"Participation of national minorities in the election process"
"Participation of persons with disabilities in the election process"
Conference Concept Paper
Holding 21st ACEEEO Annual Conference in Bosnia and Herzegovina shortly before local elections, which will be held beginning October 2012, will represent a great opportunity to inform the public on activities of the ACEEEO, as well as the topic to which this conference will be dedicated.
Development on consciousness on the need of strengthening human rights and freedoms of minorities resulted in apprehension that the basis is no longer only prohibition of discrimination, but also guaranteeing rights to minorities for their specificity, namely preservation of ethnical, religious and cultural identity.
Crucial influence to development of political and legal consciousness on importance of improving status of minorities had international institutions – the United Nations, Council of Europe and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The Council of Europe started this process in 1950 by adopting the Convention on protection of human rights and fundamental freedom, and the process was continued by adoption of the European Charter on regional or minority languages (1992), and Framework Convention for protection of national minorities (1995). The OSCE's standards of guaranteeing human rights and protection of minorities are set in the Copenhagen Document from 1993. The primary aim is to improve rights of minorities and attempt of their standardization in the global sense. In December of 1992 the United Nations adopted the Declaration on rights of persons belonging to ethnical, religious or linguistic minorities. Besides these documents, different countries signed bilateral agreement, which have an important role in exercise and protection of minority rights.
In practice, one of the biggest problems and challenges in protection of rights of ethnic minorities is the fact that countries even after signing the conventions and agreements try to avoid fulfillment of international standards justifying such acts with specificity, claims that they do not have minorities or that all guaranteed rights are ensured. In this sense theory and practice observed globally significantly differ and they are in an obvious disharmony. One can also observe "overloading" of rights that are set for national minorities and at the same time non-commitment to assumed and prescribed obligations.
Provisions of the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina do not prescribe that representatives of national minorities can be elected to the Presidency and the House of People of the Parliamentary Assembly of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Article 2 of the Constitution guarantees enjoyment of rights and freedoms set in the European Convention for protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, as well as in its protocols. Due to violation of rights of national minorities' representatives and impossibility to be elected to the high representative bodies at the state level, Bosnia and Herzegovina has the obligation, defined by the decision of the European Court for human rights in Strasbourg from December 2009, in case Sejdić – Finci, to make changes to the Constitution and the Election Law of BiH thus ensuring the right to be elected to the representatives of national minorities. One must notice that Bosnia and Herzegovina at 2008 Local Elections created conditions for the representatives of national minorities to be elected to the legislative bodies at the local level through changes to the Election Law.
Persons belonging to national minorities have the right to completely and efficiently enjoy human rights and fundamental freedom without any discrimination, being equal before the law and having equal right to vote. Special rules ensuring guaranteed seats to national minorities or assuming deviation from usual criteria of distribution of seats for parties representing national minorities are not in contradiction to the principle of universal right to vote. The aim of the Conference is to give its contribution to exercise of the national minorities' rights in the elections.
Plenary sessions will focus on the following topics:
1. National minorities in election process – experience from the region;
2. Election system in BiH and political representation of national minorities.
Participation of persons with disabilities in the elections is set by national electoral legislation, harmonized with the international legal documents by which the countries committed themselves to respecting the electoral rights of persons with disabilities aimed at easier exercise of their voting right.
International documents regulating voting of persons with disabilities are: UN Convention on rights of persons with disability, document of the Copenhagen meeting of the Conference on of the CSCE, Action plan of the Council of Europe to promote the rights and full participation of persons with disabilities in the society, Code of good practice on election of Council of Europe and Council of Europe's Interpretative Declaration of Code of good practice in electoral matters on participation of persons with disabilities at the elections.
The UN Convention guarantees to persons with disabilities their political rights and possibility to participate in the political life on the equal basis with the others. The countries should enable the persons with disabilities the right and possibility to vote and to be elected by ensuring that the voting procedure, space and materials are appropriate, accessible and easy to understand and use, that persons with disabilities have the right to secret vote, without any intimidation, as well as the right to independently stand as candidates for the elections and to conduct their duties as well as all public functions at all levels of government, enabling the use of auxiliary and new technologies, if appropriate. Additionally, the countries should guarantee freedom of expression of will by voters with disabilities, approving their request for assistance in voting by person of their own choice.
Interpretative Declaration of the Code of good practice in electoral matters on participation of persons with disabilities at elections it has been stipulate that no person with disability will be denied the right to vote and to be elected based on his/her physical and/or mental incapability unless the right to vote and to be elected is denied by the court decision based on proved mental incapability. Voting procedure, as well as voting objects, should be accessible to persons with disabilities so they can exercise their democratic rights, and where possible, assistance in voting should be permitted having in mind the principle that the voting has to be individual. The right of persons with disabilities to cast secret vote should be protected by, inter alia, guaranteeing free expression of will of persons with disabilities as voters to receive, upon their request, voting assistance by person of their choice in conditions that ensure that selected person will not influence the choice. Persons with disabilities should therefore be in position to exercise their right to vote and participate in political and public life as elected officials on equal basis with other citizens.
Voting of persons who can access the polling station in most of the European countries is regulated through assistance of a person authorized by the person with disability or a person selected by the president of the polling station. In Bosnia and Herzegovina this kind of assistance to a person with disability or illiterate person cannot be provided by the polling station committee member or political party observers. Such a person can only be assisted by another voter. ALSO, European countries have regulated voting of persons who for any reason cannot be at the polling station on the Election Day in two manners: polling station is located close to private and public nursing homes or voting of such persons at home. Voting of homebound voters, voters in hospitals or voters who will vote in prisons and detention unite Bosnia and Herzegovina regulated by mobile teams that visit every voter at his/her address and enables his/her to vote. Special voters' register is drawn up for person falling under any of above-mentioned categories.
Forthcoming Conference should contribute to putting efforts in creating and improving the environment in which persons with disabilities will be able to participate in political parties and civil society under equal conditions; increase in participation of persons with disabilities in political and public life at all levels: local, regional, national and international, in order to completely represent diversities of society; increase in participation of women and young people with disabilities, as well as persons needing high level of assistance, with active participation of persons with disabilities and organizations representing them in creation and realization of these efforts.
Plenary sessions will focus on the following topics:
1. Participation of persons with disability in political life on equal basis with others;
2. Voting of persons with disabilities at elections; and
3. Use of supplementary technologies in exercise of electoral rights of persons with disabilities.