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Promoting Democracy and Human Rights

Part of Points of Order – in the House of Commons at 5:49 pm on 13th October 2008.

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Photo of Bruce George Bruce George Labour, Walsall South 5:49 pm, 13th October 2008

I can only apologise on the grounds that I am writing a book on the subject, which will include a chapter on what Parliaments and inter-parliamentary assemblies are doing. I agree that what the IPU and the CPA are doing is truly extraordinary. Members of a delegation from Botswana who are in the House today are guests of the CPA. The whole network of international organisations, national Governments and Parliaments, NGOs, universities and individuals plays an enormous role in establishing and sustaining democratisation.

In the final three or four minutes of my speech, I wish to raise an issue that causes me great concern. I have headed 18 short-term missions to observe elections—for instance, the sequence of rose revolution elections in Georgia and orange revolution elections in Ukraine. The Russians are convinced that I am an employee of the CIA, MI5 or MI6. What they cannot recognise is that their mates in those countries ran totally corrupt elections. It was not only that we declared that those elections failed to meet international standards; our findings merely verified what the populations were thinking. We did not deliberately spark something. We were not there to create a peaceful revolution. It was people in those countries who said "Enough is enough. Thank you for confirming what we already know—that our Government are a bunch of crooks who are cheating at elections."

Election observation is a vital element of the promotion and sustenance of democracy. There are so many wonderful organisations, domestic and otherwise. Some of the best that I have seen are in developing countries such as Kenya. I am on the board of one in Kazakhstan. We must pay tribute to the countries that are sustaining democracy through election observation and democracy projects albeit that they are not natural democracies. My great anxiety is that election observation by ODIHR is under considerable threat. It is hard enough observing elections and producing, hopefully, correct reports based on evidence, but there are two hurdles, obstacles or mountains that ODIHR must surmount.

There is, for example, the opposition of Russia, which does not wish ODIHR to go there and, inevitably, say "These elections fall well short of international standards." Russia and the other "great democracies" in the Commonwealth of Independent States such as Uzbekistan and Belarus are ganging up on ODIHR. They are trying hard, throughout the OSCE, to get ODIHR busted or, worse, reduced to the standards in the CIS. That would be the end of legitimate, intelligent, professional election observation. If anyone has the stomach to read some of the things I have written on the matter, I would be delighted if they wrote to me.

We would expect the Russians to do that. We would not expect a fellow OSCE institution, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, to collude with the Russians in order deeply to damage ODIHR, which, as I said, is the jewel in the crown of the OSCE system and the gold standard of election observation. A part of the OSCE system wishes to supplant ODIHR as the principle election monitoring organisation, or, if that is not possible, to set itself up as an independent election observation body. I have the evidence. A lot of brown envelopes are heading my way on what it is doing.

I hope that this debate will have an impact on the Foreign Office and on DFID, which obviously had a part in instigating it, and that hon. Members will say, "You are doing a good job, but there is a lot more to be done." I congratulate the Electoral Commission, which is doing a very good job not only in following what is going on internationally but in helping to ensure, with those in government and Parliament who are on the same wavelength, that we put our own house in order.

There is nothing more embarrassing to me than going to countries such as Kazakhstan and Russia as an international observer, giving a beating around the head to countries that held fraudulent elections and then having, at conferences where I have spoken, my own words thrown back at me. For example, people have said, "I understand what you are saying, Mr. George, but why don't you allow domestic or international observers to observe your own elections?" That is a legitimate point and it is irrefutable. Thankfully, legislation has amended that, and I hope that planeloads of Belarusians and Kazakhs will head to our elections when they are held, just to show that, even though we may be prepared to advise them about their elections, we at long last have put our own house in order.