International Observation Mission Finds Serious Risks to Colombian Electoral Process‏

PRESS STATEMENT
March 15, 2010

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

In an exensive report released recently, an independent International Pre-Electoral Observation Mission in Colombia found serious impediments to free and fair elections in Colombia that affect the full integrity of the country´s Congressional elections on Mar. 14 and the upcoming presidential elections in May.

The report cites the following “electoral risk factors”

1.The presence of illegal armed groups in the electoral process, including paramilitaries, narco-traffickers, emerging violent groups and other armed actors, inhibits free and fair elections in various regions of the country.

In addition to intimidating and potentially manipulating voters with threats of force, this presence causes widespread fear and mistrust in the electoral system in many regions, and detracts from the perceived legitimacy of those elected in the process.
2. The Mission documented questionable practices that could lead to electoral fraud and the commission of electoral crimes in the pre-electoral period, including:

o Vote buying and selling
o Misuse of identity documents
o Illegal possesion of identity documents, including stolen documents
o Coercion and intimidation of voters
o Fraud committed by polling officers at the voting stations in past elections
o Obstruction of electoral observers, preventing them from carrying out their functions and accessing polling stations in previous occasions
o Control over public transportation to prevent voters from moving freely, as well as transporting voters to voting places that are not their places of residence in order to support certain candidates
o Absence of educational outreach to voters to teach about the importance of citizen participation in political processes and the necessity of protecting a voter’s right to decide free from bribes, threats or other payments

3. The Mission also expressed concerns over Illegal campaign financing that require further investigation:

* The use of public funds to benefit particular candidates
* The alleged use of money from illegal activities, particularly from drug trafficking, to finance campaigns
* Agreements between candidates, government officials and companies to award government contracts before and after the elections in return for financial support
* Exceeding campaign financing limits
* A culture of impunity and widespread fear that deters citizens from reporting ilegal financing and other irregularities
* Political parties do not routinely audit their campaign accounts until after the elections, leading to questons about amounts and sources
* The National Electoral Council (CNE) lacks the resources, logistical capacity, and independence from the Congress to investigate all alleged irregularities

4.The Mission gathered many reports that government aid programs have been manipulated in places for political purposes:

· Numerous cases have been identified where government-aligned candidates have threatened recipients of “Families in Action” benefits with the loss of those benefits if their candidates do not win at the national, regional and municipal levels.
· Officials from the government program, Social Action have been reported to have pressured program beneficiaries to attend political meetings or to vote for governing party candidates

The International Pre-Electoral Mission visited the Colombian departments of Santander, Antioquia, Valle del Cauca and Cordoba. It concludes that the existence of these electoral risk factors could seriously affect the outcome of the elections in these places.

FULL REPORT AVAILABLE HERE:
http://www.globalexchange.org/countries/americas/colombia/elections2010.html
FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT:

Ted Lewis (US)
Human Rights Program Director, Global Exchange, Delegation leader
ted@globalexchange.org Tel. 415-575-5533

Ana Gimena Sanchez-Garzoli (US) WOLA
Tel. (w) 202-797-2171 ext. 205; (c) 202-489-1702
gsanchez@wola.org

Laura Carlsen (US and MEX)
Tel. 52-555-324-1201
lecarlsen@gmail.com

Janvieve Williams (US and Panama)
Tel. 404-610-2807
jwpanama@gmail.com

John Lindsay Poland (US)
Tel. 510-763-1403
johnlp@igc.org

Barbara Wood (Canada)
Tel. 604-708-1495; bwood@codev.org

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