Slate for UN body packed by
ringers By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS - When the former Human
Rights Commission was partially dominated by
countries accused of political repression, a US
congressman ridiculed the UN body, where, he said,
"inmates were taking over the asylum".
"When lunatics take over, responsible
people are forced to act," snapped Congressman
Dana Rohrabacher (Republican of California) back
in 2001, even as he threatened to cut off US
funds. He was livid that the Human
Rights Commission (since replaced by the Human
Rights Council) had kept the United States out but
embraced Libya, Sudan, Cuba and China.
Judging by the strong negative reactions
by international human-rights groups over
elections to the Council on Monday, there has been
little or no progress in shutting out violators
from the 47-member Geneva-based Human Rights
The 193-member General
Assembly elected 18 countries to serve on the HRC,
the highest-policy making body on human rights,
for a period of three years beginning next
January. The countries include Argentina, Brazil,
Cote d'Ivoire, Estonia, Ethiopia, Gabon, Germany,
Ireland, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Montenegro,
Pakistan, South Korea, Sierra Leone, the United
Arab Emirates, the United States and Venezuela.
At present, all seats on the council are
allotted by regional groups: Asia, Africa, Eastern
Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean States,
and Western European (and other states), but as a
general rule most regional groups match their
nominations to available vacancies, thereby
eliminating competition and ensuring seats for all
their declared candidates.
elections, the entire slate of Asians, Africans,
East Europeans and Latin Americans sailed through:
five African countries for five vacant seats; two
East European countries for two vacancies; five
Asian countries for five vacant seats; and three
Latin American countries for three vacancies.
The only competition was in Western
European group where five countries - Germany,
Greece, Ireland, Sweden and the United States -
battled it out for three vacant seats. The winners
were Germany, Ireland and the United States. The
only requirement was 97 votes.
whether competitive elections would remain a lost
cause, Peggy Hicks, global advocacy director at
Human Rights Watch, told IPS: "I don't think it is
a lost cause at all."
She pointed out that
only Africa has a "principled reliance on rotation
rather than competition", and Kenya was willing to
challenge that this year.
"The key is to
get states that care about having a stronger, more
effective HRC to run," she said. "Once they are in
the race, human-rights activists from the country,
the region, and the world will work hard to see
that the states that will make the greatest
contribution are successful."
"To call the
vote in the General Assembly an election gives
this process way too much credit," and until there
is real competition for seats in the Human Rights
Council, its membership standards will remain more
rhetoric than reality, she said.
Diaz, Amnesty International's UN representative,
told IPS the best way for UN member states to stop
non-competitive elections for the Human Rights
Council is to declare loudly and clearly that they
won't stand for them and to vote accordingly.
"What we saw today is that most member
states are not quite ready to do that, as only
seats reserved for the Western group were
contested," he said. "That's scandalous because it
means that there is no real competition for many
of the seats on the council, contrary to what the
resolution creating that body foresaw."
said this has a number of negative implications,
including undermining accountability and
transparency. As part of a closed slate, as most
candidates in this election were, contenders are
practically guaranteed a spot in the council.
"What incentive do you have then to
demonstrate that you deserve a seat because you're
a good domestic and global human-rights citizen?"
Being part of a closed slate
does not automatically mean a state is a
human-rights abuser, but why fear competition to
bring out the best representatives to promote and
protect rights? he asked.
"I hope there
will be growing attention to the lack of
competition and that that will lead to more open
slates," he said.
In a statement released
here, Human Rights Watch said that by using a
rotation system that virtually guarantees seats to
countries, whether or not they meet membership
standards, the African Group has effectively
rejected the principle of competitive elections.
Countries with stronger human-rights
records in Africa have been unwilling to challenge
the African Group's standing practice of putting
forward closed slates. When Kenya declared its
candidacy for the Human Rights Council at the end
of July, Human Rights Watch said, it briefly
appeared that the African Group might buck this
However, Sudan withdrew its bid for
a seat in September under pressure, leaving Africa
again with a closed slate of five candidates for
The Human Rights Watch
statement noted that in past years, human-rights
organisations have mounted successful campaigns
against the candidacies of Belarus (2007), Sri
Lanka (2008), and Azerbaijan (2009), while Iran
(2010) and Syria (2011) withdrew their candidacies
under pressure from human-rights groups.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, an
Asian diplomat told IPS that US killings of
civilians by drones - whether by accident or by
design - in countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan
also places the United States in an ambivalent
situation. This, he said, has been made much worse
by accusation of torture and water-boarding by US
forces, which are considered violations of human