Human rights groups oppose U.N. Human Rights Council seats for Qaddafi’s Libya, Angola, Mauritania, Qatar, Malaysia

‘Elections without competition don’t make sense’

Geneva, May 12, 20010 – Human rights groups are calling on the General Assembly to reject seats on the U.N. Human Rights Council for Libya, Angola, Mauritania, Qatar and Malaysia because of their poor rights records.

The world body’s 192 states are scheduled to elect 14 new members to the 47-nation council on Thursday. But with regional groups tailoring their amount of candidates to match the amount of available seats, human groups are crying foul.

“Elections without competition don’t make sense,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of the Geneva-based UN Watch, whose group heads a coalition of 37 human rights organizations that campaigned for the U.S. and the E.U. to defeat Libya’s candidacy.  Click here for joint NGO appeal.

“By electing serial human rights violators, the UN violates its own criteria as well as common sense,” said Neuer. “Choosing Libyan dictator Moammar Qaddafi to judge others on human rights is a joke. He’ll use the position not to promote human rights but to shield his record of abuse, and those of his allies. This turns the entire U.N. Human Rights Council into a joke.”

“The Libyan government gave a pledge stating that it respects human rights, but in truth it’s the same regime that brutally scapegoated five Bulgarian nurses for a crime they did not commit, that tortures dissidents like the late Fathi Eljahmi, and that continues to hold hostage an innocent Swiss businessman.” (See Libyan pledge under country link here.)

“In September, Qaddafi declared from the UN podium that he denies the authority of the UN Charter. Last week he called for the dismemberment of Switzerland. How can he now be elected a member of the UN Human Rights Council?”

The council was created in 2006 to replace the discredited Human Rights Commission, one year after then UN chief Kofi Annan said it had become rife with “politicization” and “selectivity,” with a “credibility deficit” that cast “a shadow on the reputation of the United Nations system as a whole.”

One aim of the reform was to prevent the most serious human rights offenders from becoming members. But it has been widely criticized over the past four years for failing to change many of the commission’s practices, such as turning a blind eye to most of the world’s worst abuses while criticizing Israel more than any other country.

To date, the council has adopted 40 censure resolutions, of which 33 have targeted Israel. The only other governments to be criticized were Burma, Guinea, Honduras, North Korea and Sudan. Out of nine emergency sessions that criticized countries, six were against Israel.

Despite widely reported killings during the past year in Iran, China and Nigeria, the council failed to respond with any resolution, special session or inquiry.

In May 2009, after Sri Lanka killed an estimated 20,000 civilians, the council praised the government for its “promotion and protection of all human rights.”

Since 2007, the council gradually eliminated its expert monitors on the human rights situations in Belarus, Congo, Cuba and Liberia.

Countries lobby hard to avoid being “named and shamed” by resolutions that have the power to shine an international spotlight. Influential countries, including members of the Security Council, are rarely scrutinized. Nor are members of large voting blocs such as the African Group and the Organization of the Islamic Conference.

The Geneva-based council gives dominance to Africa and Asia, whose 26 seats grant them an automatic majority. Western Europe and North America together are represented by seven countries.

While none of the 14 candidates currently faces any competition, any country can enter the race right up until Thursday’s voting begins, or even during the process in the unlikely event that one of the candidates fails to win the required 97 votes after three rounds.

joint report last week by the human rights groups Freedom House and UN Watch called on all 192 member states to vote against Libya, Angola, Mauritania, Qatar, Malaysia, based on an examination of their record in protecting human rights at home, as well as on their UN human rights voting record. Click here for report with analysis of all 14 candidates.

The candidacies of Uganda, Thailand, Ecuador and Moldova were rated as “questionable.”

Only Spain, Switzerland, Poland, Maldives and Guatemala were deemed to meet the council’s stated criteria of promotion and protection of human rights.

Assuming the 14 candidates are all elected, Neuer said that the council will drop from a membership that is 49% democratic, according to the annual survey by Freedom House, to a new low of only 40%. “Those figures ought to raise alarm bells,” said Neuer.

Based on past voting, the new membership would likely adopt the council’s annual, Islamic-sponsored resolution on “defamation of religion” by a vote of 22 to 18. In March, the current membership passed it by a vote of 20 to 17.

Background material:

  • Joint Appeal by 37 NGOs Opposed to Libya’s Canadidacy, including UN Watch, many African NGOs, and Libyan victim groups, urging the U.S. and E.U. representatives at the UN to block Libya from winning a seat on the UN Human Rights Council. “We trust that the influential countries whom you represent can and will lead a successful campaign to persuade a minimum of 96 UN member states to oppose this murderous, repressive and racist regime from winning a seat on the Human Rights Council.”
  • Testimony last week by Mohamed Eljahmi:  “My brother Fathi Eljahmi was murdered by the Qaddafi regime because he… called for free speech, free enterprise, free press, a constitution, a government for the people and by the people… Electing Libya to membership in the UN Human Rights Council is wrong. It provides legitimacy to Qadhafi, bruises the Council’s credibility and insults the Libyan people.”
  • Report released last week by UN Watch and Freedom House, rating all 14 candidates in the UNHRC elections, and calling on member states to reject Libya, Angola, Malaysia, Mauritania, and Qatar, deemed as non-qualified based on their record on human rights and UN voting.

2010 Analysis of UN Human Rights Council performance over the past year, rating countries on how they vote.

UN Watch