Friday, 21 September

Interview with Ambassador Robert Barry, head of the OSCE observer mission

- First of all, let’s inform the public about the mission of the Mission.

- We are here by the invitation of the Armenian Government to observe the conduct of the parliamentary elections. That means, not only the Election Day, but the process leading up to Election Day, beginning with the campaign season, the registration of candidates, all through the vote and the appeals. It is essentially the same thing we did during the presidential elections and what we have done for every election held here since 1996.

- When we speak of the mission, we always speak about international standards. What are international standards, what are the principles of international standards?

- We’ll give you a copy of the international standards in Armenia. They come from the Copenhagen Document that all the OSCE member-states adhere to. So when Armenia joined the OSCE, it automatically adopted those standards, and the Code of Election Observation is based upon those standards. But that is not the only standard we apply, we also apply the standards of Armenia’s own constitution and electoral law.

- Let’s accept that as the basis. Various wings of our authorities actually protested, that is, they announced that they do not accept them. In that case, what will the mission do?

- All we can do is make our own observations and anybody can draw whatever conclusions they want from that. I have met with virtually all major political parties, nobody has suggested to me that they don’t accept those standards, and of course they must accept the Armenian Election Code, or else they would not be able to run.

- Let me be more precise. They do not accept violations reported by the mission.

- Every person that I have met here -- political leaders, government officials -- have all acknowledged that there were a great number of violations. Now, of course everybody says there were a lot of violations, but we didn’t do any. But our observers clearly saw many of these things and we investigated each one before we put them into our final report. And after looking into these reports, the Constitutional Court accepted the set of violations reported in our final report as being factually accurate, although they did not have the chance-- that is they are not allowed to look into the questions or facts themselves. And I think the population in general accepts the fact that there were a great many violations.

- You were quite optimistic at the first press conference, saying that we would have normal elections, without violations. We have already registered some facts of violations in different areas, such as registration of candidates, bribes. There exists the opinion that an observation mission is senseless.

- First of all, some people misinterpreted what I said at the press conference. I didn’t say that I believed that these elections will meet international standards, I said that I hoped they would meet international standards. There is a big difference between the two. We always hope that elections we observe will meet international standards, because that is what the purpose of the observation mission is. There have obviously been some violations that have occurred during the period of our stay here. The Chairman of the Central Electoral Commission released a statement about that yesterday. But not all of the things that are reported are things that we can in any way verify. For example, we talk about bribes, usually very generally. For us to site a violation in the report, we need to have specific details, and if it is a violation of the law, that violation must be reported to the law-enforcement authorities. Neither the person who offers a bribe nor the person who takes a bribe is likely to wish to admit it, or take it to the law- enforcement authorities. Likely, that is more a job for the press, and less for a mission like ours.

- Unfortunately, no one pays attention to the facts in the media. If the government had punished the people who committed violations during the previous elections, we could be certain that we could go to the elections without violations.

- That was a key recommendation from our last mission, and it is a recommendation that we invoke to the attention of everybody here, including the president.

- I would repeat the words of one of the voters in Gyumri: “Observation missions come and report violations, then we remain in doubt about the elections. Nothing is done to help the people.” People want more to be done by the mission.

- I can understand that. We are not allowed to do that by our mandate, and we are not allowed to in any way interfere with the election process. We can only observe it.

- What will be the consequences for Armenia, if the violations that took place during the presidential elections are repeated?

- In the first place, it means that people lose confidence in their own government, and that has bad effect on the economy, as well as on politics in the country. It discourages investors from coming and putting money into the economy, which will create jobs. It reduces the authority of the government and the international process of integration, particularly into European structures.

- I have been informed that some international organizations have reduced their aid. In particular USAID, which was providing technical assistance to the Electoral Commission, has terminated the project. Is it possible that such pressure continue? Isn’t that a type of pressure?

- I am not representing the American government, I am representing the OSCE, so I don’t want to speak to what the US government may or may not do. But as I understand from what USAID has done, I think you are correct in what you said.

- Is it possible that after the elections this tendency will grow? Then we come to a situation where people are under a double attack. People suffer.

- I think that is true for any place where the democratic process is subverted.

- Have you taken part in an observation mission in any country where because of the great number of violations, the elections have been announced invalid?

- We are careful not to compare one election to another. All we compare is the election against the international standards and the law. We don’t compare elections, for example in Georgia, or Azerbaijan, or France. It is not the role of the OSCE or any other international organization to substitute the constitutional organs of the country where the election is taking place. So yes, there have been in history lots of elections where there were a great many irregularities, but the election has not been invalidated. I can give the example of Belarus. We didn’t observe that election because we thought that the election law and the mechanisms of the election were so bad that there was no point to be in there. But that is one of the aspects of sovereignty that the country has to decide for itself, whether the election is valid or not. In the case of Armenia, the Constitutional Court made its decision and that decision did not challenge the results of the presidential elections, because discrepancies were not large enough to change the outcome. And the Constitutional Court is the body which has been given the authority by the Constitution.

- You meet with a lot of officials. Do they guarantee that the elections will be without violations?

- There are no guarantees. It would be foolish for anybody to try to guarantee on behalf of all the supporters of any one politician that his party would not create any violations. There are two general kinds of violations: violations that are ordered from the top, and violations that are spontaneous, coming from the bottom. For example, in many of the majoritarian parliamentary elections now the people competing are not affiliated with parties. What has been said here by political leaders, party leaders and so forth, is that they will do their best to ensure that these elections meet international standards. But when the Council of Europe parliamentary group was here a couple of weeks ago, the head of the group said something that I don’t know how translates into Armenian: “The proof of the pudding is in the eating”, in other words, facts speak louder than words.

- Let’s hope that we’ll have elections without violations.

- I think that is too much to hope for. What I hope for these elections is that they meet international standards. I don’t know any country that held an election without any violations. Let’s hope they are fewer. That’s something we’ll have to see.

- Thank you.

- You’re welcome, and good luck with investigative journalism, which can do a lot to make the country more democratic. And let’s also hope that investigative journalists stay healthy.

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