Belarus’ record on human rights makes the country a supremely unfit candidate for the United Nations Human Rights Council, a coalition of more than 40 national and international human rights groups said today.

These organizations, based in countries ranging from Cameroon to Uzbekistan, called on UN General Assembly members not to vote Belarus onto the Council, which is the UN’s top human rights body. The elections to the Council, which was created last year as part of UN reforms, will take place on May 17.

“Belarus has an appalling human rights record,” said Peggy Hicks, global advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “Belarus’ election to the top UN human rights body would undermine the Council’s ability to uphold human rights standards worldwide.”

Under the resolution establishing the Geneva-based Council, members must “uphold the highest standards” of human rights and “fully cooperate” with the Human Rights Council. Belarus has done neither.

Under President Alexander Lukashenka, Belarus has one of the worst human rights records in Europe. The Council of Europe has rejected Belarus’ candidacy for membership because of its government’s poor record on human rights and democracy.

In December, the UN General Assembly expressed deep concern with Belarus’ human rights record and failure to cooperate with the Council, and it insisted on the need for change. Since then, the Belarusian authorities have done nothing to address these concerns.

Instead, the Belarusian government severely restricts the activities of human rights groups and has systematically moved to close them and opposition parties. Peaceful protesters are violently dispersed and arrested, and opposition leaders are jailed. The Belarusian Helsinki Committee, the only remaining registered human rights organization, faces politically-motivated charges of tax evasion.

The UN expert charged by the Human Rights Council with monitoring the human rights situation in Belarus, Adrian Severin, has been blocked from performing his mandate by Lukashenka’s government. Severin, who has not been allowed to visit the country since he was appointed in 2004, noted the “absolute refusal to cooperate on the part of the Government of Belarus.”

“The Human Rights Council appointed a monitor on Belarus, and the government’s refusal to allow him to visit the country should alone disqualify it from Council membership,” said Hicks.

As part of its candidacy, Belarus claimed that it cooperates with UN human rights mechanisms and pledges “to continue to engage constructively” with them. Belarus also asserted that it is “committed to fulfilling its international commitments” under human rights conventions.

“If Belarus were truly committed to fulfilling its human rights obligations, it would end its severe persecution of opposition members and human rights groups,” said Hicks. “Belarus’ shameless record on human rights outweighs its hollow rhetoric, and UN members should reject its candidacy.”

A joint letter from Human Rights Watch and more than 40 other local and international human rights groups called on governments to ensure that the candidacy of Belarus, which is running as a member of the East European group, is rejected. No country can be elected unless an absolute majority (or 97 members) of the UN General Assembly writes in the name of the candidate on a ballot.