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(Geneva) – Foreign ministers of African Union (AU) member states should reconsider a decision that would allow Sudan and Ethiopia to gain uncontested seats on the United Nations Human Rights Council, a group of African and international civil society organizations said on July 11, 2012 in a letter. The AU is meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, from July 9 to 16, 2012.

The UN General Assembly resolution that established the Human Rights Council states that members shall uphold the “highest standards” of human rights, but Sudan and Ethiopia fall far short of that threshold, the organizations said.

“States like Sudan and Ethiopia with records of grave human rights violations should not be rewarded with seats on the Human Rights Council,” said Hassan Shire Sheikh, director of the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project. “By endorsing their questionable candidacies, the AU would undermine the work of the council by tarnishing its membership, and turn its back on victims of abuses in these countries.”

The makeup of the Human Rights Council reflects the UN’s geographic composition, with seats allotted by regional group. Five of the 18 seats for which new members are to be elected to the 47-member council in November are allotted to African states. The African Group put forward a “clean slate” with as many candidates as the number of reserved seats: Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Gabon, Sierra Leone, and Sudan.

Without competitive elections, states are deprived of the chance to select the candidates best suited to serve on the council. The civil society groups urged the AU to support competition among African states for seats on the council and ensure that candidates are elected on the basis of their human rights records.

“States should earn their seats on the Human Rights Council,” said Philippe Bolopion, UN director at Human Rights Watch. “A little bit of healthy competition would help ensure that only those most serious about human rights get a seat at the table.” 

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