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African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights

Statement of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights on Elections in Africa during the COVID-19 Pandemic


The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the Commission), cognisant of the numerous elections scheduled to take place in African countries in the course of 2020 and those that have already taken place, and mindful of the need for the institution of public health measures to contain the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in Africa, is concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on the right to regular, free, fair and transparent elections.

The Commission affirms that the right to regular, free, fair and credible election is the most sacred democratic norm that serves as a primary means for the exercise of the sovereign right of a people to self-government under Article 20 of the African Charter and the right of individuals to participation in public affairs under Article 13 of the African Charter. The conduct of elections within constitutionally established parameters and applicable human rights standards including those provided for in the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, is a pre-requisite for the maintenance of a democratic, accountable and responsive system of government.   

The Commission also recognizes that the public health measures that States adopt to safeguard the health and life of the public within the framework of the 28 February and 24 March Statements of the African Commission and Article 27 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Charter) can result in, and justifiably necessitate limiting the exercise of various civil and political rights including freedom of movement, freedom of assembly and freedom of association, which are key to the implementation of free, fair and credible elections.

The Commission recognizes the inevitable tension that arises between upholding the legally established public health measures and the right to regular, free, fair and credible elections and is mindful of the prerogative of States Parties to the African Charter, given their respective contexts, to take the most appropriate course of action in deciding whether to proceed with elections or to postpone them.

Drawing on existing regional and international human rights standards by which States Parties to the African Charter are bound when conducting elections and the best practices adopted around the continent, the Commission calls on all concerned States to ensure that in deciding whether to proceed with elections, the following human rights standards are upheld:

Pre-election:

  1. The decision for convening elections according to the constitutional timeline should ensure that the conditions for upholding the public health requirements for protecting candidates and voters from COVID-19 can be adequately guaranteed; 
  2. Updating the electoral calendar based on inclusive consultations and transparent processes with a view to ensure that more time than usual is allocated for the electoral process for enabling the conduct of electoral preparations such as voter registrations in full compliance with physical distancing protocols and where possible, allowing electronic registration;
  3. Electoral gatherings and campaigns, which should preferably be held in open spaces, strictly comply with the public health measures in place, including most notably social distancing, sanitization and hand washing, and the mandatory wearing of masks;  
  4. As far as possible, training for staff of relevant electoral agencies and all other electoral officials and agents should be conducted virtually, and they should be screened/tested for COVID-19 before taking up their duties;
  5. Ensure that the public health measures in place are enforced without discrimination and are not abused to frustrate opposition candidates and the free exercise of voting by the electorate; and
  6. Where it is clear, based on objective assessment of public health officials including representatives of the World Health Organization, that it will not be possible to protect the lives and health of citizens who decide to vote, election management bodies should strongly advise postponing the elections until all the necessary measures can be put in place.

 During the election:

  1. Ensure that all relevant measures are put in place to ensure that voters, officials, observers and all other persons involved in the election process maintain physical distancing and hygiene protocols. This could include staggered voting times extended beyond the normal number of voting days and setting up more polling stations than usual, in order to limit the number of people that would congregate in one area;
  2. Further ensure that polling stations are thoroughly sanitized before, during and after the elections, that the wearing of masks at all times is mandatory and that sanitizers are available to voters before and after voting, and also to those counting the votes. Ensure the appointment of Health and Safety officers to monitor compliance at all polling stations;
  3. Be cognisant of the higher vulnerability of older persons and persons with co-morbidities to contracting and suffering serious health consequences from COVID-19, and take extra precautions to ensure that such persons are able to vote in a manner which does not subject them to unnecessary risk, including advance voting or voting by proxy;
  4. Consider adopting alternative forms of voting, so that voters do not have to physically visit polling stations, including online or postal voting, where this is a viable option;
  5. While the current ban on travel to most countries makes it impossible for independent observers to observe elections, measures should be put in place to mediate this challenge, including allowing more local election observers and possible innovations around virtual election observation using available ICT technology; and
  6. Ensure that all precautions are put in place to ensure that COVID-19 related measures are not abused to prevent anyone from exercising their right to vote.

Post-election:

  1. Where disputes arise about the outcome of the elections, ensure that these are dealt with within the established procedures and do not lead to violence or conflict; and
  2. Take all measures to prevent, investigate and prosecute human rights violations which occur during the election period, and provide adequate redress to victims.

Postponed elections:

Where States opt for postponing elections, they should ensure that:

  1. Applicable constitutional procedures, including judicial certification or review are complied with;
  2. Clear procedures are established on the basis of consultations with and full participation of all stakeholders for determining the new electoral calendar in compliance with applicable constitutional standards;
  3. Clear and equitable interim provisions and consultative decision-making arrangements are made for the exercise of government power to prevent abuse of power or a violation of constitutional provisions and/or applicable international human rights standards; and
  4. Constitutional term limits are observed and the extension of terms limits under questionable circumstances contrary to the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, are avoided.

 

Honorable Commissioner Solomon Dersso, PhD

Chairperson of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights