UN elects rights violators to Human Rights Council

Libya, Angola and Malaysia win seats in an uncontested election.

May 14, 2010 11:09
3 minute read.
Gaddafi hosting the Arab League Summit

Gaddafi, Arab League summit 311. (photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)


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Seven countries accused of human rights violations, including Libya, Angola and Malaysia, won seats on the UN Human Rights Council in an uncontested election Thursday.

The UN General Assembly approved all 14 candidates for the 14 seats on the 47-member council by wide margins despite campaigns by human rights groups to deny countries with poor rights records the minimum number of votes needed.

All 14 countries easily topped the 97 votes required from the 192-member world body. Libya, which currently holds the presidency of the General Assembly, received the lowest number of votes — 155 — while Angola got 170 and Malaysia 179.

In addition to these three countries, human rights groups criticized the poor rights records of Thailand, Uganda, Mauritania and Qatar which also won seats.

The seven other countries that won seats were Maldives, Ecuador, Guatemala, Spain, Switzerland, Moldova and Poland.

Iran withdrew from the race on April 23 after facing strong global opposition for severe human rights abuses including the government's crackdown on opposition supporters.

U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said it was "notable ... that Iran's bid fell short."

Human rights groups and other non-governmental organizations also successfully opposed the election of Iran and Venezuela in 2006, Belarus in 2007, Sri Lanka in 2008, and Azerbaijan in 2009.

The 14 countries elected Thursday will serve three-year terms starting June 19 on the Geneva-based council, which was created in March 2006 to replace the UN's widely discredited and highly politicized Human Rights Commission.

The council, however, has also been widely criticized for failing to change many of the commission's practices, including putting much more emphasis on Israel than on any other country.

The United States voted against the council's creation during the Bush administration but reversed its position and won a seat last year after President Barack Obama took office.

Rice cited "some progress" since the US has been on the council, noting its approval of a "milestone" resolution on freedom of expression, its investigation of last year's massacre and rapes in Guinea, and adoption of stronger resolutions condemning rights violations in Congo, Myanmar, Somalia and Sudan.

"We remain committed to strengthening and reforming this council," Rice told reporters. "We hope that the new council's composition for the most part will provide us with partners — not all but most — with whom we can work constructively."

The NGO Coalition for an Effective Human Rights Council said the failure of U.N. regional groups to put forward competitive slates deprived the General Assembly of the opportunity to elect the most qualified countries.

"Those who want the council to improve have to commit themselves to competitive elections and be willing to compete themselves for a seat," said Peggy Hicks, global advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, a coalition member.

"Without competitive elections," she told AP, "we'll continue to see states that don't meet the qualifications set by the General Assembly getting seats like Libya, Angola and Malaysia."

Under the resolution that established the council, members are expected to "uphold the highest standards" of human rights and "fully cooperate" with it.

Hillel Neuer, executive director of Geneva-based UN Watch, which heads a coalition of 37 human rights organizations that campaigned for the US and European Union to defeat Libya's candidacy, said that "by electing serial human rights violators, the U.N. violates its own criteria as well as common sense."

"Choosing Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi to judge others on human rights is a joke," Neuer said in a statement. "He'll use the position not to promote human rights but to shield his record of abuse, and those of his allies."

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