Issue 142: Democracies Must Bar Abusers from New UN Rights Council

Democratic states must unite to block repressive regimes from winning control of the UN’s new Human Rights Council when its 47 seats go up for grabs at the General Assembly next Tuesday. According to a new UN Watch report and list of endorsements (see chart and full report here), 28 of the 68 countries seeking seats are abusers of human rights that are unfit to sit on the body meant to be an improvement on its predecessor, the discredited Human Rights Commission. The candidacies of China, Cuba, Iran, Russia, and Saudi Arabia constitute particular threats to the credibility of the new panel.

The report analyzes key indicators of each candidate’s domestic human rights record, as well as the country’s UN voting record on human rights resolutions. UN Watch unreservedly endorsed 29 countries, conditionally endorsed 11, and rejected 28. The resolution creating the Council requires UN member states, in selecting countries for the Council, to consider each candidate’s contribution to the promotion and protection of human rights.

Next week’s vote is crucial. The legitimacy of the new Council will stand or fall based on the human rights credibility of its founding members. Last year, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, adopting the conclusions of a high level panel of experts, attributed the decline of the Human Rights Commission to the presence of serial abusers. In 2003, Libya was elected as Chair. In 2004, Sudan was reelected as a member.

At next Tuesday’s ballot, General Assembly members need to reject countries that systematically abuse human rights and who would use a Council seat to continue voting at the UN for “No Action” on resolutions for victims in Darfur or elsewhere. Otherwise, the Council is doomed to repeat the glaring hypocrisies of its predecessor, the now-defunct Human Rights Commission—and meet the same humiliating fate. Members of the Community of Democracies need to band together, and democracies from the developing world must overcome outdated UN alliances that often direct votes to some of the world’s most repressive regimes.

If egregious and systematic human rights violators like Cuba or Saudi Arabia win election to the Council, it will be an ominous sign that the Council is—as some of us had feared—nothing more than the same old Commission by another name. 

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