NGOs for an Effective Human Rights Council

Questions and Answers: Sri Lanka and the Human Rights Council Election

Q. What is the U.N. Human Rights Council?
    A. The Council is the main U.N. body for promoting and protecting human rights. It is composed of 47 countries, apportioned amongst the five regional groups of U.N. members. The Council meets in Geneva to advance human rights norms, recommend new treaties, address human rights violations in specific countries, and appoint experts to monitor specific countries and the observance of particular rights.
Q. How are the members of the Council elected?
    A. Each May, the U.N. General Assembly elects one-third of the Council members for three-year terms. To win election, candidates must win both an absolute majority of the 192 U.N. members (97 votes), and be one of the highest votewinners for the open seats allocated to their region. The candidates running this year are listed on the U.N. website.
Q. How does the Council differ from the former U.N. Commission on Human Rights?
    A. The Council was created in 2006 to replace the former Commission, which was criticized for including many violator states amongst its membership and being overly politicized and selective in reviewing human rights issues. Unlike the Commission, the Council meets at least three times a year, and with the support of one-third of its members can call special sessions to consider urgent situations. It must regularly scrutinize the human rights records of all U.N. members under a new “universal periodic review” procedure. Unlike the Commission, there are standards which are supposed to govern the selection of members.
Q. What are the membership standards for Council members?
    A. Human Rights Council members are required to themselves “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights,” and to “fully cooperate with the Council.” In electing states to the Council, U.N. members are to consider “the contribution countries will make to the promotion and protection of human rights.”  
Q. Why are nongovernmental organizations in the field of human rights opposing Sri Lanka this year?
    A. The NGO coalition believes that there is a clear and convincing case that Sri Lanka does not meet the standards for membership. Three key considerations are that there are serious, systematic human rights abuses ongoing in Sri Lanka; the human rights situation is deteriorating rather than improving, and that Sri Lanka has neither upheld its commitments and pledges regarding human rights nor fully cooperated with the Council, including its mechanisms. Sri Lanka has shown a failure to cooperate by impeding the fact-finding of special procedures appointed by the Council, failing to implement their recommendations, harshly attacking senior U.N. officials who report on human rights issues, and has not seriously engaged the recommendation by U.N. officials and Special Rapporteurs to allow international human rights monitoring under U.N. auspices. Sri Lanka has actively used its membership on the Council to work against upholding human rights standards both as to itself and to other states responsible for egregious violations of human rights.
Q. Who is competing for the Asian seats on the Council this year?
    A. Six countries -- Bahrain, Japan, Pakistan South Korea, Sri Lanka , and Timor Leste – are competing for the four Asian seats. Of these, Sri Lanka is the country whose current government most obviously fails to “uphold the highest standards” of human rights, “fully cooperate with the Council,” or use its position on the Council to contribute to the promotion and protection of human rights.