(New York) - Iran's withdrawal from the race for a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council is a victory for human rights and those who seek a stronger UN human rights body, Human Rights Watch said today. However, further improvements to the council's membership require giving states a choice of candidates in all regions, Human Rights Watch said.
"Iran saw the writing on the wall in the face of mounting global opposition over its abysmal human rights record," said Peggy Hicks, global advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. "Iran's withdrawal shows that international pressure can work to improve the council's membership."
Iran had declared its candidacy for the Human Rights Council in February, and was one of five states from the UN's Asia regional group running for election this year for the four seats from that regional group. The other declared candidates are Malaysia, Maldives, Qatar, and Thailand. The UN General Assembly will elect 14 new members to the council on May 13, 2010.
Under the UN General Assembly resolution that established the Human Rights Council in 2006, council members are expected to "uphold the highest standards" of human rights. Yet the General Assembly had adopted a resolution last December expressing "its deep concern at serious ongoing and recurring human rights violations in the Islamic Republic of Iran." The resolution followed condemnations of the human rights situation in Iran by the General Assembly on close to a yearly basis since 1985. A group of prominent Iranian human rights defenders, including the Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi, had publicly opposed Iran's candidacy for the council.
"Iran's bid for a council seat provided a spotlight on the widespread human rights abuses in Iran, including the severe repression following last June's elections," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "We hope that the Iranian government will now focus its efforts on improving its human rights qualifications for membership."
Human Rights Watch said that it continues to be concerned about the lack of competition among the states for seats on the Human Rights Council.
With Iran's withdrawal, the Asia regional group is left with what is known as a "clean slate" since there are only four candidates for the four seats reserved for Asia in this election. In fact, for the first time since the council was formed in 2006, all five regional groups are poised to put forward "clean slates" in the annual membership elections.
The Eastern European group had put forward a competitive slate in every election until this year, but Croatia recently withdrew, leaving only Poland and Moldova running for two seats on the council. The Western European and Others Group is putting forward Switzerland and Spain this year for its two open seats. It also offered no competition in 2009, when New Zealand withdrew its candidacy after the United States entered the race.
The Africa group has run a clean slate every year except 2009, and this year has endorsed Angola, Libya, Mauritania, and Uganda for the region's four seats. The Latin American and Caribbean group had a competitive slate in the first council elections, but has had a clean slate in every election since, and this year is putting forward only Ecuador and Guatemala for the region's two open seats.
In past years, successful campaigns have been mounted to defeat the candidacies of Belarus (2007), Sri Lanka (2008), and Azerbaijan (2009) for council membership when those candidates ran on competitive slates.
"When states are given a choice, there is a real chance to use the elections to put states with better human rights records on the Human Rights Council and make states with poor human rights records think twice about competing," Hicks said. "States that care about human rights should push to ensure competitive elections in all regions and should compete themselves for seats on the council."