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Independent Intervention

Monitoring the police, parades and public order

3. International approaches to monitoring

In this section we begin by looking briefly at the wider forms of monitoring carried out by international organisations such as the United Nations, the European Union, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the us National Democratic Institute (NDJ). In particular we look at the work undertaken and the role played by foreign monitors in verifying the fairness of the election process in countries coming out of conflict. We then discuss four recent examples of independent indigenous monitoring projects in three countries: England, the us and South Africa. We conclude by summarising these varying approaches within the context of the typologies set out in the last section.

A discussion of election monitoring might seem somewhat tangential to the main theme of this report, which is primarily concerned with monitoring public events, public order and human rights. But elections are both public events and a basic human right. Public disorder can be used or provoked to disrupt, intimidate and restrict people’s rights to vote. International monitoring missions are organised to try to ensure elections are free and without intimidation and that the procedures are both fair and transparent. They are therefore intimately involved with maintaining public order to ensure that the electoral process can be held in an open and peaceful manner.

International monitoring of elections

The use of outside monitors to oversee the resolution of contentious issues within an independent sovereign state dates from the post-World War One period, when a number of international commissions and later the League of Nations were involved in monitoring referenda and plebiscites over border disputes across Europe. Since the establishment of the UN in 1945, monitoring has become a more established part of the wider peacekeeping process (Beigbeder 1994). More recently, a number of intergovernmental missions have begun to focus on the broader arena of monitoring human rights.

The first UN monitoring body was set up to oversee the general election in Korea in 1948 and since then the international community has been involved in monitoring a wide range of post-conflict activities as part of its wider peacekeeping remit (Gallagher 1999, Guillot 1996). In recent years a number of intergovernmental organisations and other bodies such as the EU, the Commonwealth, the OSCE and the NDI have organised a variety of monitoring missions. These have addressed such matters as the status of ceasefires, the fairness of elections, the treatment of human rights and the activities of policing agencies in a wide range of countries (Burci 1996, Carothers 1997).

Many of these have been large-scale operations, and in high-profile cases of countries moving from conflict to democratic politics the missions have involved a range of different international bodies sending separate and distinct teams of monitors to the same country The elections in Cambodia in 1993 involved more than 1,200 UN observers and the Bosnian elections utilised more than 2,000 OSCE volunteers.

Intergovernmental missions are undertaken in response to a request from the host government or from the parties to any dispute, rather than being initiated by the international bodies themselves. The international body then assesses the number of monitors required and the monitors themselves are selected by the individual countries or bodies involved. NGO missions are usually organised in response to an invitation by an organisation from within the host country.

Monitoring teams are often very diverse and may include judges, lawyers, academics, politicians and political activists, serving police officers, ex-military personnel, journalists and students. Monitors are often required to have specific expertise or knowledge of the host country or its language or previous monitoring experience. Monitors work as part of a larger team and when in the field usually work in pairs and with local translators and drivers. In some situations security is provided as well.

Briefing and some form of training is often provided before departure and in more detail on arrival in the host country A number of organisations have produced training manuals for human-rights monitors (Araldsen & Thus 1997; English & Stapleton 1995; UNOHCHR 1998), while several bodies have produced codes of conduct which define and circumscribe the role of monitors (DFID 1999; IDEA 1995; Goodwin-Gill 1998; NDI 1995; OSCE 1998). The OSCE Election Observation Handbook describes the differing roles and responsibilities for long-term observers, who spend several weeks in the country preparing for the mission and monitoring the whole election campaign, and short-term observers, who arrive immediately before the election to observe the polling and counting. Its code of conduct specifies that all observers should:

  • be impartial and unobtrusive,
  • carry prescribed identification but no partisan symbols or colours
  • never give instructions to local officials,
  • base all conclusions on verifiable evidence,
  • refrain from making personal or premature comments to the media or others,
  • participate in post-election debriefings, and
  • comply with all national laws and regulations.

This code clearly emphasises that monitors are present purely to observe: they have a passive and distanced role. But volunteers to whom we spoke said that in practice they had to be able to adapt to a variety of conditions on the ground and adopt a flexible and pragmatic approach. Most volunteers had expected to undertake a passive role but found that some situations demanded a more interventionist stance.

The UN guidelines for involvement distinguish between the two roles for monitors: supervisor and observer (Ebersole 1992). In supervised elections the UN has a direct involvement in establishing the framework and mechanisms for the elections while observation serves simply to verify free and fair elections. This has been further clarified in a document prepared by the Swedish-based International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, in conjunction with the UN, in 1995. Its Code of Conduct for the Ethical and Professional Observation of Elections utilises many of the principles set out in the OSCE document. But it is also clear that observers are only part of a larger network of personnel, which includes mediators, technical assistants and supervisors who may well be more actively involved in the event than simply observing.

The Cambodian election of 1993 was one instance where the UN played a structuring role and was actively involved in the entire process. Similarly, the role expected of volunteers in Bosnia has varied at each of the three recent elections. In September 1996 the role was defined as observer, in November 1997 it was supervisor and in September 1998 it was again observer. Monitors said that in both Bosnia and Cambodia they often had to be prepared to advise local officials. Such intervention seems to have taken the form of showing local officials how to do something rather than preventing actual malpractice or mediating in disputes. Volunteers felt that their role was to observe whether the elections took place as freely and fairly as possible. In some cases it was their very presence as representatives of an international body - and therefore with experience of the democratic process and independent of local political disputes - that served as some guarantee of the legitimacy of the process.

Short-term observers usually departed the country soon after the election. Methods of debriefing vary from basic verbal reports to a multi-layered process of verbal and written reports given before departure and again on return to country of origin. Debriefing focused on both problems experienced in the electoral process and shortfalls in the monitoring mission. In the case of Bangladesh, the EU mission produced a joint report and a suggestion for a code of conduct for monitors before departing the country, although it is not clear if this was adopted in any way. In Bosnia, one observer noted clear improvements in the monitoring process over the three elections and put this down, in part at least, to the adoption of suggestions made during debriefing sessions.

This brief overview indicates that monitoring by international bodies has become an established part of the political process in the transition from conflict towards peace. International monitors are seen as providing an independent and neutral verification of the fairness of newly established systems and processes. Despite the large numbers of observer missions in recent years there still seems to be a variety of approaches adopted by different organisations, allied to a diverse range of practical experiences. In part this is due to the variety of local contexts in which monitoring is carried out; in part it is dependent on the aims, experience and organisational abilities of the IGO or NGO. Attempts have been made to standardise expectations of volunteers through the production of codes of conduct but these need to be seen as somewhat loose frameworks for action.

Intergovernmental organisations tend to view the ideal role for monitors as one of passive observing and non-intervention. But in practice people who had worked as monitors recognised that they had to take a pragmatic approach and their role was often more active and interventionist. Some monitors saw themselves as facilitators of the democratic process rather than simply witness to it.

Domestic monitoring groups

The success of election monitoring by international bodies has in turn raised concerns about the overall process. A variety of criticisms have been made of international monitoring missions. Among other things, concern has been expressed at the proliferation of groups undertaking such missions, at the duplication of observers at certain locations, at the lack of local knowledge, context and language skills of some observers , at the motives of some observers who often seem to favour exotic locations as a form of political tourism, and at the short-term view of many missions which focus on the event rather than the process. It has been suggested that some of the money spent on high-profile international missions might be better spent in supporting local groups which can monitor events on a more permanent basis. In fact, in parallel with the expansion of interest in international missions, there has been a growth in local monitoring groups in many countries (Carothers 1997, Nevitte & Canton 1997). Such groups do not suffer from the same range of criticisms that have been levelled at international missions: they can mobilise more people, respond to a wider range of events and have better local skills and knowledge. But their neutrality and impartiality - a factor prominent in the success of international missions - has been questioned.

Despite having to walk a fine line in being both effective and remaining impartial, domestic monitoring groups have established themselves in a wide range of countries. Monitoring appears to have become a particularly prominent activity in Caribbean and south American countries, but groups have also been established in eastern European countries such as Bulgaria and Romania (Nevitte and Canton 1997). Many such groups were set up to monitor the local electoral process but have subsequently expanded their activities into promoting civil involvement in the wider political sphere. Some have become more actively involved in wider human-rights issues; others have taken to monitoring police activities, although the limited literature on such bodies makes it difficult to analyse their work in any detail. There are also a small number of documented examples where domestic monitoring groups have been set up with a specific interest in public-order issues and which have some parallels with the work being undertaken in Northern Ireland. We begin by considering the work in Britain of Sheffield Policewatch, which was set up to monitor the policing of the coal dispute in 1984. We then turn to the National Lawyers Guild in the USA, which sends people to monitor the policing of public events and demonstrations. Finally, we discuss two examples from South Africa, where groups were set up to monitor assemblies, demonstrations and public violence during the transition from apartheid.

England : Sheffield Policewatch

Sheffield Policewatch was set up to monitor police activities during the National Union of Mineworkers strike in 1984. It was a local response to public concern at the expanding range of police activities and attempts to control picketing miners (Field 1985). The local trades council and unemployment centre were among the initial sponsors and although this might have suggested an inherent affiliation with the strikers the group did not consider itself as a miners support group. Instead, it attempted to maintain a position of independence from all parties to the dispute: the NUM, the National Coal Board and the police. The local labour movement also acknowledged the advantages of the group remaining independent, although a number of trade union and Labour Party branches donated money to the project. Members came largely from the middle-class caring professions: the group included local-government officers, social workers, adult education teachers, academics, students and members of the clergy and grew to some 45 volunteers after six months of monitoring - 27 of them women. The monitors organised themselves into three groups and these were based at three different miners’ advice centres in south Yorkshire and Derbyshire. Each group sent out small teams of two or three monitors with pickets on a daily basis.

The main activity of monitors was to report on the behaviour of the police. Policewatch members functioned as passive observers rather than attempting any form of mediation or intervention. The group’s focus of interest was in recording and documenting acts of police violence and any abuse of ‘miners’ rights and liberties’, although in some cases their presence does seem to have deterred individual police officers from aggressive actions. Members made notes and took photographs of what took place and these were made available for use in court. Members of the monitoring project acted as independent witnesses in a number of cases when miners were prosecuted. The group also provided an alternative source of information for journalists, who came to regard them as an authoritative and reliable source’ (Field 1985).

Police reaction to the project was varied: relations with South Yorkshire police were ‘mutually respectful’, Derbyshire police were described as ‘positively helpful’, but the Nottinghamshire police were considered ‘suspicious’ and ‘critical’. The group itself seems to have been uncertain of its legal status and therefore unclear about how far it might demand certain rights. Despite attempting to identify and distinguish themselves with badges, members’ reception at picket lines or roadblocks and access to contentious locations seems to have depended on the whims of the local officer in charge. Monitoring work could also be dangerous: at least three observers were injured when they were caught up in police attempts to remove picketing miners and one observer’s car was damaged by police action.

In his review of the work of Sheffield Policewatch, John Field felt that while the group did have some impact on the ground this was always limited. He acknowledged that the group ‘lacked any wider capacity to influence events’ and while its reports were used by the media and thereby helped influence local public opinion, there were ‘no effective mechanisms.., whereby local opinions can affect the autonomy of the police institution’. Nevertheless, he considered it important that the group was able to provide independent witnesses to acts of violence and a structure of support for the victims of police abuses.

Sheffield Policewatch did not attempt any active mediation between police and pickets on the ground but, rather, restrained itself to observing and photographing with the aim of influencing subsequent events. The Policewatch project did not expect any specific knowledge or legal training of its members; neither is there any suggestion that any practical training was offered nor guidelines for appropriate behaviour produced. Members of Policewatch began monitoring a few days after the group was formed. Their method was improvised and honed through practice.

The status of monitors as independent and impartial seems to have derived from the fact that they were dissimilar to the two main protagonist groups. The monitors were predominately female and middle-class - in contrast to the working-class, male miners and police officers with whom they mingled. It is also interesting to note the variety of reactions from the different police forces with whom the group came into contact. In some cases the police were helpful, whereas in other situations the monitors were treated like the picketing miners. The quality of the working relationship with the police can have a considerable bearing on the ability of monitors to work on the ground.

The group placed great store on its perceived independence and this appears to have been important in the way its observations were utilised by the media. Once it was able to demonstrate its value as an alternative source of information, its credibility increased. Nevertheless, the ability of Policewatch to have any immediate or practical impact on events or on wider policy approaches seems to have been slight. There is no strong evidence that its role as witnesses in court cases was widely utilised or particularly significant, although it was appreciated by those who took advantage of it. Furthermore, the model was not taken up elsewhere during the strike and attempts to set up a permanent police monitoring unit in Sheffield were rejected by the local Labour Party. Although this suggests that the monitoring project was not an overwhelming success, it clearly did have some small victories during the strike by restraining police behaviour on occasions and it did offer an alternative source of information that was widely used by the local and national media. These can all be considered valuable results.

USA: National Lawyers Guild

The National Lawyers Guild is a national network of lawyers, students and ‘legal advisers’, set up in 1937 as a progressive alternative to the racially segregated American Bar Association. The Guild is organised into local chapters, which, among other things, provides legal observers to attend demonstrations, rallies, protests and other political events organised by ‘progressive, activist organisations’. A number of chapters have produced their own guidelines for legal observers, which specify their roles and responsibilities at such events. Those produced by chapters in New York, San Diego and San Francisco illustrate that even within a single organisation there can be some differences in expectation in the role that observers should play.

The San Francisco and San Diego guidelines insist that the primary role of the legal observer is as a witness - specifically, to watch the actions of the police. They note that while every person at such an event is a potential witness, legal observers have a goal different from that of other participants: they are there to record what happens.

They should put observation ahead of any desire to participate in the event in any way. Both guidelines indicate three principal tasks for observers:

  • providing a presence, which may minimise police misconduct and/or hostile actions by counter demonstrators
  • gathering information, which may be useful later in a trial or police misconduct complaints; and
  • keeping track of arrestees and obtaining names and addresses of potential witnesses.

The guidelines also suggest that observers should identify themselves by means of an arm-band or similar and should introduce themselves to the organisers of the event upon arrival. There is no suggestion that they should introduce themselves to the police; rather, the implication of the guidelines is that the observers should maintain as much distance from the police as possible. The guidelines also state that observers should neither become involved in crowd control nor conflict resolution, nor should they act as liaison with police officers. This work is considered to be the responsibility of the event organisers. Legal observers may liaise with the organisers but should remain distant from them. Both documents indicate suspicion of police motives in trying to utilise legal observers as intermediaries, which might compromise their status as independent witnesses should they be required to appear in court.

The New York Guild guidelines take a rather different approach and state that ‘there is no set way for a legal observer to act at the demonstration’. In contrast to the previously cited guidelines they say that the observer should keep in mind that their job is to ‘assist the demonstrators in accomplishing their objectives (short of counselling persons to break the law)’. Observers should do whatever they can to achieve the aim of the demonstration, by their presence or by negotiating with the police. Under these guidelines legal observers are expected to see themselves as a part of the demonstration rather than as witnesses. They function as an authority rather than as an independent and neutral third party. They provide advice to event participants and challenge the legal knowledge of the police. There is less emphasis on the importance of note-taking or monitoring arrestees, which it is felt can be done by others.

The models set out in these guidelines suggest two very different roles for legal observers. The San Diego/San Francisco model advocates a passive approach at the event itself, with any intervention taking place publicly - producing reports or acting as an independent witness in court. The aim is to create a distance both from the organisers of the demonstration and from the police, in a similar way to Sheffield Policewatch. Emphasis is placed on the impartiality of legal observers because of their legal training and, as a consequence, the honesty of their observations.

The New York model is more interventionist. Observers are clearly expected to identify actively with the aims of the demonstrators. Legal knowledge is seen as a tool which can be utilised to achieve one’s aims , to restrain police action or to assist people in practical ways after they have been arrested, rather than as a claim to truth and objectivity.

Both models see clear demarcation lines between demonstrators and police. They regard legal observers as on the side of the demonstrators, as active supporters or as independent monitors of civil rights. Neither approach advocates any neutrality or any role in mediating between police and demonstrators to achieve a peaceful compromise. Both models also take an almost fatalistic view that demonstrations will involve arrests and probably violence. Although in the past US police have often taken an aggressive stance to radical demonstrations, more recent academic studies suggest that this approach has changed towards a softer, less confrontational, amidst a negotiated and more ritualised style of protest (McCarthy and McPhail 1998, MePhail et al 1998). However, this change is not reflected in these guidelines.

South Africa: monitoring demonstrations

There were extensive problems of violence at demonstrations in South Africa during the last years of the apartheid regime and through the transition to democracy. For much of this period all demonstrations were illegal and the police took an aggressive approach to dispersing any illegal gatherings. Many people were killed or injured at such events (Jeffrey 1991). During the transition, the number and frequency of demonstrations increased. So, too, did the violence, but with the addition of a new element - clashes within the black community between rival supporters of the African National Congress (ANC) and the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP). The police were in no position to mediate in such disputes as they were regarded as an antagonist by both parties.

In 1991 the government initiated the National Peace Accord (NPA). This provided codes of conduct for the political parties and the police and set up mechanisms for addressing problems of political violence and public disorder. As part of the NPA the government established an independent body. the Goldstone Commission, to look at public violence and intimidation. The commission in turn appointed an international body of experts to consider the specific problems of disorder at protests and demonstrations. The report published by this body recommended radically new legislation and new approaches to the policing of such events (Heymann 1992). At the same time, attempts were made from within South African civil society to address the problem of violence at demonstrations in a more immediate and practical manner, through the use of independent monitoring groups.

We describe the work of two such groups, one in Cape Town and the other in the Johannesburg area.

Network of Independent Monitors - Cape Town

The Network of Independent Monitors (NIM) was launched in Cape Town in January 1993 by eleven church, peace, human-rights and legal groups. Many of these had already been involved in some form of monitoring activity but it was hoped that the network would make this more effective. The intention was to mobilise individuals who were prepared to observe contentious events, such as marches or demonstrations, and local conflicts between police and activists. The network also aimed to provide an independent source of information and advice on the various conflicts and disputes. Members of NIM gave evidence in court, reported incidents of violence to the press, put victims in touch with legal and medical assistance and monitored the progress of police investigations. Some monitors were drawn from the townships, where much of the violent activity took place but the majority were either ‘white liberals’ or were drawn from one of the more ‘respectable’ member organisations. However, monitors were only able to function in townships because they had, and were able to maintain, effective local contacts. The network was on 24-hour call, it aimed to respond to incidents within a few minutes and it monitored on average three or four incidents a week.

Prospective monitors were put forward by their respective organisations and were expected to undergo training in the principles of monitoring, observation skills, statement taking and conflict resolution. New monitors undertook a period of practical orientation before they were given full accreditation by the network. NIM estimated that they trained more than 400 monitors in their 15 months of activity. Monitors were expected to adhere to a 12-point code of conduct, which said that they would:

  • be committed to the principles of the UN Declaration of Human Rights;
  • be committed to independent monitoring;
  • be accessible to all parties being monitored;
  • pledge to promote peace and work to end violence;
  • be committed to non-violent action and methods of monitoring;
  • report truthfully and accurately on situations;
  • strive to act confidently, calmly and diplomatically;
  • display sensitivity and empathy for the vulnerability of victims of violence;
  • respect the need for confidentiality;
  • not publicly display any party preference (in word, by action or by wearing party badges or clothing) while monitoring;
  • respect the role of other structures dealing with conflict mediation/resolution;
  • Not publicly undermine monitors who were part of the network.

The code of conduct emphasised the independence and neutrality of monitors but did not actually define what monitors should do on any occasion where a dispute arose or violence occurred. Leaflets produced by the network said that monitors were not expected to get involved or intervene but simply to act as witnesses to the conflict in situ. The leaflets emphasised NIM’S role as observers and witnesses; monitors were not expected to act as crisis mediators.

However, in spite of the emphasis on observing, one of the organisers of NIM told us that on occasion monitors did physically position themselves between demonstrators and the police, thereby stopping the police from opening fire. He also said that at other times they had been able to assist in the facilitation of negotiations between conflicting parties and thereby help to reduce tension. This was confirmed in the NIM’S publicity material, which said that many potentially violent situations had been defused by its presence and that monitors had served as a general restraint on violent action. While in some cases this was a response to the mere presence of NIM members, it was clear that monitors could and did take a more active role where appropriate and monitoring was a more active process than was otherwise implied.

Wits-Vaal Regional Peace Secretariat

The National Peace Accord also provided for the formation of a National Peace Secretariat and for regional and local peace committees (Ball 1997). Membership of these was drawn from the main political parties (ANC, IFP), youth groups, women’s groups, the business community and the churches. The committees had a range of responsibilities, including facilitating communication, encouraging and legitimising grassroots negotiations, increasing police accountability, reducing violence and monitoring marches and gatherings (Storey 1998). The formation of the regional and local peace committees was haphazard and their effectiveness varied from area to area and over time, but at their best they could be effective mechanisms for dealing with local problems. In some areas the local committees took the initiative in attempts to reduce violence at demonstrations, through the creation of teams of monitors whose role was to act as intermediaries between demonstrators and the police.

Each local committee was independent and developed its own approaches to local dispute resolution. The Wits-Vaal Peace Secretariat in the Johannesburg area developed an extensive monitoring programme and its core objectives were set out in an extensive training manual. This defined the aims of monitoring as to:

  • assist in promoting compliance with the codes of conduct in the peace accord,
  • monitor activities which would result in violence,
  • identify trouble-spots and diffuse the potential for violence,
  • try to prevent violence from escalating, and
  • deal with victims of violence.

The manual specified that monitors should observe, negotiate, intervene in conflict, ease crisis situations and try generally to keep the peace. This clearly suggests that monitoring was seen as an active and wide-ranging form of participation in public events. Monitors saw their role as facilitating any process that would reduce the likelihood of violence. In some situations this could involving monitors placing themselves at risk, from either the demonstrators or the police, by positioning themselves between the conflicting parties. The visible willingness of monitors to engage with the practical and difficult problems and their early successes in defusing potential conflicts helped to increase the credibility of the process with all parties. Both major political parties and the security forces began to see the value of having non-partisan monitors to utilise as an intermediary in tense situations. The actual monitoring of a demonstration was, therefore, often only the final stage of a long process. Regional planning meetings led to local meetings, where practical tasks relating to the details of the rally - parade routes, transport arrangements, the role of security forces and implications for the local communities - would be addressed (see COMSA 1993 and Storey End] for fuller discussions of this process).

In contrast to the NIM, the Wits-Vaal monitors incorporated members of the key political organisations into the monitoring teams. This meant that both ANC and IFP activists could be highly involved in the process of crisis mediation on the ground. ANG members would lead the negotiations with their side and IFP members with theirs. The effectiveness of the monitoring teams was increased by the credibility that members had in local communities. But the code of conduct, which all monitors were expected to sign, made it clear that they were expected to take an independent and neutral position in their role. The code included requirements to:

  • respect and promote compliance with the codes of conduct in terms of the National Peace Accord;
  • report observations truthfully, actually and accurately and avoid being judgmental;
  • refrain from advocating the aims of any political party or organisation or any party to any conflict situation;
  • refrain from carrying any political insignia;
  • never carry any weapon of any sort while monitoring;
  • act calmly and diplomatically;
  • show empathy with the victims of violence;
  • respect confidentiality; and
  • when required to intervene in conflict situations, remain objective and even-handed, and consider the views of all parties with a view to facilitating agreements which restore peace.

The success of the monitoring teams was such that the political activists involved soon came to be seen less as party members or party representatives than as peace accord monitors. Monitoring teams also worked closely with the police on the ground and were involved in the planning of police operations. They retained an active liaison throughout the demonstration, in some cases advising the police to withdraw or reduce their visibility in order to reduce tension. Monitors, event organisers, international observers and security forces all worked together through a joint operations communication centre, which was set up as the hub of the communications and information network for the duration of the event and ensured there was consensus over action taken by any party.

Part of the agreement involved a three-tiered problem-solving structure. If a problem arose the marshals (stewards) would be the first to attempt to deal with it. (Marshal training was also part of the wider attempt to control protests and gatherings). If they were unsuccessful, the monitors would try to resolve the issue. Only if these attempts failed would the security forces act. The aim was to give every opportunity for a peaceful resolution to any problems or disputes.

Although monitoring teams were not successful in all situations, their success at some demonstrations meant that monitors were increasingly utilised in other potentially violent situations day to day, and in dealing with less tangible matters such as rumours and threats of violence. These independent monitoring projects largely came to an end after the elections in 1994, after which time there were fewer contentious demonstrations. Yet the local conflicts and rivalries have often remained a source of violence and in the Cape Town area groups such as the Quakers and the Urban Monitoring and Awareness Committee have continued to work as conflict mediators.

Organised, independent monitoring was a feature of the civil response to the escalating violence at demonstrations during the period of transition in South Africa. Monitoring projects adopted two differing approaches. One model drew heavily on individuals who were not allied to any political position, while the other involved people with both ANC and IFP connections. Both approaches emphasised the independence and neutrality of the monitoring teams. There were also differences of emphasis on how far monitors should intervene on the ground. Although the NIM in Cape Town favoured limiting its activities to observing, in practice it was prepared to intervene if necessary In contrast, the Wits-Vaal Peace Secretariat model explicitly emphasised the interventionist nature of monitoring.

The successes of the monitors required the involvement and compliance of the police in negotiations and planning. It also required the police to take a less confrontational role and to allow monitors to deal with problems as they arose. This demanded that the police acknowledge themselves as part of the problem in provoking violence at demonstrations. It also put pressure on the monitors to prove they could intervene successfully and reach accommodations without recourse to threat of force. Active monitoring did prove successful in a number of situations, even though violent confrontations continued to occur at demonstrations until the elections in 1994. In part the monitors were successful because of the willingness of a sufficient number of local interest groups to engage practically with the problems of persistent violence. However, in part they were successful only because of the dynamics of the wider political environment and the widespread desire to see the peaceful removal of apartheid.


These examples of monitoring initiatives reveal a variety of approaches to constructing a space for independent and neutral persons to facilitate the peaceful expression of political rights. Voting in elections, organising strike actions or picket lines and mounting protests and demonstrations have all proved to be situations where political parties or sections of civil society come into conflict with the agents of the state or one another. In many situations the police are seen as an appropriate body to facilitate and guarantee the opportunity to exercise one’s political rights, but in some they are seen as part of the problem. Each of the examples discussed involves the intervention of a third party between the police or other agents of the state and citizens trying to exercise their rights. Some of the examples involve a more complex dynamic, whereby the monitors also intervene between two conflicting civil parties and the police.

These varied situations have produced a number of different responses from monitoring groups. In each of the examples the monitors placed an emphasis on their independence from the main parties to the disputes, but they also differed in their approach in three main areas:

  • the orientation of their observation - whether including all those in the dispute or focused on specific parties;
  • the level of intervention favoured - whether active and immediate or passive and delayed; and
  • a positioning in favour of one party - so that the emphasis is on independence but not neutrality. These factors can be combined in a variety of ways but in practice they have led to four practical approaches to monitoring public events.

(1) Observer monitors: Sheffield Policewatch and the San Diego and San Francisco chapters of the National Lawyers Guild saw their role as being non-interventionist. Volunteers observed and made notes on police behaviour towards protesters. Although it was hoped their presence might act as a restraint on police behaviour, the emphasis was on the independence and neutrality of monitors, who would be able to act as authoritative witnesses to the media or, later, in court. Election monitors adopt a similar approach.

(2) Partisan Monitors: The New York Lawyers Guild took a slightly different approach and saw legal monitors as working with, and in support of, the demonstrators. The approach still favoured independence, but neutrality was less important than knowledge. The monitor’s role was more to provide an alternative source of authority to that of the police.

(3) Reactive Monitors: The role of the Network of Independent Monitors was wider than the previous two models in so far as it monitored the behaviour of all participants in the process. It also remained independent of all parties and took a neutral position. It held to an ideal of observation as opposed to an interventionist approach, although in practice it accepted the need to be flexible and to be willing to intervene in certain situations. The experience of many election monitors suggests that in practice they take a similar pragmatic approach.

(4) Interventionist Monitors: The Wits-Vaal Peace Secretariat took the most active approach to monitoring. It saw its role as a full participant in the process of ensuring a peaceful outcome to public demonstrations and protests and it included members of some of the main parties to the dispute in its group. But it expected all monitors to play an impartial role and, therefore, still considered itself independent and neutral.

In the next chapters we review the main approaches taken to monitoring in Northern Ireland and compare these to the categories identified above.

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