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Too few democracies are being nominated for seats on the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, a coalition of non-governmental organizations said today.

On May 4-5, the United Nations Economic and Social Council will vote on candidate states for 14 open seats on the main UN human rights monitoring watchdog. The UN's various regional groups nominate candidates each year for posts in a variety of UN bodies.

The non-governmental coalition is composed of the Democracy Coalition Project, the International League for Human Rights, the Campaign for UN Reform, the Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights, the United Nations Foundation, Human Rights Watch, the Transnational Radical Party, the Council for a Community of Democracies, the American Bar Association, and Freedom House.

The group has called for the creation of a permanent United Nations democracy caucus that could, in part, lead to a higher number of democratic states as members of the Human Rights Commission. The Asia group presents one of the more problematic collections of candidates, the non-governmental coalition said.

With three available slots for Asian states on the Commission, the Asia group has nominated 4 candidates: Malaysia, South Korea, Vietnam and Pakistan, ensuring that one of the latter two candidates will get a Commission seat.

"There are serious, well-known concerns over the human rights records of both Vietnam and Pakistan," said Freedom House Executive Director Jennifer Windsor. "Vietnam in particular is in the midst of a violent crackdown against the country's indigenous Montgnard people. The European Commission and several human rights groups have protested the government's refusal to allow in independent observers to the affected region," she said. "Surely the Asia group could have nominated more suitable candidates to sit on the one UN body charged with monitoring and condemning human rights abuses," she said.

The Africa group is fielding four candidates--Sudan, Guinea, Togo, and Kenya--for a corresponding number of vacancies on the Commission. This ensures that, apart from Kenya, three out of Africa's four seats for this election will be filled by non-democratic regimes.

In late April the Commission censured Sudan over its severe human rights violations in the country's western Darfur region, where the government is backing militias that are systematically destroying whole villages, executing civilians, raping women, and displacing hundreds of thousands of people.

"A government that engages in wholesale abuses of its citizens should not be eligible for a seat at the table, especially a country just criticized by the Commission," said Joanna Weschler, UN advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. "This is a major credibility test of the regional bloc structure at the UN in terms of how it nominates candidates for key UN posts," she said.

The democracy caucus proposal was endorsed by over 100 governments at the Community of Democracies meeting in Warsaw in 2000 and reaffirmed at a meeting of foreign ministers from democratic countries last September at the UN General Assembly.

"While some progress has been made toward establishing a UN democracy caucus, the regional nominees for the Human Rights Commission demonstrate that we still have a long way to go toward ensuring that the commission lives up to its mandate," said Ted Piccone, Executive Director of Democracy Coalition Project.

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