Statements and Letters


May 15, 2006

A. Evaluating Last Week:  The New Council Membership

The recently-elected membership of the first UN Human Rights Council is a slight improvement over that of its predecessor, the Commission on Human Rights, but it falls short of the basic standards envisioned by advocates of meaningful reform.

(1) Credibility Deficit:  47% Non-Democratic Members

Of the 47 new members, only 25 — a slight majority of 53 per cent — are rated Free by Freedom House in its most recent worldwide survey of political rights and civil liberties.    This constitutes an 8 per cent improvement over the 2006 Commission’s figure of 45 per cent.  UN Watch welcomes this small step forward, but is disappointed that the Council has failed expectations that it would mark a significant break from the past.

Last year, in his blueprint for reform entitled “In Larger Freedom,” UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan spoke about the “credibility deficit” of the now-defunct Commission on Human Rights.    The problem, said the Secretary-General, was the membership of states who “sought membership of the Commission not to strengthen human rights but to protect themselves against criticism or to criticize others.”  This credibility deficit, said the Secretary-General, “casts a shadow on the reputation of the United Nations system as a whole.”

The question that we all have to ask honestly today is this: Does the composition of the new Council remove this shadow?

We are deeply concerned that the membership of the new Council continues to be plagued by a considerable credibility deficit.   The new Council includes 9 countries – 19% of its total membership – that are rated as Not Free.  Four of these nine are among Freedom House’s “Worst of the Worst” human rights violating regimes.   These four — China, Cuba, Russia, and Saudi Arabia — also are among five countries that UN Watch identified, before the May 9 election, as particular threats to the Council’s legitimacy.  Sadly, all four of these countries received well over the 96-vote threshold that was supposed to prevent violators from winning Council membership.

In terms of press freedom—a key indicator of a country’s respect for individual liberty, human rights, and the rule of law—only 15 of the new members (32%) ranked in the top third of the latest worldwide press freedom index published by Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontières).   A larger proportion — 18 of the 47 members, or 38% — ranked, disappointingly, in the bottom third of the press freedom index.  UN Watch believes that free speech and a free press are the lifeblood of democracy and human rights.  That the majority of Council members do not share this commitment is troubling.

(2) Credibility Deficit: Majority Fails the “Darfur Test”

UN Watch believes that credible candidates for membership need to show not only a commitment to human rights domestically, but also to protecting human rights through actions at the UN.  Disturbingly, a majority of the new Council—24 countries, being just over half the members—voted last year to take “No Action” on the genocide in Darfur, Sudan, when it came to a vote at the General Assembly.  This group includes Free countries like Ghana, India, Indonesia, Mali,Senegal, and South Africa who, despite their membership in the Community of Democracies, have tended to vote according to regional or developing world alliances rather than on their democratic values.  The new standards for Council membership require members to put the promotion and protection of human rights before UN politics.  We therefore urge all members to pledge today to vote in the Council to protect human rights victims in Darfur and elsewhere—and not the perpetrators.

(3) Defeat of Iran Sent Important Message

We were pleased that some notorious abuser states chose not to run, such as North Korea, Sudan, and Zimbabwe.   We were also gratified that Iran—whose government espouses racism, and incites to genocide while furtively pursuing the capability to carry it out—suffered a crushing defeat.  The international community has sent a firm message to Tehran that its menacing mix of hatred and nuclear proliferation will not be tolerated.

(4) Conclusion

In conclusion, despite certain improvements, the composition of the new Council fails to lift the shadow of which Secretary-General Annan spoke.   UN Watch hopes that future elections will yield more credible results.  For now, however, we have no choice but to work with the Council to ensure that it lives up to its mandate to protect human rights victims around the world.


B. Looking Ahead:  Priorities for Inaugural Session of New Council

The Council’s inaugural session here in Geneva on June 19 will begin to determine the modalities of its work.   With preparations already under way, UN Watch urges all members to recall their obligations to “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights.”

The first Council will decide the body’s agenda, working methods, and rules of procedure, including rules for participation of NGOs and other observers.    It will “review, and where necessary improve and rationalize” the existing systems of independent human rights investigators, expert advice, and complaints processing.  It also will create an entirely new system of universal periodic human rights review.  These are vitally important elements, on which the Council’s ability to address human rights problems will stand or fall.

In terms of the specifics of the Council’s work, UN Watch urges Council members—especially members of the Community of Democracies, who have pledged to work together regionally and globally to further human rights—to create a credible and effective Council.    In particular:

(1) Universal Review:    Competing country proposals on universal periodic review have recently been circulated in Geneva, some softer, some stronger.  We believe that the UN has little need for another toothless mechanism for “cooperative dialogue.”  We call on Council members to fashion a mechanism that will, in a fair manner, apply real scrutiny, to hold governments to account and cite them for violations and abuses.

(2) NGO Participation:    We urge the Council to ensure a level of participation of non-governmental organizations at least as high as at the Commission.  Strong NGO participation was one of the few strengths of the Commission.  We are concerned that certain member states are planning to limit the watchdog role of NGOs under the pretext that their participation be rendered “more effective.”

(3) The Darfur Test:    If it is to be anything more than a talk shop, the Council must consider and address human rights violations in specific countries.  To begin with, it must take urgent action to stop the greatest human rights crime in the world today:  the mass rape, killings and other atrocities occurring in Darfur.  The Council must hold Sudan accountable.  It cannot afford to continue the Commission’s business-as-usual approach, which last year officially treated Sudan’s crimes against humanity under its Agenda Item No. 19 — meaning, as a mere matter of “Technical Cooperation.”

(4) U.S. Engagement:  While we were disappointed that the U.S. did not run for a seat this year, we are encouraged by its recent statements committing to engage with the shaping of the new Council.  The Council’s failure to engage the participation of the United States could cause it to suffer the same fate as the original resident of this building, the League of Nations.

(5) Equal Treatment of All Nations:    We urge the Council to base its work on the Charter principle that every UN member state is equal before the law, emphasized as well in the UN resolution governing the Council.  The former Commission, said Secretary-General Annan’s report, was plagued by politicization and selectivity.  Many abusers were granted exculpatory immunity, while only a handful of countries were censored.  No situation exemplified this politicization and selectivity more than the Commission’s gross discrimination against Israel.[1]  The annual campaign led by Arab and Islamic states, encouraged or tolerated by others, singled out Israel for a unique measure of differential and discriminatory treatment.    Israel alone was subject to its own special agenda item.  Israel alone was targeted by no less than half of all country-specific resolutions.  Israel alone was barred from any of the Commission’s regional groups.

Israel must be held accountable for its record like every other state.   But if the inaugural session reverts to the old practices of hounding Israel with a battery of one-sided condemnations and discriminatory agenda items, the Council will turn itself into a mockery.

Now is the right time to call for desegregation.  The new Human Rights Council will not be worthy of its name if it tolerates the segregation of one country from membership in any of its regional groups, a vital element of participation.  Two weeks ago, Secretary-General Annan, in a May 4th address before a Washington, D.C. gathering of the American Jewish Committee, our affiliate, called publicly for an end to this long-standing anomaly.[2]    Specifically, Mr. Annan called on the Western European and Others Group, which already includes Israel in New York, to admit Israel in Geneva and elsewhere.  We applaud the Secretary-General and call upon him to follow through and appoint High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour to lead the effort in Geneva, to ensure that the Western Group on Human Rights admits Israel in time for the new Council’s opening session on June 19.  The equality principles of the UN Charter and the resolution creating the Human Rights Council require no less.

(6) Conclusion

UN Watch strongly believes that the UN needs a credible, effective human rights body.    As an active member of the Geneva NGO community, we are committed to working hard to see the Council be that body.


[1] Even NGOs such as Human Rights Watch, which frequently censor Israel, acknowledged the Commission’s selectivity against Israel, and criticized the Commission’s one-sided approach in failing to condemn Palestinian terrorism.  (See Human Rights Watch statement dated March 10, 2005, criticizing Israeli and Palestinian actions, but acknowledging that “the Commission traditionally neglects or downplays abuses by Palestinian armed groups. That selectivity should end.”  (http://hrw.org/english/docs/2005/03/10/isrlpa10290.htm).

[2] “[M]ore and more, the State of Israel enjoys the same rights and responsibilities as every other member.  […] And for some years Israel has been participating in one of the Assembly’s regional groups — the West European and Others Group — in New York.  I hope the same group will soon find ways to include Israel in its deliberations in Geneva and Vienna, too.”  (UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s remarks to the American Jewish Committee Centennial Dinner in Washington, D.C., 4 May 2006.)  Addressing a Jerusalem audience last year, Secretary-General Annan said, “I will do whatever I can to encourage corresponding groups [of WEOG] in Geneva and Vienna to follow suit. We need to correct a long-standing anomaly that kept Israel from participating fully and equally in the work of the [United Nations] Organization.”  (Kofi Annan, “Remarks at Dinner Hosted by H.E. Mr. Moshe Katsav, President of the State of Israel,” 15 March 2005,http://www.un.org/apps/sg/sgstats.asp?nid=1350.)

Tables:  New Members of Human Rights Council, According to Regional Groups

Charts Assessing New Council Members

Methodology of Endorsements

Members from the African Group (13 seats)

Country Freedom House
RSF Ranking Overall
Voting Record
Voted to Act against Genocide in Sudan UN Watch
Endorsement for Council membership
Length of Term (Years)
Algeria Not Free 129 Negative No No 1
Cameroon Not Free 83 Negative No No 3
Djibouti Partly Free 121 Negative No No 3
Gabon Partly Free 102 Mixed Absent No 2
Ghana Free 66 Negative No Yes—if commits to positive voting approach 2
Mali Free 37 Negative No Yes—if commits to positive voting approach 2
Mauritius Free 34 Negative Abstained Yes—if commits to positive voting approach 3
Morocco Partly Free 119 Negative No No 1
Nigeria Partly Free 123 Negative No No 3
Senegal Free 78 Negative No Yes—if commits to positive voting approach 3
South Africa Free 31 Negative No Yes—if commits to positive voting approach 1
Tunisia Not Free 147 Negative No No 1
Zambia Partly Free 90 Negative No Yes—if commits to positive voting approach 2

Members from the Asian Group (13 seats)

Country Freedom House Rating RSF Ranking Overall
Voting Record
Voted to Act against Genocide in Sudan UN Watch Endorsement for Council Membership Length of Term (Years)
Bahrain Partly Free 123 Negative No No 1
Bangladesh Partly Free 151 Negative No No 3
China Not Free*Worst of the Worst* 159 Negative No No*Threat to Council* 3
India Free 106 Negative No Yes—if commits to positive voting approach 1
Indonesia Free 102 Negative No No 1
Japan Free 37 Positive Yes Yes 1
Jordan Partly Free 96 Negative No Yes—if commits to positive voting approach 3
Malaysia Partly Free 113 Negative No No 3
Pakistan Not Free 150 Negative No No 1
Philippines Partly Free 139 Negative No No 1
Saudi Arabia Not Free*Worst of the Worst* 154 Negative No No*Threat to Council* 3
South Korea Free 34 Mixed Yes Yes—if commits to positive voting approach 2
Sri Lanka Partly Free 115 Mixed Abstained No 2


Members from the Eastern European Group (6 seats)

Country Freedom House Rating RSF Ranking Overall
Voting Record
Voted to Act against Genocide in Sudan UN Watch Endorsement for Council Membership Length of Term (Years)
Azerbaijan Not Free 141 Negative No No 3
Czech R. Free 9 Positive Yes Yes 1
Poland Free 53 Positive Yes Yes 1
Romania Free 70 Positive Yes Yes 2
Russian Fed. Not Free*Worst of the Worst* 138 Negative No No*Threat to Council* 3
Ukraine Free 112 Positive Yes Yes 2


Members from South and Central America (GRULAC) (8 seats)

Country Freedom House Rating RSF Ranking Overall
Voting Record
Voted to Act against Genocide in Sudan UN Watch Endorsement for Council Membership Length of Term (Years)
Argentina Free 59 Positive Yes Yes 1
Brazil Free 63 Mixed Abstained Yes—if commits to positive voting approach 2
Cuba Not Free*Worst of the Worst* 161 Negative No No*Threat to Council* 3
Ecuador Partly Free 87 Positive Yes Yes 1
Guatemala Partly Free 86 Positive Yes Yes 2
Mexico Free 135 Positive Yes Yes 3
Peru Free 116 Positive Yes Yes 2
Uruguay Free 46 Positive Yes Yes 3


Members from Western European & Others Group (WEOG) (7 seats)

Country Freedom
House Rating
RSF Ranking Overall
Voting Record
Voted to Act against Genocide in Sudan UN Watch Endorsement for Council Membership Length of Term (Years)
Canada Free 21 Positive Yes Yes 3
Finland Free 1 Positive Yes Yes 1
France Free 30 Positive Yes Yes 2
Germany Free 18 Positive Yes Yes 3
Netherlands Free 1 Positive Yes Yes 1
Switzerland Free 1 Positive Yes Yes 3
U. K. Free 24 Positive Yes Yes 2

Methodology of Endorsements


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