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Children and families urgently need humanitarian assistance and protection
by UN News, UNICEF, Inter-Agency Standing Committee
Middle East
 
21 Feb. 2024
 
Civilians in Gaza in extreme peril while the world watches on: Ten requirements to avoid an even worse catastrophe - Statement by Principals of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee:
 
In the less than five months that followed the brutal 7 October attacks and the ensuing escalation, tens of thousands of Palestinians – mostly women and children – have been killed and injured in the Gaza Strip. More than three quarters of the population have been forced from their homes, many multiple times, and face severe shortages of food, water, sanitation and healthcare – the basic necessities to survive.
 
The health system continues to be systematically degraded, with catastrophic consequences. As of 19 February, only 12 out of 36 hospitals with inpatient capacity are still functioning, and only partially. There have been more than 370 attacks on health care in Gaza since 7 October.
 
Diseases are rampant. Famine is looming. Water is at a trickle. Basic infrastructure has been decimated. Food production has come to a halt. Hospitals have turned into battlefields. One million children face daily traumas.
 
Rafah, the latest destination for well over 1 million displaced, hungry and traumatized people crammed into a small sliver of land, has become another battleground in this brutal conflict. Further escalation of violence in this densely populated area would cause mass casualties. It could also deal a death blow to a humanitarian response that is already on its knees.
 
There is no safe place in Gaza. Humanitarian workers, themselves displaced and facing shelling, death, movement restrictions and a breakdown of civil order, continue efforts to deliver to those in need. But faced with so many obstacles – including safety and movement restrictions – they can only do so much.
 
No amount of humanitarian response will make up for the months of deprivation that families in Gaza have endured. This is our effort to salvage the humanitarian operation so that we can provide, at the very least, the bare essentials: medicine, drinking water, food, and shelter as temperatures plummet.
 
For this, we need:
 
An immediate ceasefire. Civilians and the infrastructure they rely on to be protected. The hostages to be released immediately. Reliable entry points that would allow us to bring aid in from all possible crossings, including to northern Gaza. Security assurances and unimpeded passage to distribute aid, at scale, across Gaza, with no denials, delays and access impediments.
 
A functioning humanitarian notification system that allows all humanitarian staff and supplies to move within Gaza and deliver aid safely. Roads to be passable and neighborhoods to be cleared of explosive ordnance. A stable communication network that allows humanitarians to move safely and securely.
 
UNRWA, the backbone of the humanitarian operations in Gaza, to receive the resources it needs to provide life-saving assistance. A halt to campaigns that seek to discredit the United Nations and non-governmental organizations doing their best to save lives.
 
Humanitarian agencies remain committed, despite the risks. But they cannot be left to pick up the pieces.
 
We are calling on Israel to fulfil its legal obligation, under international humanitarian and human rights law, to provide food and medical supplies and facilitate aid operations, and on the world’s leaders to prevent an even worse catastrophe from happening.
 
http://www.unicef.org/press-releases/statement-principals-inter-agency-standing-committee-civilians-gaza-extreme-peril http://interagencystandingcommittee.org/inter-agency-standing-committee/statement-principals-inter-agency-standing-committee-civilians-gaza-extreme-peril-while-world http://www.who.int/news/item/19-02-2024-children-s-lives-threatened-by-rising-malnutrition-in-the-gaza-strip http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/latest/msf-un-security-council-people-gaza-need-immediate-and-sustained-ceasefire-now http://www.lshtm.ac.uk/newsevents/news/2024/report-projects-excess-deaths-due-gaza-crisis http://interagencystandingcommittee.org/inter-agency-standing-committee/statement-principals-inter-agency-standing-committee-we-cannot-abandon-people-gaza http://tinyurl.com/4bn672he
 
22 Dec. 2023
 
UN Secretary-General's press conference on the situation in the Middle East:
 
Over the last weeks and days, there has been no significant change in the way the war has been unfolding in Gaza. There is no effective protection of civilians. Intense Israeli bombardment and ground operations continue. More than 20,000 Palestinians have reportedly been killed, the vast majority women and children. Meanwhile, Hamas and other Palestinian factions continue to fire rockets from Gaza into Israel.
 
Some 1.9 million people – 85 percent of Gaza’s population – have been forced from their homes. The health system is on its knees. Hospitals in the south are dealing with at least three times their capacity. In the north, they are barely operational.
 
One colleague described the deathly silence of a hospital with no medication or treatment for its sick and injured patients.
 
According to the World Food Programme, widespread famine looms. More than half a million people – a quarter of the population – are facing what experts classify as catastrophic levels of hunger. Four out of five of the hungriest people anywhere in the world are in Gaza.
 
And clean water is at a trickle. UNICEF found that displaced children in the south have access to just ten percent of the water they need.
 
In these desperate conditions, it is little wonder that many people cannot wait for humanitarian distributions and are grabbing whatever they can from aid trucks. As I warned, public order is at risk of breaking down.
 
Humanitarian veterans who have served in war zones and disasters around the world – people who have seen everything – tell me they have seen nothing like what they see today in Gaza.
 
Israel began its military operation in response to the horrific terror attacks launched by Hamas on 7 October. Nothing can possibly justify those attacks, or the brutal abduction of some 250 hostages. I repeat my call for all remaining hostages to be released immediately and unconditionally.
 
And nothing can justify the continued firing of rockets from Gaza at civilian targets in Israel, or the use of civilians as human shields.
 
But at the same time, these violations of international humanitarian law can never justify the collective punishment of the Palestinian people, and they do not free Israel from its own legal obligations under International Law.
 
Many people are measuring the effectiveness of the humanitarian operation in Gaza based on the number of trucks from the Egyptian Red Crescent, the UN and our partners that are allowed to unload aid across the border. This is a mistake.
 
The real problem is that the way Israel is conducting this offensive is creating massive obstacles to the distribution of humanitarian aid inside Gaza.
 
An effective aid operation in Gaza requires security; staff who can work in safety; logistical capacity; and the resumption of commercial activity. These four elements do not exist.
 
First, security. We are providing aid in a war zone. The intense Israeli bombardment and active combat in densely populated urban areas throughout Gaza threaten the lives of civilians and humanitarian aid workers alike. We waited 71 days for Israel finally to allow aid to enter Gaza via the Kerem Shalom crossing. The crossing was then hit while aid trucks were in the area.
 
Second, the humanitarian operation requires staff who can live and work in safety. 136 of our colleagues in Gaza have been killed in 75 days – something we have never seen in the history of the United Nations. Nowhere is safe in Gaza.
 
I honour the women and men who have made the ultimate sacrifice, and I pay tribute to the thousands of humanitarian aid workers who are risking their health and lives in Gaza, even as I speak.
 
Most of our staff have been forced from their homes. All of them spend hours each day simply struggling to survive and support their families. It is a miracle that they have been able to continue working under these conditions.
 
And yet, those same colleagues are expanding humanitarian operations in southern Gaza to support people living there, while trying to assist the flood of displaced people who arrived from the north – with nothing.
 
They are currently providing aid in Rafah, western Khan Younis, Deir El Balah and Nuseirat in the south, and doing their best to reach the north despite huge challenges, namely security. In these appalling conditions, they can only meet a fraction of the needs.
 
Third, logistics. Every truck that arrives at Kerem Shalom and Rafah must be unloaded, and its cargo re-loaded for distribution across Gaza. We ourselves have a limited and insufficient number of trucks available for this.
 
Many of our vehicles and trucks were destroyed or left behind following our forced, hurried evacuation from the north, but the Israeli authorities have not allowed any additional trucks to operate in Gaza. This is massively hampering the aid operation.
 
Delivering in the north is extremely dangerous due to active conflict, unexploded ordnance, and heavily damaged roads.
 
Everywhere, frequent communications blackouts make it virtually impossible to coordinate the distribution of aid, and to let people know how to access it.
 
Fourth and finally, the resumption of commercial activities is essential. Shelves are empty; wallets are empty; stomachs are empty. Just one bakery is operating in the whole of Gaza. I urge the Israeli authorities to lift restrictions on commercial activity immediately.
 
We are ready to scale up our cash grant support to vulnerable families – the most effective form of humanitarian aid. But in Gaza, there is very little to buy.
 
In the circumstances I have just described, a humanitarian ceasefire is the only way to begin to meet the desperate needs of people in Gaza and end their ongoing nightmare. I hope that today’s Security Council Resolution may help this finally to happen but much more is needed immediately.
 
Looking at the longer-term, I am extremely disappointed by comments from senior Israeli officials that put the two-state solution into question. As difficult as it might appear today, the two-state solution, in line with UN resolutions, international law and previous agreements, is the only path to sustainable peace.
 
Any suggestion otherwise denies human rights, dignity and hope to the Palestinian people, fueling rage that reverberates far beyond Gaza. It also denies a safe future for Israel. The spillover is already happening. The occupied West Bank is at boiling point.
 
Daily exchanges of fire across the Blue Line between Lebanon and Israel pose a grave risk to regional stability. Attacks and threats to shipping on the Red Sea by the Houthis in Yemen are impacting shipping with the potential to affect global supply chains.
 
Beyond the immediate region, the conflict is polarizing communities, feeding hate speech and fueling extremism. All this poses a significant and growing threat to global peace and security.
 
As the conflict intensifies and the horror grows, we will continue to do our part. We will not give up. But at the same time, it is imperative that the international community speak with one voice: for peace, for the protection of civilians, for an end to suffering, and for a commitment to the two-state solution – backed with action.
 
http://www.un.org/sg/en/content/sg/speeches/2024-01-23/secretary-generals-remarks-the-security-council-the-middle-east http://www.unocha.org/news/un-relief-chief-tells-security-council-take-urgent-action-end-war-gaza http://www.ochaopt.org/
 
Dec. 22 2023
 
The UN Security Council has adopted a resolution on the ongoing crisis in Gaza, with 13 votes in favour, and the US and Russia abstaining.
 
The resolution demands that all parties comply with their obligations under international law to the protection of civilians, calls for urgent and extended humanitarian pauses and corridors throughout the Gaza Strip for a sufficient number of days to enable full, rapid, safe, and unhindered humanitarian access and to enable urgent rescue and recovery efforts, and calls for the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages, as well as ensuring immediate humanitarian access.
 
Expresses deep concern at the dire and rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip, its grave impact on the civilian population, underlining the urgent need for full, rapid, safe, and unhindered humanitarian access into and throughout the entire Gaza Strip.
 
Reaffirms the obligations of all parties under international humanitarian law, including with regard to respecting and protecting civilians and taking constant care to spare civilian objects, including such objects critical to the delivery of essential services to the civilian population.
 
Demands all parties to the conflict comply with their obligations under international law, including international humanitarian law, with regard to the conduct of hostilities and the protection of civilians and civilian objects, humanitarian access, and the protection of humanitarian personnel and their freedom of movement, and the duty of ensuring the food and medical supplies, among others, of the population, recalls that civilian and humanitarian facilities, including hospitals, medical facilities, schools, places of worship, and facilities of the UN, as well as humanitarian personnel, and medical personnel, and their means of transport, must be respected and protected, according to international humanitarian law.
 
Underlines the obligations of the parties to the conflict to allow, facilitate and enable the immediate, safe and unhindered delivery of humanitarian assistance at scale directly to the Palestinian civilian population throughout the Gaza Strip, and in this regard calls for urgent steps to immediately allow safe, unhindered, and expanded humanitarian access and to create the conditions for a sustainable cessation of hostilities.
 
http://www.ipcinfo.org/ipc-country-analysis/details-map/en/c/1156749/ http://www.unicef.org/press-releases/statement-unicef-risk-famine-gaza-strip http://www.unicef.org/press-releases/barely-drop-drink-children-gaza-strip-do-not-access-90-cent-their-normal-water-use http://www.wfp.org/stories/humanitarian-operations-risk-conflict-strangles-gaza http://www.actionagainsthunger.org/press-releases/catastrophic-hunger-crisis-declared-in-gaza-by-international-food-security-and-nutrition-experts/
 
12 Dec. 2023
 
The UN General Assembly has overwhelmingly adopted a non-binding resolution demanding an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza. 153 member states voted in favour, 10 against and there were 23 abstentions.
 
"Expressing grave concern over the catastrophic humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip and the suffering of the Palestinian civilian population, and emphasizing that the Palestinian and Israeli civilian populations must be protected in accordance with international humanitarian law:
 
Demands an immediate humanitarian ceasefire; Reiterates its demand that all parties comply with their obligations under international law, including international humanitarian law, notably with regard to the protection of civilians; Demands the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages, as well as ensuring humanitarian access".
 
6 Dec. 2023
 
Invoking a rarely used article of the UN Charter, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday called on the Security Council to “press to avert a humanitarian catastrophe” in Gaza and unite in a call for a full humanitarian ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian militants.
 
In a letter to the Council, Mr. Guterres invoked Article 99, contained in Chapter XV of the Charter. This says that the UN chief “may bring to attention of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion, may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security.”
 
In a statement to journalists along with the letter, UN Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric said that this was the first time Mr. Guterres had felt compelled to invoke Chapter 99, since taking office in 2017.
 
Mr. Dujarric explained that the UN chief was taking the step “given the scale of the loss of human life in Gaza and Israel, in such a short amount of time”.
 
He described the use of Article 99 as a "dramatic constitutional move" that Mr. Guterres hoped would put more pressure on the Council - and the international community at large - to demand a ceasefire between the warring parties.
 
"I think it's arguably the most important invocation", Mr. Dujarric told reporters at UN Headquarters, "in my opinion, the most powerful tool that he [the Secretary-General] has."
 
The letter was sent to the President of the Security Council in New York late on Wednesday morning.
 
Since the 7 October terror attacks by Hamas militants in southern Israel and the ongoing bombardment and ground operation by Israeli forces into the Gaza Strip, the Security Council passed one resolution in mid-November, after four failed attempts to find consensus previously, calling for “urgent and extended humanitarian pauses”.
 
Following a week-long pause in hostilities during which some of the 240 hostages being held by militants in Gaza were exchanged for Palestinian prisoners, fighting began again on 1 December, leading the Secretary-General to register his deep regret.
 
In his letter to the Council president, Mr. Guterres said the more than eight weeks of fighting overall had “created appalling human suffering, physical destruction and collective trauma across Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory.”
 
He highlighted the more than 1,200 “brutally killed” by militants on 7 October, including 33 children, and the 130 people still being held captive. “They must be immediately and unconditionally released. Accounts of sexual violence during these attacks are appalling”, the UN chief added.
 
As Israel continues to target Hamas fighters, he said civilians throughout the Strip face grave danger, with over 15,000 reportedly killed, over 40 per cent of them children.
 
Around 80 per cent of Gazans are displaced, over 1.1 million seeking refuge in UN Palestine refugee agency (UNRWA) shelters.
 
Mr. Guterres said there is simply no effective protection for civilians and nowhere is safe.
 
“Hospitals have turned into battlegrounds”, he added, saying that amid the constant bombardment of all parts of Gaza “and without shelter or the essentials to survive, I expect public order to completely break down soon”.
 
Turning to the 15 November Council Resolution 2712, he said the current conditions were making it impossible to scale up humanitarian supplies, to meet the huge needs of civilians – as the resolution demands.
 
“We are simply unable to meet those in need inside Gaza”, he wrote, and facing “a severe risk of collapse of the humanitarian system.”
 
The consequences of that have irreversible implications for Palestinians and the peace and security of the entire region, he argued.
 
“Such an outcome must be avoided at all cost. The international community has a responsibility to use all its influence to prevent further escalation and end this crisis.
 
“I reiterate my appeal for a humanitarian ceasefire to be declared. This is urgent. The civilian population must be spared from greater harm.”
 
He stressed that with a ceasefire, there was hope “and humanitarian assistance can be delivered in a safe and timely manner”.
 
http://reliefweb.int/report/occupied-palestinian-territory/guterres-urges-security-council-act-over-israel-palestine-crisis-threat-international-peace-and-security http://www.wfp.org/news/statement-world-food-programme-growing-humanitarian-catastrophe-gaza http://www.savethechildren.net/news/nowhere-go-over-one-million-children-gaza-risk-being-killed http://www.unicef.org/press-releases/war-children-resumes-geneva-palais-briefing-note http://www.who.int/news/item/04-12-2023-who-appeals-for-protection-of-the-health-system-from-further-attacks-and-degradation-of-its-capacity http://www.msf.org/letter-gaza-un-security-council http://www.nrc.no/news/2024/december/gaza-statement-december/
 
http://www.unicef.org/press-releases/statement-unicef-executive-director-catherine-russell-her-visit-gaza http://www.unicef.org/emergencies/children-gaza-need-lifesaving-support http://childrenandarmedconflict.un.org/2023/11/united-nations-security-council-resolution-on-the-situation-in-gaza-puts-children-first/ http://reliefweb.int/report/occupied-palestinian-territory/martin-griffiths-under-secretary-general-humanitarian-affairs-and-emergency-relief-coordinator-full-transcript-press-encounter-15-november-2023-geneva http://www.ohchr.org/en/statements-and-speeches/2023/11/un-human-rights-chief-volker-turk-briefs-states-his-visit-middle http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/latest/msf-sustained-cessation-hostilities-gaza-needed-save-lives
 
5 Nov. 2023
 
Statement by Principals of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee:
 
"For almost a month, the world has been watching the unfolding situation in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory in shock and horror at the spiralling numbers of lives lost and torn apart.
 
In Israel, some 1,400 people have been killed and thousands have been injured, according to the Israeli authorities. More than 200 people, including children, have been taken hostage. Rockets continue to traumatize families. Tens of thousands of people have been displaced. This is horrific.
 
However, the horrific killings of even more civilians in Gaza is an outrage, as is cutting off 2.2 million Palestinians from food, water, medicine, electricity and fuel.
 
In Gaza, according to the Ministry of Health, nearly 9,500 people have been killed, including 3,900 children and over 2,400 women. More than 23,000 injured people require immediate treatment within overstretched hospitals.
 
An entire population is besieged and under attack, denied access to the essentials for survival, bombed in their homes, shelters, hospitals and places of worship. This is unacceptable.
 
More than 100 attacks against health care have been reported. Scores of aid workers have been killed since October 7 including 88 UNRWA colleagues – the highest number of United Nations fatalities ever recorded in a single conflict.
 
We renew our plea for the parties to respect all their obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law. We renew our call for the immediate and unconditional release of all civilians held hostage.
 
Civilians and the infrastructure they rely on – including hospitals, shelters and schools – must be protected. More aid – food, water, medicine and of course fuel – must enter Gaza safely, swiftly and at the scale needed, and must reach people in need, especially women and children, wherever they are.
 
We need an immediate humanitarian ceasefire. It’s been 30 days. Enough is enough. This must stop now".
 
http://interagencystandingcommittee.org/about-inter-agency-standing-committee/statement-principals-inter-agency-standing-committee-situation-israel-and-occupied-palestinian
 
3 Nov. 2023
 
Gaza: Children and families urgently need humanitarian assistance and protection. (UNICEF)
 
Children and families in Gaza are caught in a catastrophic situation. Thousands of children have reportedly been killed and thousands more injured. Children and families in Gaza have been cut off from water, food, fuel, medicine, and other essentials, including safe access to hospitals, following escalating hostilities. UNICEF is calling for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire and for unrestricted humanitarian access to allow aid to reach children and families in need, save lives and prevent further suffering.
 
The cost to children and their communities of the escalating violence will be borne out for generations to come. Children are dying at an alarming rate and being denied their basic rights. Hospitals and schools must be protected from bombings and they must not be used for military purposes, in accordance with international humanitarian law.
 
Civilians must be protected – children particularly – and all efforts must be made to spare them in all circumstances. Even wars have rules.
 
UNICEF continues to press world leaders at every occasion for humanitarian access to the whole of Gaza, including children and families in the north of the strip which is increasingly cut off. To respond to the dire situation for children in the State of Palestine and Israel, UNICEF is calling for:
 
An immediate humanitarian ceasefire. The immediate, safe and unconditional release of all abducted children. All access crossings into Gaza to be opened for a safe, sustained and unimpeded access of humanitarian aid, including water, food, medical supplies, and fuel. Urgent medical cases in Gaza to be allowed to leave or to be able to receive critical health services.
 
Respect and protection for civilian infrastructure such as shelters and schools, and health, electric, water and sanitation facilities, to prevent loss of civilian and children’s lives, outbreaks of diseases, and to provide care to the sick and wounded.
 
UNICEF continues to focus on the critical needs of children for protection and humanitarian assistance – but access remains difficult and dangerous. Humanitarians have been warned to move out of Gaza city, but UNICEF staff will stay in southern Gaza to continue to provide support for children in need.
 
Limited shipments of life-saving supplies and drinking water from UNICEF began moving into Gaza on 21 October. To save children’s lives, much more is needed. Flows of humanitarian aid to meet the needs of all children and their families must be sustained. Clean water is running out in the Gaza Strip after its water plant and public water networks stopped working. Currently, the water production capacity is a mere 5 per cent of its usual daily output. People are now forced to use dirty water from wells, increasing the threat of waterborne diseases.
 
In addition, fuel is of paramount importance for the operation of essential facilities such as hospitals, desalination plants, and water pumping stations. Humanitarian supplies must be allowed to safely reach children and families in need wherever they are, in accordance with the rules of war".
 
http://www.unicef.org/emergencies/children-gaza-desperate-need-lifesaving-support http://www.nrc.no/news/2023/november/not-enough-water-to-survive/ http://www.unrwa.org/newsroom/official-statements/un-security-council-emergency-briefing-situation-middle-east http://www.unocha.org/news/un-relief-chief-crisis-israel-and-occupied-palestinian-territory-global-crisis http://www.icrc.org/en/document/israel-and-occupied-territories-deescalate-now-prevent-further-human-suffering http://www.unicef.org/press-releases/joint-statement-undp-unfpa-unicef-wfp-and-who-humanitarian-supplies-crossing-gaza-0 http://www.ohchr.org/en/press-releases/2023/10/israel-opt-turk-says-humanity-must-come-first-urges-humanitarian-ceasefire
 
http://carnegieendowment.org/2023/11/03/there-might-be-no-day-after-in-gaza-pub-90920 http://www.crisisgroup.org/middle-east-north-africa/east-mediterranean-mena/israelpalestine/b90-way-out-gaza http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-67053011 http://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/the-horrific-task-israelis-face-in-finding-and-identifying-hamas-terror-attack-victims http://www.who.int/europe/news/item/23-10-2023-shock-grief-and-the-challenge-of-healing-israel-health-system-responds-to-the-october-attacks http://www.unrwa.org/newsroom/official-statements/remarks-unrwa-commissioner-general-philippe-lazzarini-to-the-united-nations http://www.ohchr.org/en/statements-and-speeches/2023/11/un-human-rights-chief-visits-rafah-border-crossing-gaza http://www.icct.nl/publication/interview-ben-saul-international-humanitarian-law-context-israel-gaza-crisis http://www.icc-cpi.int/news/statement-icc-prosecutor-karim-khan-kc-cairo-situation-state-palestine-and-israel


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Who pays for politicians’ election campaigns in your country?
by ODIHR, Transparency International
 
Jan. 2024
 
2024 will be a momentous year for election observers, by Matteo Mecacci - Director, OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR)
 
In 2024, almost half the world's population is set to vote — in elections taking place in more than 50 countries.
 
But why do they matter so much? And how can we make sure the elections taking place this year are above board?
 
Democratic elections are a time for our civil and political rights to come to the fore, playing a decisive role in the choice of our governments.
 
There is evidence to show that the increase in democratic practices around the world has contributed to the reduction of wars and conflict. But as we see each day, this trend is not irreversible.
 
Democracy cannot be taken for granted either in countries where it was just beginning to put down roots, or in those with democratic traditions stretching back decades or even centuries.
 
Of course, the fact that a government is democratically-elected does not in itself ensure it delivers for citizens. But regular and democratic elections give citizens the ability to change course if they see a need. In this way, an election is the opportunity for citizens to hold governments accountable both for their promises and their actions.
 
So much for the elections themselves. But why observe them?
 
Election observation is a powerful tool to strengthen the democratic process, to help elections meet international democratic standards, and to ensure that voters feel they are safe and can cast their vote in secrecy.
 
International observation provides an impartial, independent and objective assessment of how election rules and practices are implemented. It looks at all aspects of the process, from the legal framework through voter and candidate registration to equal media access and the right to peaceful protest.
 
I have the privilege of leading the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, (ODIHR), which works to strengthen democracy and human rights across the vast OSCE region. The integrity of our election observation work is recognised worldwide, and could have a particular impact this year with nearly half of the elections taking place across the globe are in the OSCE region.
 
All 57 countries of the OSCE have acknowledged the important role of democratic elections in ensuring long-term security and stability. And over the last 30 years, ODIHR has observed well over 400 elections, with tens of thousands of observers and hundreds of detailed analytical reports to help improve the election processes.
 
ODIHR's role is not to 'judge' the elections, as this is up to the national institutions of each country and to their citizens. But observation does provide an additional level of transparency, scrutiny and public accountability.
 
Observation has never been an easy task. But there are also new challenges that are maybe symptomatic of the current state of democracy worldwide.
 
'Growing reluctance'
 
One is the growing reluctance from certain countries to extend an invitation to observe. As a community of states that has recognised democratic elections as a key pillar of long-term security, all OSCE states have committed to inviting international observers from other OSCE countries.
 
For many years, this happened both on paper and in practice. But now, the commitment to be transparent and hold elections that can be described as genuine or democratic appears to mean less to some countries.
 
And let's be clear: depriving any country of the comprehensive, objective, and transparent assessment offered by impartial observers can ultimately do great harm to its citizens, its institutions and their collective democratic future.
 
Our increasingly digitalised world is creating additional challenges — for governments wishing to hold democratic elections, for voters, and for observers. One is targeted disinformation spread to mislead or simply confuse voters. Another is the use of new technologies, which in themselves can be a boon that make voting easier, faster, and more secure. However, they need to be introduced carefully, both to ensure they work and that they enjoy public trust.
 
Trust is key to any election. If voters don't trust the result, the entire process is undermined, potentially leading to a never-ending cycle of new elections or even to social unrest that can spill into violence.
 
And there we are back to observation: by helping to increase public confidence in the honesty of the election process, election observation also builds trust in elected representatives and democratic institutions.
 
These challenges, not just in the field of elections but also to our democratic institutions and rule of law, make bona fide observation all the more important.
 
Today we are seeing severe tests to our democracies and the respect for human rights whose universality was accepted for so long and in so many places (although never enough).
 
We are increasingly hearing the argument that centralised government action is more effective to tackle security threats and social issues than democratic debate. But this approach invariably goes hand in hand with a decrease in respect for human rights, civil liberties, freedom of the media, freedom of speech, or the right to participate in elections. In the long term, such repression cannot deliver stability or security.
 
The vast majority of the countries we work with appreciate our election observation and assistance. But in a time of uncertain commitment to democratic standards, the need to understand and support this work is needed more than ever. We all have our homework to do. And election observation will help us continue do it.
 
* EU Observer: http://euobserver.com/opinion/157954
 
* Belarus has refused observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation from monitoring the upcoming parliamentary election. Belarus is a member of the OSCE:
 
http://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/561463 http://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/563046 http://tinyurl.com/p26ddab3 http://www.ohchr.org/en/press-releases/2024/02/rising-trend-violating-freedom-expression-and-political-rights-un-human
 
Dec. 2023
 
Who pays for politicians’ election campaigns in your country? (Transparency International)
 
Next year will be the largest election year in history. If you live in one of more than 70 countries heading to the polls in 2024, you might want to know: who pays for politicians’ election campaigns in your country? This should be a straightforward answer, but it isn't.
 
Countries with more transparent campaign finance are likely to score twice as many points in the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI). Yet, in far too many countries around the world, the sources of political candidates and parties’ campaign funds are shrouded in secrecy.
 
The Electoral Integrity Global Report 2023, which publishes data on the quality of elections worldwide, ranks the transparent reporting of financial accounts as the weakest area in elections. According to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA)’s political finance database, politicians running for office don’t have to report their finances in 50 out of 181 countries. In 57 countries, political parties don’t have to, either.
 
In 64 countries across the globe, when politicians and their parties do have to report who is backing them, they can claim not to know, due to the lack of restrictions on anonymous donations. They can also list a shell company as a donor, without having to disclose who the real owner is. In countries where reports are expected, like Malta, Indonesia, or Uganda, they do not identify the actual donors.
 
Opacity in political finance is dangerous for democracy. When politicians are secretly funded by businesses or wealthy individuals, there is no way to know if the policies and decisions they support are designed to benefit their financial backers rather than the public interest.
 
Candidates might even be receiving foreign donations which incentivises them to put the interests of other countries before their own. Over 70 countries , don’t have bans on foreign donations to candidates, while 54 allow foreign donations to political parties.
 
Furthermore, almost half of the 181 countries surveyed, do not mandate political parties to manage cash flows through banks, meaning they can avoid creating a paper trail that investigators could use to uncover corruption and conflicts of interest., and more than half of countries don’t put limits on the size of donation candidates or parties can receive.
 
The consequences of opaque campaign financing extend beyond the electoral process, affecting the very fabric of democratic representation. Countries without limits on donation sizes or regulations on personal funds create an uneven playing field. Candidates that have access to a lot of private finance, make it harder for others to compete against them. According to a recent study, 11 per cent of the world's billionaires have run for office, and 80 per cent of the time they won.
 
This trend, coupled with the absence of financial constraints, inhibits grassroots movements from successfully fielding candidates. This ultimately means that the issues that matter to the public are not adequately represented in government. It also often leads to the exclusion of already marginalized communities from the decision-making that matters to them.
 
Here are five key priorities that demand immediate attention:
 
1. Closing loopholes for illicit funds in politics
 
Corruption can enter politics through various channels, including illicit funds and opaque donations routed through shell companies, third parties or anonymous donors. Governments should enact and enforce laws that close all such loopholes, ensuring full disclosure and verification of the ultimate source of funds.
 
2. Introducing digital reporting and disclosure systems
 
Transparency is the bedrock of democracy. Governments should establish mechanisms for the timely and comprehensive public disclosure of political contributions, expenditures, and campaign financing. This should apply to all levels of government and political entities, including individual candidates, promoting the accountability of both political candidates and parties.
 
3. Improving oversight and accountability of political finance regimes
 
Accountability is essential in curbing corruption. Governments should establish and strengthen independent oversight bodies with adequate powers to monitor, investigate, and enforce compliance with political finance regulations. These bodies should be equipped with sufficient resources, autonomy, and authority to ensure the integrity of the political finance system.
 
4. Promoting knowledge, civic engagement and public participation
 
An informed and engaged citizen is essential to uphold democracy and counter corruption.
 
Governments should actively engage civil society, encourage public participation in political finance oversight and protect the rights of whistleblowers who expose corruption within the political finance system.
 
5. Strengthening international cooperation.
 
Corruption transcends borders, and international cooperation is essential to combat it effectively. Governments should commit to sharing information, best practices and resources to coordinate and unify the global fight against corruption.
 
http://www.transparency.org/en/blog/2024-big-year-for-democracy-dont-let-political-corruption-ruin-it


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