Venice Commission backs right to vote

19 December 2011. On Saturday the Venice Commission (an influential group of constitutional law experts) amended one of its key documents. In doing so it reversed an anomaly which allowed countries to exclude people with “genuine mental disabilities” from the ballot box.

Through the Save the Vote campaign, you may well have sent an email to the Venice Commission, signed the e-petition, or arranged a meeting yourself. A range of NGOs has carried out direct advocacy with Venice Commission members and has organised several events. In September side events were held at the Conference of States Parties to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in New York and the CRPD Committee in September in Geneva. In October, attention was turned to the Warsaw human dimension meeting of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe, as well as the European Parliament in Brussels. An awareness-raising event was also held in London.

The Venice Commission’s previous text stated, “No person with a disability can be excluded from the right to vote or to stand for election on the basis of her/his physical and/or mental disability unless the deprivation of the right to vote and to be elected is imposed by an individual decision of a court of law because of proven mental disability.” The revised text rejects this approach, and instead says that, “Universal suffrage is a fundamental principle of the European Electoral Heritage. People with disabilities may not be discriminated against in this regard, in conformity with Article 29 of the Convention of the United Nations on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the caselaw of the European Court of Human Rights.”

The Venice Commission declined to table this as an agenda item during its October meeting. This allowed time for the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe to step in with a strong Recommendation in November. On international day of people with disabilities on 3 December, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights added her voice, by stating that “[t]he right to political participation and to have a voice in decision-making is one that has been in the spotlight this year around the world.” It has been in the spotlight because you have put it there. Thank you for all that you have done. Please support us to ensure that our Save the Vote campaign sparks domestic law reform, by giving a seasonal gift.

The Venice Commission advocacy was funded through a grant by the Disability Rights Initiative of the Open Society Foundations.


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