18 States elected to Human Rights Council, but serious competition lacking among candidates
Tuesday, 12 May 2009 14:31

In a less than competitive election, the General Assembly met in New York on 12 May to elect 18 States to the 47 member Human Rights Council that is based in Geneva. After only one round of voting, the following States were elected to the Council for the first time: Belgium, Hungary, Kyrgyzstan, Norway and the United States. Those re-elected to serve another term on the Council were: Bangladesh, Cameroon, China, Cuba, Djibouti, Jordan, Mauritius, Mexico, Nigeria, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Senegal and Uruguay. All 18 States elected will begin their three year terms on 19 June 2009. 
Genuine competition amongst the candidates was limited to two of the five geographic regions represented on the Council: Africa and Asia. The unsuccessful candidates from these regions were Kenya and Azerbaijan respectively. In the case of Kenya, it received 133 votes, well above the required absolute majority of 97 votes, but less than the other States on the slate for the region. In the case of Azerbaijan, it failed to reach an absolute majority with only 89 votes. 
In a last minute surprise, and to present a show of competition, Greece, Switzerland and New Zealand joined the slate for the ‘Western European and Others States’. This was particularly unusual in the case of New Zealand, which had been a serious contender for a seat on the Council earlier in the year, but withdrew when the United States launched its bid for a seat in late March. Malaysia, a current member of the Council for the Asian region, was another late entrant. In all cases, these States received only one or two votes.
In the lead-up to the election, an international coalition of NGOs lobbied members of the General Assembly against supporting the candidacies of Azerbaijan, China, Cuba, Russia and Saudi Arabia. They argued that these States’ domestic human rights records fell short of the ‘highest standards’ of human rights, one of the criteria set out by the General Assembly in Resolution 60/251 to guide States in their evaluation of a candidate’s suitability for election to the Council. Other criteria include: taking account of the candidate’s contribution to the protection and promotion of human rights, and their voluntary pledges and commitments in this respect; and whether the candidate can meet the obligations of Council membership, which include ‘full cooperation with the Council’.
In March, the same coalition of over 30 human rights organizations wrote to each State in the United Nations' five regional groups to urge them to present competitive slates for election to the Council. In public letters, the coalition said that regional groups should put forward more candidates than there are open seats to allow the universal membership of the United Nations to select the best candidates from each region. They warned that without competition, the credibility of the council would be “severely damaged”. Their concerns were echoed in a recent opinion piece in the New York Times by Vaclav Havel, who pointed out that competitive elections were supposed to be a hallmark of the UN's new human rights body, to both promote democratic principles and ensure it could ‘protect victims and confront human rights abuses wherever they occur.’
Last Updated on Monday, 25 May 2009 03:05
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