Geneva, May 6, 2008 — A quarter 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. However, at least two of the five countries in question — Gabon and Zambia — are guaranteed seats because of a lack of competition from more democratic countries.
“Democratic countries are squandering a golden opportunity to promote human rights through this important UN body,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of the Geneva-based UN Watch. “Instead, they lend international credibility to repressive governments that routinely violate the rights of their own citizens.”
UN Watch and Freedom House released their findings today at UN headquarters. Their report comes as the UN General Assembly prepares to elect 15 new Human Rights Council members, or one-third of the body’s membership, on May 21. Each regional group is apportioned a specific number of seats. However, in two of the five regional groups — Africa and Latin America — the number of countries running does not exceed the number of open seats.
The study found five countries Not Qualified including: Gabon, Bahrain, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Zambia. All of these countries except Bahrain are incumbent candidates. In addition, the report questioned the eligibility of Brazil, East Timor and Burkina Faso, 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 included the countries’ rankings in Freedom House and UN Watch analyses, as well as reports from Reporters San Frontières, The Economist Democracy Index and the Democracy Coalition Project.
Freedom House Advocacy Director Paula Schriefer said the council’s membership already includes three countries — China, Cuba and Saudi Arabia — listed on Freedom House’s Worst of the Worst report, a reality that has so far prevented the council from carrying out its stated work.
“With the exception of Burma, the UN Human Rights Council has so far failed to adequately address any of the egregious human rights situations taking place in the countries included in our Worst of the Worst report,” said Schriefer.
In addition to the council report, Freedom House released Worst of the Worst: The World’s Most Repressive Societies 2008, and UN Watch launched 2007-2008 Scorecard: How HRC Members Voted.
UN Watch is a non-governmental organization whose mandate is to monitor the performance of the United Nations by the yardstick of its own Charter. unwatch.org
Freedom House is an independent non-governmental organization that supports the expansion of freedom in the world. www.freedomhouse.org