International human rights law, right to vote

The ever-boiling cauldron of angst within the political space of the country continues unabated. In recent times, various political controversies of diverse origins and backgrounds have manifested themselves in the body politic. 

The palpable and very loud brouhaha that these lies have engendered makes ample fodder for these columns.

And it is, therefore, germane that yours truly provides some analysis.

The topic in vogue over the past weeks is without doubt the ongoing limited voter registration of the electoral commission.

This exercise has polarised the populace to such an extent that it deserves examination.

The catalyst for the implosion was the decision of the Electoral Commission (EC) to conduct the exercise mainly in their District Capital offices.

There has been a huge hue and cry, especially from the main opposition parties and some prominent Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), that the decision to register newly qualified voters only at the District Capital offices effectively disenfranchises the majority of the would-be eligible persons on the grounds of poverty; that a sizeable proportion of newly eligible voters would not be able to travel to the District Capital offices of the EC for lack of funds.


As the frontiers of the debate are already at a heightened and very polarised state, this article will not further enflame the embers but rather attempt to shed some light on the right to vote, which is a human right, at the epicentre of this debate.

As such, I will be concerned here with the ambit of human rights and; thus, the parameters of the right to vote within the International Human Rights system.

Given that Ghana has ratified the Optional Protocol of the UN Charter, we are bound by UN treaties.

Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) highlights the role of periodic genuine elections in ensuring that everyone is able to participate in the public affairs of his or her country.

The fact that the right to vote, which is subsumed under the right to participate in public affairs, is a human right is unassailable.

 It is codified and enshrined in Article 25(b) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Article 25(b) of the ICCPR provides citizens with the right and the opportunity to vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections which are to be by universal and equal suffrage and are to be held by secret ballot, guaranteeing the free expression of the will of the electors.

Further, the Human Rights Committee (HRC) has a specific General Comment on its scope.

It has the role of monitoring and supervising the implementation by State Parties of the obligations under the ICCPR.

In its General Comment No. 25 (1996), the HRC states that the conduct of public affairs is a broad concept that covers all aspects of public administration and the formulation and implementation of policy at international, national, regional and local levels. 


In October 2018, the HRC presented guidelines on the basic principles that should ensure the effectiveness of the right to participate in public affairs.

These promote the advancement of human rights and play a crucial role in the advancement of democracy, the rule of law, social inclusion and development.

They are essential for reducing inequalities and social conflict and also important for empowering individuals and groups and the right to vote is one of the core elements of human rights-based approaches aimed at eliminating marginalisation and discrimination.

While the responsibility and accountability for making decisions ultimately rests with the public authorities, in this case the EC, the participation of various sectors of the society allows the authorities to deepen their understanding of specific issues.

As a result, decision-making is more informed and sustainable and public institutions are more effective and accountable.

The heightened debate and the resulting acrimony emanating from the accusations and counter-accusations of disenfranchisement do not bode well for the sanity of our democratic experiment.

We have collectively embraced democracy as our way of governance in solidarity with most of the world at large. 

What we need to do, therefore, is to work assiduously in a spirit of genuine co-operation to tease out the ingredients that sustain the democratic experiment.

Elections and, by extension, voting are the fulcrum on which the edifice of democracy stands.

Let us work together and recognise that the right of every eligible voter to be included in the voters’ register is sacrosanct, regardless of their status.

The writer is a lawyer.

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