The Peace, Elections and Democracy thematic approach of the Peace and Human Rights Division (PHRD) aims to prevent and mitigate violence and conflict by strengthening democratic processes (electoral, constitutional and parliamentary) for the peaceful and legitimate sharing of power. The approach is unique as it combines peace policy tools (dialogue facilitation, preventive diplomacy and mediation) with technical expertise (legal expertise, assisting political parties, democratic processes experts) to promote human security.
Peace, elections and democracy
In practice, this means that in states undertaking reforms in the wake of armed conflict or the fall of an authoritarian regime, specialists from the PHRD assist – at the request of the different political parties and other stakeholders – with the holding of elections and with constitutional and parliamentary reforms. The specialists also observe elections and provide support to national parliaments. The PHRD's work is supported by and complements the efforts of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), whose projects are longer term. Thanks to its long-standing experience and expertise in democracy as well as in providing good offices, Switzerland is viewed worldwide as a credible partner that contributes its know-how in a neutral manner.
Elections to Peace
In collaboration with the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies and swisspeace, Switzerland organised a "Senior Level Exchange Elections to Peace - E2P" retreat in Geneva in 2018, which focused on the connection between elections and peacebuilding. The event brought together a wide array of national and international representatives. Diplomats, politicians, academics and practitioners from Mozambique, Nigeria, Kosovo, Georgia and Zimbabwe took part in productive discussions on peacebuilding, mediation and electoral assistance.
In response to a request from the Georgian electoral commission, Switzerland supported the negotiations on ethical principles for candidates in the 2018 presidential elections. Switzerland's efforts helped to create a favourable environment for the campaign and to prevent the escalation of tensions during the electoral process.
The exercise also provided an opportunity to raise awareness among candidates and the public about democratic standards. A presentation on ethical principles for the candidates received positive coverage in major national media.
In 2015, Switzerland facilitated a voluntary code of conduct for fair election campaigning during the first free parliamentary elections in Myanmar. The historic code set out basic rights and rules to avoid hate speech and the instrumentalisation of religion during the campaign. Switzerland supported the parties by introducing examples from other countries, and assisted with the preparations and implementation of the code.
Following decades of military dictatorship, restricted freedoms and armed conflict involving ethnic minorities, agreement on this code of conduct built trust between the parties and encouraged a culture of democratic compromise.
Switzerland worked to prevent violence in the run-up to the last two presidential elections in Nigeria.
In 2015, Switzerland supported the Electoral Integrity Initiative of the Kofi Annan Foundation (KAF). Working with the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, Switzerland also supported the establishment of a National Peace Committee (NPC) bringing together statesmen, traditional leaders and members of civil society to ensure peaceful elections.
In the 2019 presidential elections, Switzerland reiterated its support for the NPC. The latter succeeded in convincing the main candidates to sign the Abuja Peace Agreement, in which they renewed their commitment to ensuring peaceful presidential elections and promoting post-election peace.
Since 2011, Switzerland has assisted Tunisia in its constitutional reform and election processes to support the development of the country's new democracy. An Arabic-speaking Swiss expert on constitutional law was engaged by the Peace and Human Rights Division (PHRD) to assist parliamentarians in search of a compromise to help the new Tunisian constitution achieve majority approval in parliament. This culminated in the entry into force of the new constitution on 27 January 2014. Switzerland continued this support in 2016, when it organised a high-level visit for members of the Tunisian Assembly of the Representatives of the People to deepen their knowledge of parliamentary processes.
In the run-up to the 2011 and 2014 elections, the PHRD also supported the reform of the system to elect members of the National Constituent Assembly. With the NGO Democracy Reporting International, it contributed to the drafting of a study on the advantages and potential impact of the changes to the system. A federal judge from Switzerland took part in a high-level seminar on electoral dispute procedures organised by the PHRD, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems and the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe.
In 2014, together with the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue in Geneva and a group of election experts from Switzerland and Tunisia, Switzerland provided support in terms of content and financing for the inter-party dialogue on a code of conduct (the Tunisian Charter of Honour) aimed at preventing outbreaks of violence during the elections.
During the 2019 presidential and legislative elections, the PHRD supported a Carter Center project to mitigate digital threats to democracy and increase participation among young people and women. Finally, the PHRD also supported the Munathara Initiative, which organised the first televised electoral debates in Tunisia and the Arab world.
In 2017, prior to the first elections of the post-Mugabe era, Switzerland was invited by the Zimbabwean political parties and affected institutions to provide support and technical expertise in negotiations which led to the adoption of a code of conduct between political parties.
The code, which was incorporated into the Electoral Act, was intended to prevent pre-election violence and enable peaceful dispute resolution. International observers welcomed the code of conduct as a fundamental contribution to a peaceful pre-election environment, although many challenges remain.