Choose states committed to human rights for the Human Rights Council

General Assembly Members Should Not Reward Rights Abusers with Votes

On May 12, 2009, the United Nations General Assembly will hold elections for 18 of the 47 seats on the Human Rights Council. As a coalition of human rights NGOs from around the world, we engage with the elections to try to ensure that the elected members of the Council abide by the highest standards of human rights.

This year, the absence of competitive elections in some regions deprives UN Member States of a real choice to select the best candidates from each region of the world. Each candidate still needs 97 affirmative votes to be elected, though. UN Member States should cast their votes conscientiously, based on whether each candidate “uphold[s] the highest standards” of human rights and “fully cooperate[s]” with the Council, as required for Council membership. With this goal in mind, we have chosen to highlight several candidates running for re-election to the Council – Azerbaijan, China, Cuba, Russia and Saudi Arabia – whose domestic human rights records fall short of the “highest standards” of human rights.

Consider candidates’ human rights records

Member states should use the election to assess candidly the shortcomings of these—and all—candidates’ human rights records and to encourage them to undertake concrete steps for improvement. For the credibility of the Council and the elections process, states should elect only states whose domestic human rights records demonstrate commitment to the “highest standards” of human rights. They should decline to support candidates with abusive human rights records.

All of the candidates running for re-election to the Council underwent the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in February 2009. Member states should consider the engagement of these candidates—Cameroon, Djibouti, Mauritius, Nigeria, Senegal, Bangladesh, China, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Cuba, Mexico, the Russian Federation and Azerbaijan— at the UPR and whether they have made progress toward the commitments made during that process. States should encourage each candidate running for re-election to accept recommendations made at the UPR that would improve its human rights situation.

Run competitive elections in each region

The lack of competitive elections in three slates this year – Latin America and Caribbean, Asia and Western Europe and Others -- does not permit UN Member States to select the best candidates and undermines the credibility of the Council itself. We continue to urge states that are committed to human rights to enter the election immediately.

As groups that have followed the development of the Council and the previous Commission, we have found that non-competitive elections undermine the principle that members be elected based on their human rights records. Non-competitive elections effectively permit countries to gain membership on the Council on the basis of rotation or reciprocal vote-trading agreements. Although “reciprocal arrangements” (in which states exchange promises of support for each other in various elections or selection processes) are a common practice in UN diplomacy, trading votes is unacceptable in the election of Human Rights Council members.