The United Nations General Assembly should reject Belarus’ bid for a seat on the Human Rights Council because of its appalling rights record and consistent failure to cooperate with the UN, Human Rights Watch said today. Elections to the council will be held on May 17, 2007.

Three candidates – Bosnia & Herzegovina, Slovenia and Belarus – are running for two seats in the East European Group, one of the five regional groups which make up the 47-member council. No country can be elected unless an absolute majority of the General Assembly (97 members) writes in the candidate’s name on a ballot.

“Given its track record of human rights abuse and its refusal to cooperate with the UN, voting to put Belarus on the UN’s premier human rights body defies belief,” said Peggy Hicks, global advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “How can member states possibly justify voting for Belarus?”

Council members are required both to “uphold the highest standards” of human rights and “fully cooperate” with the council. Belarus does neither. Electing Belarus would undermine the council, damage the General Assembly’s credibility, and deal a devastating blow to human rights defenders in Belarus and beyond, Human Rights Watch said.

Belarus’ candidacy for the council has been opposed by a coalition of civil society groups from all regions of the world who see the election as an important test for the new council. Human rights groups in Belarus have courageously spoken out to urge the General Assembly to reject Belarus’ bid, and to remind states of the grim message a “yes” vote would send to human rights victims in their country.

As part of its candidacy, Belarus has publicly pledged to uphold human rights. It claims that it will “continue to engage constructively” with UN human rights mechanisms. The reality has, however, been different.

Just six months ago, the General Assembly expressed “deep concern” with the failure by Belarus to cooperate with the Human Rights Council, and insisted on the need for change. The UN special rapporteur on Belarus, Adrian Severin, noted in January 2007 the government’s “absolute failure” to cooperate with UN human rights mechanisms. His concerns have been echoed by a range of regional and international organizations, including the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Council of Europe, and the European Commission.

Human Rights Watch has also joined Egyptian human rights groups to oppose Egypt’s bid for a seat on the council. Egypt also has a deeply troubling human rights record and has failed to cooperate with UN human rights mechanisms. The UN’s independent expert on torture, for example, has been unable to visit Egypt, despite repeated requests for an invitation in the past 11 years. Requests to visit by other UN monitors have also been blocked.

“The General Assembly faces a simple question: does it take seriously its own standards and decisions? If so, it has no alternative but to reject the candidacies of Belarus and Egypt,” Hicks said.