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International Election Law

International Affairs Academy

Document of the Day

Professional Development

Elections are a vital part of democratic processes including, political transitions, implementation of peace agreements and consolidation of democracy. The United Nations plays a major role in providing international assistance to these important processes of change.

United Nations electoral assistance is provided only at the specific request of the Member State concerned, or based on a mandate from the Security Council or General Assembly. Before assistance is agreed and provided, the United Nations assesses the needs of the Member State to ensure that the assistance is tailored to the specific needs of the country or situation. As the General Assembly has reaffirmed on many occasions, United Nations assistance should be carried out in an objective, impartial, neutral and independent manner, with due respect for sovereignty, while recognizing that the responsibility for organizing elections lies with Member States. More than 100 countries have requested and have received United Nations electoral assistance since 1991, the year in which the Secretary-General designated the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs as focal point for electoral assistance matters, with the endorsement of the General Assembly. The institutional arrangements for United Nations electoral assistance and the entities involved have grown and evolved since 1991. 

Today, a range of United Nations entities have mandates that refer to electoral events and support or otherwise engage in electoral support activities. In this field of diverse actors, the General Assembly has repeatedly highlighted the importance of system-wide coherence and consistency, and has reaffirmed the leadership role of the focal point in that respect. Accordingly, the focal point is responsible for setting electoral assistance policies, for deciding on the parameters for United Nations electoral assistance in a particular requesting country and for maintaining the single electoral roster of experts who can be rapidly deployed when required for any United Nations assistance activity.

The focal point is supported by the Electoral Assistance Division of the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs (DPPA) of the United Nations Secretariat. The Division recommends to the focal point the parameters for all United Nations electoral assistance, pursuant to the request of Member States, and following an electoral needs assessment. The Division also advises on the design of electoral mission components or assistance projects and maintains the institutional memory of the Organization and the single roster of experts. It is also responsible for policy development. On behalf of the focal point, the Division provides political and technical guidance to all United Nations entities involved in electoral assistance, including on electoral policies and good practices. When required, the Division provides support to the Secretary-General and his envoys, and to United Nations political and peacekeeping missions in the prevention and mediation of electoral crises. The Electoral Assistance Division also maintains electoral partnerships with, and provides capacity development support to, other regional and intergovernmental organizations involved in elections.


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