Reference is made to the US Ambassador’s Statement on the US position on free and fair elections (KN Apr 3). Her Excellency Sarah-Ann Lynch is right. The US has not violated international law on insisting on respect for democracy in Guyana.
The US would not compromise on its position of democracy. Guyanese-Americans are appreciative of this immovable American position to support democracy in their homeland. They are in complete agreement with the Ambassador’s position. It is a most direct, pointed, unambiguous, instructive statement from the US Ambassador on the basis of America’s position vis-à-vis relations with Guyana. The US stands for democracy and respect for human rights. Governance must be based on respecting the will (majority) of the voters. Ambassador Lynch said the US position is ballots must be counted fairly and transparently and the real winner declared.
In calling for a fair count of votes in an election, the US is not intervening in the affairs of Guyana as per international law and relations between friendly states. Virtually, no country objects to assistance from the US or other states in support of free and fair elections.
Guyana has perhaps become the only country to object to or take offence with the US and the world community calling for a credible count of votes. Why would the government object to or feel offended by demands from America and the world for a fair count of votes?
There is a misunderstanding of the concept of ‘non-interference’ in the internal affairs of a sovereign nation. This is a term studied in courses in international relations and international law taught in political science in which I did doctoral studies.
The concept is derived from international law. It goes back to the Treaty of Westphalia (1648) and Congresses of Vienna (1780s) on relations between and among nation states. But the principle has undergone change in recent times. In its simplicity, non-interference means a sovereign state must not intervene in the affairs of another independent country.
But other applicable international laws and concepts come into play in recent times resulting in exceptions to the rule. These have to do with violations of human rights and democratic norms, among others. Applicable international laws and precedents are cited, granting (powerful) states (and regional bodies) the right of interference to protect peoples’ lives or other states’ national interests.
There are also countless precedents where a state or the global community intervened in the affairs of another country to protect the ballot, among other reasons. We saw that in the Philippines, Bolivia, Honduras, Venezuela and several African countries.
These countries, like Guyana, are signatory to the UN Charter on democracy. They have obligations. Failure to carry out these obligations is a violation of international law and can lead to serious consequences. So the Ambassador is right that the US is not violating any rule on non-interference in the internal affairs of Guyana with regards to international law when it demanded a credible, transparent vote count.
For further amplification on the subject, if the rulers of a State are massacring people or ‘tiefing’ elections, should the world watch in silence? America and the world intervened in several countries to protect lives from civil wars as well as to promote democracy. In the 1960s until 1992, the US took a hands-off approach with regards to elections riggings in Guyana. But America decided enough was enough and took the side of democracy in 1992.
Ever since, the US has supported democracy and respect for human rights in Guyana, pumping tens of millions of dollars with a demand for credible elections. And the Ambassador made it pellucid that the US is not partisan on Guyana’s politics; it does not support any party in Guyana. It supports democracy and free and fair elections.
I was invited to a Democracy Conference in Asia and Africa in New Delhi around 2002 sponsored by the National Democratic Institute of USA. Delegates from both continents supported the idea of foreign intervention to protect democracy.
Even India, a champion of non-interference in other country’s affairs, through its External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh, while opposing foreign intervention conceded that prevailing conditions in a state could necessitate foreign interference. Those conditions included human rights abuses and electoral fraud. There was recent interference in Kenya, Zimbabwe, Ghana, Liberia, and a host of African countries, to lend support to credible electoral outcomes. Guyana is no exception on the US interest that the right party is declared the winner of the March 2 election.
In sum, rigging of elections pose a serious challenge to relations between Guyana and the US, as indeed also to Canada, UK, and European countries. Instead of charging that the US or other countries are interfering in the internal affairs of Guyana on the vote count, why not allow a fair, transparent count of ballots and a declaration of the winner? Other nations would have no reason to continue ‘interfering’ in Guyana’s domestic affairs.
Dr. Vishnu Bisram
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