U.N. member states should only choose governments that respect human rights when electing the first members of the new Human Rights Council, Human Rights Watch said today.

The group made the announcement as it launched a website dedicated to analyzing the human rights records of candidate countries for the May 9 election. So far, 65 countries have announced their candidacies for the 47 seats.

Human Rights Watch said it was noteworthy that some countries with the worst human rights records had not put themselves forward as candidates, despite the prior membership of many on the old Commission on Human Rights. The group hoped that this reflects those governments’ assessment that they stand little chance of winning a General Assembly majority when voters are obliged to consider a candidate’s human rights record.

“The good news is that many of the worst violators – including Sudan, North Korea, Belarus, Zimbabwe, Uzbekistan, and Nepal – have not even dared to run for the new council,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “Now it is up to U.N. members to exclude other abusive governments so that the council can be a real champion for human rights.”

Human Rights Watch said that in early May, when all candidacies had likely been announced, it would recommend that certain countries not be elected, based on their human rights record.

The resolution adopted by the General Assembly on March 15, 2006, requires U.N. members, in electing the new Human Rights Council, to “take into account the contribution of candidates to the promotion and protection of human rights and their voluntary pledges and commitments made thereto.” It requires council members to “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights,” and to cooperate with the council, including its special investigators.

To assist U.N. member states and others in evaluating the governments running for the council based upon these standards, Human Rights Watch today unveiled a website summarizing aspects of the human rights records of candidate governments, including:

  • Reports published by Human Rights Watch regarding human rights abuses in the candidate countries;
  • Pledges and commitments released by candidate governments in this election, and any statement made by the candidate government in the General Assembly when the Human Rights Council was created;
  • Whether the candidate state is a party to the International Criminal Court, and which of the core international human rights treaties it has ratified;
  • Whether the candidate government has issued a “standing invitation” to U.N. human rights investigators to visit its country; and
  • The voting record of the candidate government on 10 recent human rights resolutions in the U.N. General Assembly, and, if they were recently members of the former Commission on Human Rights, on 16 resolutions in that body.

“This is the first time anyone has sought to evaluate how governments have voted on human rights resolutions at the United Nations,” said Roth. “The new council should be filled with governments that won’t shy away from condemning atrocities when they are committed or from taking appropriate action in response.”

Election to the new Human Rights Council requires an absolute majority (96 votes) of the entire U.N. membership. On June 19, the new council will meet in Geneva for the first time.