Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights
The Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) works to:
- Promote democratic elections
- Support the development of democratic institutions
- Monitor human rights
- Strengthen civil society and the rule of law
- Combat discrimination
- Improve the situation of Roma and Sinti
- Assist in protecting the rights of trafficked persons and vulnerable groups
ODIHR is based in Warsaw, Poland. Michael Georg Link of Germany became Director of ODIHR on July 1, 2014.
Since its establishment in 1991, ODIHR has become an international “gold standard” institution in developing a systematic methodology for evaluating all stages of the electoral process, including:
- The process for the selection of candidates
- The campaign process
- Media coverage
- The voting process
- The counting of ballots and determination of outcomes.
ODIHR recruits and deploys election monitors, and works closely with the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and European Parliament to observe elections in OSCE participating states. It has also played a similar role in some newly democratizing countries, such as Afghanistan.
ODIHR’s efforts in election monitoring in its early years tended to focus on the former communist states in Eurasia and the Balkans, and this has led to some criticism that there is an implicit assumption that the only problems with democratic processes occur in the former communist states.
The chairman and secretary of a polling station commission open a mobile ballot box during the closing proceedings of the second round of the presidential election, Svitlovodsk, Kirovohrad region, 7 February 2010. (OSCE/Adam Adamus)
In part to respond to this criticism, ODIHR has monitored elections in the West as well, including French presidential elections, U.S. presidential and congressional elections, and elections in the UK involving devolution of authority to Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Although ODIHR reported occasional problems in several of those elections, its reports generally concluded that the elections were held in these Western countries in the context of a long history of democratic practice. This finding, however, has led to criticism from Russia and several other countries that ODIHR is utilizing “subjective” criteria in its election monitoring, rather than focusing on concrete, material evaluations.
Tolerance and anti-discrimination
L-r) ODIHR Hate Crime Officers Joanna Perry and Carolyn Bys, and Floriane Hohenberg, the Head of ODIHR’s Tolerance and Non-Discrimination Department, present the highlights from ODIHR’s annual hate crime report for 2011 at the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, Warsaw, 3 October 2012. (OSCE/Shiv Sharma)
ODIHR has been increasingly active in recent years in monitoring, focusing attention, and developing programs to combat:
- Racism and xenophobia
- Discrimination against Muslims
Roma and Sinti
ODIHR has been given a major role by the Permanent Council to:
- Implement the "Action Plan on Improving the Situation of Roma and Sinti Within the OSCE Area"
- Assist participating states in developing anti-discrimination legislation and means to implement that legislation; assisting ombudsman offices, commissions for combating discrimination, and police forces
- Serve as principal Contact Point for Roma and Sinti issues within the OSCE region
- Collect data on discrimination and hate crimes and, on the basis of an analysis of those data, recommend policies to alleviate discrimination against Roma and Sinti peoples
The Strategic Police Matters Unit within the Secretariat cooperates with ODIHR to develop programs to compile and teach best practices with regard to police work within Roma and Sinti communities, especially to develop codes to avoid racial profiling and to improve interethnic relations.
Report on Implementation of the Action Plan on Improving the Situation of Roma and Sinti Within the OSCE Area. (OSCE)
ODIHR also works with the OSCE Economic and Environmental Activities office to develop programs to provide targeted assistance to address Roma and Sinti social and economic needs, including improved access to health services, educational opportunities, and participation in the public and political life of the state.
Guantanamo as an issue
ODIHR Director Lenarcic again called on the U.S. to close the Guantanamo Detention Facility in January 2014, saying that detainees should either be prosecuted promptly, in accordance with international fair trial standards, or released. ODIHR will be issuing a public report on the human rights situation of the detainees and recommendations in the course of the year.
An ODIHR delegation visited Guantanamo in April 2013 and met with U.S. officials, civil society representatives, and defense counsels of some detainees.