UN Human Rights Council: Competitive Vote Would Improve Membership

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UN Human Rights Council: Competitive Vote Would Improve Membership

New Members Should Take Visible Steps to Improve Practices Before Joining in June

NEW YORK - The absence of competitive slates in today's elections for the
United Nations Human Rights Council undermined membership standards and
deprived the General Assembly of the opportunity to elect the most
qualified countries, the NGO Coalition for an Effective Human Rights
Council said.

The election results for the 14 new Human Rights Council members
were largely a foregone conclusion, as all five UN geographical regions
for the first time put forward slates in which the number of candidates
equaled the number of seats allotted to the region. 

"The council elections have become a pre-cooked process that strips
the meaning from the membership standards established by the General
Assembly," said Peggy Hicks, global advocacy director at Human Rights
Watch.  "States serious about the role the council can play in
promoting human rights should push for competitive slates in all
regions, and should be willing to compete for a seat themselves." 

Human Rights Council members are expected to "uphold the highest
standards" of human rights and "fully cooperate" with the council under
the General Assembly resolution that established the council. The NGO
coalition had called for Angola, Libya, Malaysia, Thailand, and Uganda
to take specific steps
to improve their human rights records in advance of today's election. 
The NGO coalition focused its attention on those five states based on
the availability of direct research concerning the human rights
situation in those countries and on the extent of human rights concerns
identified.

The countries elected to the Human Rights Council today are Angola,
Libya, Mauritania, and Uganda from the Africa Group; Maldives,
Malaysia, Qatar, and Thailand from the Asia Group; Moldova and Poland
from the Eastern European Group; Ecuador and Guatemala from the Latin
America and Caribbean Group; and Spain and Switzerland from the Western
European and Other Group.  The Eastern European Group began the year
with a competitive election, but Croatia withdrew its candidacy in
February.

The Asia Group also had a competitive election under way until Iran
withdrew its candidacy in April in the face of mounting global
opposition based on its record of serious human rights violations.    

"Iran's withdrawal showed that international pressure can improve
the membership of the council, and demonstrated the importance of
competitive elections for seats," said Bahey el-din Hassan, director of
the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS).

Nongovernmental organizations have had an impact on the competitive
election process each year, successfully opposing the election of Iran
and Venezuela in 2006, Belarus in 2007, Sri Lanka in 2008, and
Azerbaijan in 2009. 

Substantial attention has been focused on the election of states
with poor human rights records to the council, but too little notice
has been given to the flaws in the election system itself, the NGO
coalition said. The Latin American and Caribbean Group has had a closed
slate every year after the council's first elections in 2006.  While
Africa had a competitive slate last year, the rotation system that the
African region uses virtually guarantees that states that do not meet
the standards set for council membership will nonetheless become
members.  States with stronger human rights records in the region have
been unwilling to challenge Africa's standing practice of putting
forward "closed" slates. 

In addition to having a closed slate this year, the Western European
and Others Group offered no competition in 2009, when New Zealand
withdrew its candidacy after the United States entered the race. 

"No region is well-served by a closed selection process that ignores
the council's membership standards," said Hassan Shire Sheikh, director
of the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Network.  "States
in each region with stronger human rights records deserve to be on the
council and would represent their regions more effectively."

The states elected today will take their seats on the council on
June 19, 2010.  The NGO coalition called for newly elected states to
take concrete steps to meet membership standards by that date.  In
particular, new members should respond immediately to all outstanding
requests for visits by human rights experts appointed by the council.

"New members should welcome the council's own rights experts, rather
than ignoring or stalling their requests to visit," said Yap Swee Seng,
executive director of Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development
(FORUM-ASIA).  "We are looking for each new member to take visible
steps to address outstanding human rights concerns before they take
their seats in June."

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