UNITED NATIONS — Human rights groups have criticized the election by the United Nations General Assembly of several countries with spotty rights’ records to the U.N. Human Rights Council. Of the 18 countries elected Monday to the Geneva-based body, human rights advocates say only about a third are qualified.
The 47-member Human Rights Council is often the target of criticism for its focus on Israel and its election of some members who are accused of having spotty human rights records.
Seats on the council are allocated according to regional groupings. This year, the only group putting forward a competitive slate was the Western and Others Group, which saw Ireland, Germany and the United States beat Greece and Sweden for three open seats.
The United States won a second consecutive term to the rights council, after in the past choosing not to be a part. U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said Washington is better positioned and more likely to strengthen the body by continuing to be a part of it.
“We made the decision in 2009 to seek a seat on the Human Rights Council because the United States believes that we must be at the forefront of speaking out against human rights abuses and speaking up in favor of those who are suffering and living under the grip of the world’s cruelest regimes,” said Rice.
The winners of the council’s other vacant seats were predetermined within their regional groups, which put forward only enough candidates to fill their empty seats.
Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Gabon, Kenya and Sierra Leone will fill the five vacant African seats. Japan, Kazakhstan, South Korea, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates will fill the five open Asia-Pacific seats. Estonia and Montenegro will hold the two Eastern European seats while Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela take the three seats of the group of Latin American and Caribbean states.
Rights groups have expressed doubts about whether at least seven of these countries – Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Gabon, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates and Venezuela – have adequate human rights records of their own.
Human Rights Watch’s U.N. Director Philippe Bolopion criticized the lack of competition and the questionable records of some of the council’s new members.
“It is certainly the case of Pakistan, which, for example, needs to do much more to end abuses, including to protect religious minorities or repeal the blasphemy law. It’s also certainly the case of Venezuela which falls short of member standards and needs to, for example, restore judicial independence or release Judge [Maria Lourdes] Afiuni. And it is also the case of the UAE, which needs to end rights abuses in the country. including the arbitrary detention of 63 prisoners,” said Bolopion.
Pakistan’s Ambassador Masood Khan said rights groups are welcome to criticize his country’s bid, saying that is their right. He added that Pakistan attaches importance to all human rights.
“All human rights – whether they are civil or political or economic, cultural or social. There is no hierarchy, all these rights are part of an integral whole; they can’t be fragmented,” said Khan.
The five African countries selected to sit on the Human Rights Council have all come under some form of criticism as well. HRW’s Bolopion singled out Ethiopia’s poor rights record.
“The Ethiopian government should take this opportunity to take meaningful steps, for example, to respect the rights to freedom of expression and assembly or to start holding its security forces to account, as well as maybe start really cooperating with the Human Rights Council it is now set to join,” he said.
The new members will serve three year terms beginning in January.
By Margaret Besheer