Stockholm, September 17th 2002 -- Disability rights experts and activists, senior election administration officials and international parliamentarians from more than 24 countries met in Sigtuna, Sweden on 14-17th September to draft a global 'Bill of Electoral Rights for People with Disabilities' - the outcome of a first ever effort to bring together concerned parties as equal partners to develop a global initiative in this field. The new Bill of Rights defines and promotes the fundamental rights of people with disabilities in relation to all aspects of the electoral process, in particular: the right to a secret vote, full physical accessibility of polling stations, and full and equal electoral rights for people with mental disabilities.
Meeting participants, who included Bengt Lindqvist, UN Special Rapporteur on Disability, senior election administration officials from Canada, Ghana, Indonesia, Lesotho and Jamaica and MPs from South Africa, Sri Lanka and Namibia, also observed disabled access to elections in Sweden in visits to polling stations in and around Stockholm on national election day (September 15th). The Sigtuna meeting was co-organized by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA) and the International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES), and sponsored by the Swedish International Development Co-operation Agency (Sida).
The Bill of Electoral Rights for People with Disabilities, which is officially launched today (September 17th) in Stockholm, outlines the responsibilities of states for ensuring that people with disabilities enjoy the same rights as other citizens with regard to elections and the electoral process. The Bill is intended to act as a practical advocacy tool for disability organizations and others working both nationally and internationally to improve access to the electoral process for people with disabilities.
Participants in the Sigtuna meeting also pledged themselves to advance and publicly disseminate the spirit and intent of the Bill through their own organizations, which include NGOs, election management bodies, governments and intergovernmental structures.
"This initiative is the first ever comprehensive gathering of disability, electoral and intergovernmental organizations to address the fact that a substantial proportion of citizens in every country - usually estimated at around 10 per cent - have not had their rights to participate in the electoral process respected", says Bengt Lindqvist.
"The fact that the United Nations has recently recognized disability as a human rights concern makes this initiative extremely timely. The outcomes of this meeting will also support the process of developing a disability dimension to the UN's human rights monitoring process."
Access to the electoral process for people with disabilities is an issue in both established and developing democracies. In many new democracies election observers cite problems with infrastructure, in particular inadequate physical access to polling stations, as a key factor limiting disabled people's ability to participate in elections.
But as International IDEA elections expert Kate Sullivan notes, problems of physical access remain equally a challenge in established democracies. And in this context countries such as Sweden and Canada - whose Chief Electoral Officer Jean-Pierre Kingsley attended the Sigtuna meeting - are leading the way in ensuring that polling stations are made fully accessible to people with disabilities.
Basing itself on the provisions of the 1966 International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, the Bill of Electoral Rights confirms the fact that citizens with a physical, sensory, intellectual or psychiatric disability have the right and opportunity:
• To have access on general terms of equality to the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives
• To participate on general terms of equality in the conduct of elections
• To register for, and to vote in genuine and periodic elections, referenda and plebiscites determined by universal and equal suffrage
• To vote by secret ballot
• To stand for election, to be elected, and to exercise a mandate once elected.
The Bill notes that these rights are guaranteed without discrimination on any grounds, and without restrictions other than those justified in a free and democratic society. It also underscores the obligation of all states to take positive measures to remove existing obstacles to citizens with disabilities exercising their full electoral rights on an equal basis with other citizens.
Commenting on the new Bill of Electoral Rights Karen Fogg, Secretary-General of the Stockholm-based International IDEA notes that "International agreements place a real, positive obligation on nation states to secure electoral rights for all citizens. This must be taken into consideration when government budgets are determined. Equally, international assistance providers should take care to ensure that electoral programmes include provision for broadening participation to all citizens."
Richard Soudriette, President of the Washington-based IFES further notes that "IFES is committed to working with our friends in the disability movement to continue to advance electoral rights for people with disabilities. IFES is also committed to developing the necessary tools so that election authorities around the world can put these rights into practice."
When it comes to putting the rights outlined in the Bill of Electoral Rights into practice, participants in the Sigtuna conference addressed a range of related practical issues raised in a background document to the meeting (see http://www.idea.int/press/newsflash/update_20020827.htm) including ensuring secrecy at the ballot box, assisted voting and electronic/off-site voting.
The full text of the 'Bill of Electoral Rights for People with Disabilities' and further information on the Sigtuna meeting is available at www.idea.int and www.ifes.org. For further information on electoral access for people with disabilities visit the People with Disabilities page.
For further information contact:
International IDEA: Mark Salter, Press Officer tel. +46 8 698 3714 +46 8 698 3714 , mobile +46 70 429 3750 +46 70 429 3750 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
IFES: Jerry Mindes, Disability Advisor, tel. +1 202 828 8507 +1 202 828 8507 (Washington DC). Email: email@example.com
Sida: Eva Atterlöf, Press Officer, tel. +46 8 698 55 85/55. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA) is an intergovernmental organization headquartered in Sweden with 19 member states and 4 international NGO associate members, that exists to sustain and promote democracy around the world. Global in membership and scope, independent of specific national interests, and quick in its response, International IDEA is an organization with a unique mandate - to support the growth of genuine, sustainable democracy.
The International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES) provides professional advice and technical assistance in promoting democracy and serves as an information clearinghouse on democratic development. IFES is dedicated to the success of democracy worldwide and the prospect that each person in every corner of the world is entitled to have a free and informed say in how he or she is governed. IFES recognizes that democratic governance is an evolving and dynamic process, created by and meeting the needs of the people it serves.