Israel is worried by bids from both Iran and Libya to become voting members of the UN Human Rights Council when elections are held in New York this May.
Libya’s name does not appear on the UNHRC Web site along with other countries, such as Iran, that have announced their candidacy. But Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Aharon Leshno Yaar, said Tuesday that Libya had applied to be one of the council’s 47 voting members.
There is no competition for spots in the African group, which can send four countries to the council, so Libya’s membership is almost automatic, he warned.
Libya would not be the first country with a problematic human rights record on the 47-member council. Countries such as Saudi Arabia and Cuba are already members.
Western countries, as well as Israel, are particularly concerned about Iran, which is one of five countries competing for the four spots on the council offered to the Asian group.
The other Asian countries are Thailand, Malaysia, Maldives and Qatar.
All council candidates must be approved in New York by a majority – in this case 97 – of the UN General Assembly’s 192 members.
“We are concerned that such a major human rights violator [Iran] will become a member of this body [UNHRC],” said Leshno Yaar. “This will be a last straw in the diminishing reputation of the UNHRC, and it will make a mockery of any serious attempts to deal with the human rights situation in the world.”
Earlier this month, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle called on other countries to block Iran, stating that its presence as a voting member of the council was an “affront” to human rights.
Although Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has delivered some high-profile speeches at the UN, his country has also been harshly criticized by members of that body.
A spokesman for the Permanent Mission of the US to the UN in Geneva, Michael Parmly, told The Jerusalem Post Tuesday that Iran’s human rights record was troubling.
“The United States, as well as the international community, remains deeply concerned about the human rights situation in Iran, especially the brutal repressive tactics the Iranian government employed against its own population following last year’s election,” said Parmly.
“During Iran’s Universal Periodic Review before the UNHRC last month, many countries condemned the [Iranian government’s] torture of Iranian citizens, the treatment of detainees, and suppression of the freedom of expression and religion,” Parmly said.
“Last fall, the General Assembly passed a resolution condemning Iran’s human rights violations,” he added.
He noted that before approving a country’s candidacy, GA members were supposed to take into consideration that country’s contribution to the protection and promotion of human rights.
“The US is committed to supporting candidates with a commitment for human rights on the UNHRC and does not support the candidacy of nations to the council that are notorious violators of human rights,” Parmly said.
UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer said that since the council’s inception in 2006, politics – and not a country’s human rights record – had dictated its election to the council. Theoretically, a country’s human rights record should be considered, but in practice it doesn’t happen, he said.
He said he had not initially believed that Iran had enough support to gain a seat at the council. He noted that it had failed to be elected to the council in 2006.
This time around, however, it has been more successful in its campaign, he said.
Iran has been lobbying heavily for support in its council bid, said Neuer, adding that it had bought favors around the world.
Neuer said that should Qatar pull out of the elections, Iran would get a seat almost automatically.
However, it would still need to get 97 votes, even in an uncontested field, he noted.
If Iran falls short of the 97 required votes, the election could be
held again. Should Iran once again fail, the Asian group could be
pressured to introduce new candidates, Neuer said.
“If Iran were elected, it would be another death blow to the council,” he added.
Iran is one of 14 countries seeking election to the council this May.
Elections for three-year terms are held annually for a portion of the
Other countries that want voting rights on the council this spring are
Poland and Moldova for the Eastern European group, Ecuador and
Guatemala for the Latin American and Caribbean States, and Spain and
Switzerland for Western Europe. Four candidates for the African group
have yet to be formally announced.