The United Nations Special Rapporteurs on the situation of human rights defenders and on the right to freedom and peaceful assembly and of associations issued a statement on 27 October 2022 explicitly recognizing citizen and international election observers as human rights defenders.

This statement marks the first time election observers have been explicitly defined as human rights defenders, and comes in light of restricting space for and rights of election observers.

It follows advocacy by international observers, led by the Organization for American States (OAS) and the Global Network for Domestic Election Monitors (GNDEM). GNDEM, in partnership with NDI, earlier this year conducted research on threats to citizen observer rights and brought together leaders of groups that are under threat to discuss common challenges. Going forward GNDEM looks to introduce a publication on the “state of citizen observation.”

The UN Special Rapporteurs directly call on UN Member States to provide election observers the same protections afforded to other human rights defenders. As such Member States “should therefore enable independent and impartial election observation by all monitors, including from abroad.”

The Special Rapporteurs further explicitly urged Member States to “take all necessary steps to establish conditions that allow national and international election observers to effectively do their work, and to protect them from any violence, threats, retaliation, adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of their legitimate exercise of their rights and freedoms.”

The statement was issued marking the 17th anniversary of the first commemoration of the Declaration of Principles (DoP) for International Election Observation and 10 years since the commemoration of the Declaration of Global Principles (DoGP) for Nonpartisan Election Observation and Monitoring by Citizen Organizations.

GNDEM and the wider election observer community is encouraged by this explicit recognition of the importance of the work of election observers and the risks they face in promoting election integrity and democratic norms. While this statement does not mean that election observers will not continue to face challenges, it provides important support and opportunity for redress for citizen election observers.