New York, May 6, 2009 — More than a third of the countries vying for seats on the United Nations Human Rights Council have dismal human rights records that should disqualify them from membership, according to a new report from Freedom House and UN Watch, presented today at U.N. Headquarters in New York at a gathering of diplomats, reporters and activists.
The report warns that at least four of the eight countries in question—Bangladesh, China, Cuba and Saudi Arabia—are virtually guaranteed seats in next week’s election because of a lack of competition from more democratic countries. Click here for new report.
“We urge the U.N. not to squander a golden opportunity to promote human rights by once again choosing the foxes to guard the chickens,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of the Geneva-based UN Watch. “Electing abusers to the U.N.’s highest human rights body dangerously gives international credibility to repressive governments that routinely violate the rights of their own citizens.”
Dissidents and former political prisoners from Cuba and Saudi Arabia joined the two rights groups in rejecting the candidacies of their countries.
“As someone who suffered for 19 years from the Castro regime’s beatings, solitary confinement, and inhumane treatment, I urge the U.N. to reject Cuba’s candidacy next week,” said Guillermo Estevez, who showed the crowd his scars from beatings by Cuban authorities.
“For encouraging independent journalism in Cuba, agents harassed, stalked and beat me,” said 25-year old Liannis Merino, who left for the U.S. two years ago.
Ali Al-Ahmed of the Gulf Affairs Council said that Saudi Arabia, his native country, was one of the worst violators of human rights in the world, where basic freedoms are completely denied and women and minorities subjected to massive and systematic discrimination. Al-Ahmed and other members of his family were political prisoners in Saudi Arabia.
Today’s report by UN Watch and Freedom House comes as the UN General Assembly prepares to elect 18 new Human Rights Council members, or one-third of the body’s membership, on May 12. Each regional group is apportioned a specific number of seats. However, in three of the five regional groups — Asia, Latin America and Western Europe — the number of countries running does not exceed the number of open seats.
The study described eight countries as not qualified, including Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Cameroon, China, Cuba, Djibouti, Russia and Saudi Arabia. All of these countries are incumbent candidates. In addition, the report questioned the eligibility of Jordan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Nigeria and Senegal, whose human rights records are mixed.
UN Watch and Freedom House evaluated each of the 20 candidates based on its record of human rights protection at home and its record of human rights promotion at the UN. The evaluation cited a range of sources including country rankings by Freedom House, UN Watch voting analyses, reports from Reporters San Frontières, The Economist, Democracy Index, and the Democracy Coalition Project.