More Qualified Candidates Needed for UN Human Rights Council

Washington

One-third of the candidates for the November 2012 United Nations Human Rights Council elections are unqualified for the job, according to a Freedom House policy paper released today.  The paper, “Assessing the 2012 UN Human Rights Council Elections” evaluates the 18 candidates running for seats on the Council to determine if they meet the UN’s stated criteria that members must “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights.”

Candidates were evaluated based on their domestic human rights records, as measured by their ranking in Freedom in the World, as well as their voting record on human rights-related resolutions at the UN General Assembly (UNGA). Freedom House does not recommend seven candidate countries—Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Gabon, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela—for Council membership.  The qualifications of three other countries—Brazil, Kenya, and Sierra Leone—are questionable.

Human Rights Council members are elected by the full UNGA in a secret ballot and, like other UN bodies, five groups that represent the regions of the world (regional groups) are each allocated a proportional number of seats based on population. Members are limited to two consecutive three-year terms.  In this year’s election, only one regional group, the Western Europe and Other States Group which includes the United States, will run a competitive slate, with 5 countries running for 3 seats.  The remaining groups will run “clean slates” meaning that each candidate will run unopposed and is virtually guaranteed a seat on the Council unless member states take a principled stance.

“Every regional group should be running a competitive slate for the Council. This would give states a real choice in the selection of Council members and discourage countries with poor human rights records from throwing their hat in the ring,” said Daniel Calingaert, executive vice president at Freedom House. “Allowing human rights abusers such as Ethiopia, Pakistan, and Venezuela to join the Council unopposed is inexcusable; it undermines the credibility of the global body that is supposed to uphold internationally accepted human rights standards.

Candidates must receive an absolute majority in the General Assembly, 97 votes, to win a seat on the Council.  UN member states thus have the power to prevent countries with poor human rights records from joining the Human Rights Council.  However, no country has ever failed to garner the required 97 votes, including known human rights abusers such as Cuba, Libya, and Saudi Arabia.  Violators of human rights have withdrawn their candidacies only in very rare instances, in response to an outcry from the human rights community and UN member states.

“Freedom House calls on the UN General Assembly to vote only for qualified candidates to the Human Rights Council,” continued Calingaert.

For the full policy paper, click here.

Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights. 

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