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UN Human Rights Council Makes Progress Toward Promoting Member Accountability, Says Open Society Institute

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The Open Society Institute today welcomed the United Nations General Assembly's election of new members to the UN Human Rights Council as a step toward ensuring that the Council can become a more progressive and effective instrument in the defense of human rights.

The Human Rights Council is the UN's preeminent body for "promoting universal respect for the protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all." Members of the Council are elected by the General Assembly and must win the support of at least 97 member states—an absolute majority.

Notably, today's election saw the defeat of Sri Lanka's candidacy for another term on the Council. A coalition of domestic and international human rights defenders opposed Sri Lanka after concluding that the country failed to uphold human rights or cooperate with UN human rights institutions.

Although OSI did not endorse or oppose any candidate, we welcome the General Assembly's seriousness in discharging its obligation to ensure "that members elected to the Council shall uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights." After Belarus's defeat in 2007, today's defeat of Sri Lanka sends a clear signal that human rights abusers will face stiff scrutiny when trying to win seats on the Council.

OSI is, however, alarmed by reports that some states were trading their Council member votes for other considerations—for example, votes onto other UN bodies. Although this is a common practice in UN diplomacy, trading votes is unacceptable in the election of Human Rights Council members.

In creating the Council, the General Assembly established "the promotion and protection of human rights" as the appropriate criteria for the election of members. Building on today's positive election, the General Assembly should recommit itself to electing states on the basis of their human rights records, and not in exchange for unrelated favors.

Three of the five regional groups—the Western Europe and Other Group, the Eastern Europe Group, and the Asia Group—offered competitive slates of candidates which resulted in hotly contested elections. The African and Latin American Groups nominated "clean" slates, with the number of candidates equaling the number of open seats. Although we urge the African and Latin American Groups to allow competitive elections in the future, we also commend their decision to support countries with generally positive human rights records, rejecting, for example, the campaigns of notorious human rights abusers such as Zimbabwe.

The new members of the Council—Argentina, Bahrain, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Chile, France, Gabon, Ghana, Japan, Pakistan, Republic of Korea, Slovakia, Ukraine, United Kingdom, and Zambia—must now be resolute in defending human rights around the world without fear or favor.


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