Monday, August 09, 2004
CNN> International team to monitor presidential election
Observers will be part of OSCE's human rights office
From David de Sola
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A team of international observers will monitor the presidential election in November, according to the U.S. State Department.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe was invited to monitor the election by the State Department. The observers will come from the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights.
It will be the first time such a team has been present for a U.S. presidential election.
"The U.S. is obliged to invite us, as all OSCE countries should," spokeswoman Urdur Gunnarsdottir said. "It's not legally binding, but it's a political commitment. They signed a document 10 years ago to ask OSCE to observe elections."
Thirteen Democratic members of the House of Representatives, raising the specter of possible civil rights violations that they said took place in Florida and elsewhere in the 2000 election, wrote to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan in July, asking him to send observers.
After Annan rejected their request, saying the administration must make the application, the Democrats asked Secretary of State Colin Powell to do so.
The issue was hotly debated in the House, and Republicans got an amendment to a foreign aid bill that barred federal funds from being used for the United Nations to monitor U.S. elections, The Associated Press reported.
In a letter dated July 30 and released last week, Assistant Secretary of State Paul Kelly told the Democrats about the invitation to OSCE, without mentioning the U.N. issue.
"I am pleased that Secretary Powell is as committed as I am to a fair and democratic process," said Democratic Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas, who spearheaded the effort to get U.N. observers.
"The presence of monitors will assure Americans that America cares about their votes and it cares about its standing in the world," she said in a news release.
Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee of California agreed.
"This represents a step in the right direction toward ensuring that this year's elections are fair and transparent," she said.
"I am pleased that the State Department responded by acting on this need for international monitors. We sincerely hope that the presence of the monitors will make certain that every person's voice is heard, every person's vote is counted."
OSCE, the world's largest regional security organization, will send a preliminary mission to Washington in September to assess the size, scope, logistics and cost of the mission, Gunnarsdottir said.
The organization, which counts among its missions conflict prevention and postconflict rehabilitation, will then determine how many observers are required and where in the United States they will be sent.
"OSCE-participating [nations] agreed in 1990 to observe elections in one another's countries. The OSCE routinely monitors elections within its 55-state membership, including Europe, Eurasia, Canada and the United States," a State Department spokesman said.
The spokesman said the United States does not have any details on the size and composition of the observers or what countries will provide them.
OSCE, based in Vienna, Austria, has sent more than 10,000 personnel to monitor more than 150 elections and referenda in more than 30 countries during the past decade, Gunnarsdottir said.
In November 2002, OSCE sent 10 observers on a weeklong mission to monitor the U.S. midterm elections. OSCE also sent observers to monitor the California gubernatorial recall election last year.
More recently, OSCE monitored the elections in Northern Ireland in November and in Spain in March.