But while most elections in West Africa have been held in a peaceful environment in recent years, sadly, the ECOWAS region has also suffered from incidents of violent conflicts and instability, some of which have been sparked by elections or election-related processes.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Electoral violence can take many forms. It can be violence that is aimed at influencing the behavior of voters, forcing them to choose a candidate against their will. It can be violence targeted at candidates or election officials, to distort the results of the elections. It can take so many forms from insults and intimidations to brutalities and deaths.
We often make the mistake of thinking that elections create violence but elections simply accelerate or escalate tensions or violence that are already existing. The root causes are often present well before the elections, when the violence erupts; which is why countries that are emerging from a political crises, countries that have a very tensed political landscape with strong polarization or countries where ethnic, economic or political exclusion are an issue are very vulnerable to electoral violence.
Our practice of democracy is another vulnerability factor to electoral violence. Often, the “winner takes it all” approach of many electoral systems makes the stakes so high in many elections. Those who win collect and control almost all political and financial assets, making the stakes so high that some parties and groups, are ready to resort to anything including violence to keep or access power.
So often the signs are there, and this is why prevention as is very fittingly included in the title of this workshop is so critical. Prevention should start well ahead of the elections but should also continue until well after the elections.
As I said earlier, the strong link between violence free elections, peace and development means that preventing and addressing electoral violence should be a priority for all of us. Beyond being an existential threat to democracy, it also considerably slows development in our countries which is why SDG 16 has been placed at the heart of the global development agenda setting for the first time a quantified target on violence prevention and an ambition to significantly reduce violence in all its forms.
I would like to commend, the ECOWAS Secretariat for the great strides made in recent years to reinforce the exercise of democracy in the region, through the introduction of a number of mechanisms, including the Supplementary Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance.
The UN is also contributing to these efforts, by playing a catalytic role in democratic transitions, through the provision of electoral assistance and other strategic interventions to consolidate democratic principles and practices in the region. We are also extending support to civil society, the media, political parties and parliaments.
Advancing peace and safety for all peoples is our collective responsibility. While violence is easy and can be achieved with remarkable efficiency, prevention is much more complicated. It requires partnership, sustained attention and continued commitment.
This workshop constitutes an amazing opportunity to strengthen our partnership. We are all gathered here to share experiences and good practices and there is no doubt in my mind that with the level of expertise in this room we will reach that objective.
I wish you all fruitful and constructive discussions and as I often say, the most important outcome of this workshop is not what you will discuss in this room, but what you will do with it when you go back home. I thank you very much.