This week's elections to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights are likely to deepen the membership crisis of the world's highest human rights body, Human Rights Watch warned today.

On April 29 and 30, the U.N. Economic and Social Council will vote to fill 24 slots at the 53-member commission, which has just finished its annual six-week session in Geneva. The U.N. body’s five regional groups each nominate candidates for membership in the commission, and three out of the five are uncontested this year.

Cuba and Russia, among others, are therefore assured election to another three-year term. The Cuban government is in the midst of its worst human rights crackdown in a decade, while Russia has failed for three years in a row to invite key U.N. monitors to investigate its conduct in Chechnya.

“Cuba and Russia each have very serious human rights problems and have failed to cooperate with the commission despite many resolutions against them,” said Joanna Weschler, U.N. representative for Human Rights Watch. “It’s outrageous that they should be rewarded for this performance with another term on the commission.”

Weschler criticized Latin American and East European countries that could have nominated additional candidates and made the election a contested one, but chose instead to countenance the election of Cuba and Russia from their regional groups.

The commission has a growing number of members with extremely poor human rights records, who increasingly operate as a bloc to defeat or eviscerate any human rights criticism of individual governments at the commission.

Human Rights Watch supports the establishment of minimum criteria for commission membership that would include: the ratification and basic observance of key human rights treaties; cooperation with U.N. human rights monitoring system, including standing invitations to U.N. rapporteurs; and a recent record that is free of commission criticism.

Several governments and the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights have recently also highlighted the need for membership criteria.

To read Human Rights Watch’s press release on the close of the 59th Session of the Commission on Human Rights, please see: U.N. Rights Body In Serious Decline.