National workshop on human rights and elections

The legislative elections in Indonesia that was conducted in April this year has exposed cracks in voter rights, media freedom and adherence to human rights based electoral processes. Human rights concerns are expected to escalate in the coming Presidential elections, scheduled for 9 July.

A national workshop on human rights and elections made this conclusion as participants assessed the electoral process in the context of internationally established standards on electoral processes and human rights, particularly on rights to freedom of expression and assembly.

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The workshop was jointly organised by the Asian Forum for Development and Human Rights (Forum-Asia), SEAPA, Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL), and an Indonesian non-governmental organisation, Imparsial.

The workshop is the first in Southeast Asia following the report by UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of expression and opinion, Mr Frank La Rue on political and electoral communication at the 26th session of the Human Rights Council in June.

In his report, the UN Special Rapporteur said it is during political change that the right to freedom of expression is most essential, noting concerns that threats against journalists, activists and political candidates are heightened during elections. Laws tend to be used to restrict the exercise of freedom and expression, while the absence of pluralistic political and media environments mean voters have limited access to information or rights to express their political choices.

Among others, participants at the workshop observed that media bias has jeopardised citizens’ right to access accurate and fair information. Several cases of the use of media to spread misinformation were shared​ as well as media’s ethical lapses​, which have heightened in the campaigns for the presidential elections. The owners of top television stations are aligned to presidential candidates.

Participants agreed that a review of the campaign rules regarding political advertisements to ensure a more level playing field for all candidates while enforcing the limits to prevent manipulation or abuse.​

Groups at the workshop will jointly prepare a report after the presidential elections as part of an assessment of the practices during the elections, with reference to the standards.

Through this activity, SEAPA followed up on a regional consultation for Asia for the preparation of the UN Special Rapporteur’s report on the theme of political communication (November 2013), and conducted a regional workshop on ethics and elections in February 2014, focusing on the challenges for the media and expression during the 2014 Indonesian elections.

A similar exercise will be conducted in Burma ahead of its elections scheduled for 2015.

Burmese journalists observed  the workshop to better plan for a similar activity for national elections next year.

Burmese journalists observed the workshop to better plan for a similar activity for national elections next year.