Global Policy Forum

Groups Hail New UN Human Rights Council


Edith M. Lederer

Associated Press
May 8, 2006

Human rights groups say they know the new U.N. Human Rights Council will not be made up entirely of countries with stellar records among the 64 candidates are Cuba, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan. But it will definitely be better than its discredited predecessor. That's because rights abusers who were members of the old Human Rights Commission have decided not to run including Zimbabwe, Libya, Sudan and Syria.

Even before Tuesday's vote to determine the 47-nation council's membership, rights groups said their absence should make the new body less politicized and tougher on abusers than the commission, which came under intense criticism because some countries used their membership to protect one another from condemnation.

"We are looking at a very different selection pool than we traditionally did for the commission, and that's a big step forward," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. "Inevitably, there will be some governments on the new council who shouldn't be there."

But he said it was telling that some recent members of the previous rights commission "have not even dared to seek membership on the new council." They include Sudan, Zimbabwe, Libya, Congo, Syria, Vietnam, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Eritrea and Ethiopia, he said. "That in and of itself is a major step forward, regardless of what happens ... Tuesday," Roth said.

Under a U.N. resolution adopted March 15, members of the new council are required to "uphold the highest standards" of human rights and to be the first countries whose rights records will be reviewed. The resolution also requires U.N. members in electing the new council "to take into account the contribution of candidates to the promotion and protection of human rights" and their voluntary pledges.

Under the rules for the new council, any U.N. member can announce its candidacy any time until the first round of voting and again in a fourth round if voting goes that far. Members of the council must be elected by an absolute majority of the 191 U.N. states 96 members.

The United States opposed the establishment of the council, saying it did not do enough to prevent rights abusers from winning seats, and the U.S. decided against being a candidate. But U.S. Ambassador John Bolton has said the United States will work with other member states "to make the council as strong and effective as it can be."

To ensure global representation, Africa and Asia will have 13 seats each; Latin America and the Caribbean eight seats; Western nations, seven seats; and Eastern Europe, six seats.

Matt Easton of Human Rights First said some regions have done better jobs than others of putting forward strong candidates, citing the Asian list which includes "many countries with poor voting records and human rights abuses at home." At the same time, he said, the fact that there are contests in every region indicates a recognition that the council has to be more credible than the commission and "will hopefully lead to a much stronger body."

Yvonne Terlingen, U.N. representative for Amnesty International, said that "for the first time, human rights must play a distinct role in the election, which was not the case in the Human Rights Commission." She said the election process has prompted virtually all 64 countries that are running to submit pledges about their future contribution to human rights.

Roth, Easton, and Terlingen cautioned that electing countries with strong human rights records to the council is just a first step. "One thing we have to remember," said Easton, "is that the council is intended to be a political body, and that's going to lead to some problems."

More Information on UN Reform
More Information on the Human Rights Council


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