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Why European Union didn’t send election observers to Rwanda

by Drs. M.J.M. Verhagen, Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Original text in Dutch:
Kamerbrief inzake de politieke situatie in Rwanda

Datum nieuwsfeit: 30-07-2010
Bron: Ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken
Kamerbrief | 30 juli 2010

Topics discussed by Minister Verhagen:
? Elections’ Observation
? Absence of opposition and party funding
? Freedom of expression and divisionism
? Security Situation
? Extradition
? General budget support
? Political Dialogue

Here is my response to the questions and comments from three groups of the standing committee for Foreign Affairs of July 9, 2010 (reference 29237, No. 122), following my letter of July 1, 2010 on the political situation in Rwanda. For the sake of readability, the questions and answers below are grouped by topic.

Elections’ observation

Questions from PvdA:

- Why has the European Commission rejected the demand of the Netherlands and some other Member States to set up a full EU observation mission?
- What arguments did the Commission have?
- Would it have been possible to raise this point in the Council and did the Netherlands consider this?
- Can the Minister indicate whether he thinks that a Commonwealth observation mission will monitor the situation in a proportionate and appropriate manner?

Questions from CDA:

- Can the minister explain why the European Commission has ignored the request for a fully-fledged EU Observation Mission and how the Netherlands has handled this strange decision?
- Is it enough that the Rwandan authorities have adopted the recommendations of the EU observer mission in 2008 almost in their entirety?
- Doesn’t this give more reason to monitor the elections in order to determine whether the accepted recommendations are also complied with in practice?
- Can the Minister indicate which recommendations were not adopted and why?
- Are donors, particularly the Netherlands, also now involved in the preparations for the elections? If not, why not?
- What does an EU election expert mission, what is its status, who are the members and how does this compare to the Commonwealth observation mission?

Government’s Answer:

I regret, just as your committee, that there will be no the full EU observer mission during the forthcoming presidential elections.
Every year, the European Commission identifies the number of elections in different regions and rates the appropriateness of observation mission according to the available resources and the conditions in the respective countries.

There are elections in 16 African countries this year. Rwanda was given less priority in weighing because of the relative stability in the country at that time and the general expectation that the incumbent President Kagame would get an overwhelming majority of the votes. The Netherlands has advocated with a number of EU partners to send an observation mission, but there was insufficient support from the Commission and other EU countries. I therefore found meaningless to bring it to the Council.

The EU election expert mission which was chosen, is composed of four experts and has already begun to critically monitor the electoral process in Rwanda. The mission will publish no formal report and will make no public comments on the conduct of the elections. Due to its nature, an expert mission has only an EU internal, but useful information role.
Various organizations will send observers to monitor the elections. The regional human rights organization LDGL (Ligue des Droits de la personne dans la région des Grands Lacs) will send 180 observers, the Platform for Non-Governmental Organizations 545, the Forum for Political Parties around 100, the National University of Rwanda about 60 and National Human Rights Commission 62 observers. Also the Commonwealth is expected to send an observation mission of about 18 people. The number of observers from the African Union, the East African Union and the diplomatic missions in Rwanda is still unknown. There is no reason to dispute the quality of these international and local observers, but the Dutch government would nevertheless have liked to see an EU observation mission which would have injected a significant number of additional observers.

The EU observation mission which released a report in early 2009 on the parliamentarian elections of September 2008 made strong recommendations. Most (at least the main) recommendations are contained in the new electoral law. The EU questioned particularly the transparency at the level of the poll station and the process of consolidation of votes. The new law has eliminated these concerns. Thus the rights of election monitors have been better defined and the counting of votes will start immediately after closure of the polling stations. Still remain some concerns, including the fact that no provision has been made for particular categories of voters (eg, people in hospitals and prisoners). Also there are inadequacies here and there in the French and English translations of the Electoral Law.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs,
Drs. M.J.M. Verhagen

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