Notorious rights abusers win seats on UN Human Rights Council

Notorious rights abusers win seats on UN Human Rights Council

By Luke Vargas   
Published
A U.N. member state delegate casts her country's ballot during elections to choose 18 new members of the U.N. Human Security Council. October 12, 2018. UN Photo/Manuel Elias
A U.N. member state delegate casts her country's ballot during elections to choose 18 new members of the U.N. Human Security Council. October 12, 2018. UN Photo/Manuel Elias

Critics charge that the noncompetitive nature of council elections encourages repressive countries to seek membership in order to shield themselves from criticism.

UNITED NATIONS – The African nation of Eritrea, described by numerous human rights groups as one of the world’s most oppressive dictatorships, was among those rewarded with a seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council on Friday, in an uncontested election likely to further heighten criticism of the U.N. body.

A total of 18 countries won three-year memberships on the Geneva-based council in a “clean slate” vote in which no seats were contested. Such elections, in which countries often predetermine who will compete for seats years in advance, have become a staple of both the Human Rights Council and the more important Security Council in New York.

Critics charge that the political horse-trading involved in seeking membership for the council enables notorious rights-abusing countries like Eritrea, Bahrain, Cameroon or the Philippines to distort global human rights norms and insulate their repressive governments from international scrutiny.

“They see the U.N. as an organization where they can legitimize their rule in their own countries.”

Javier El-Hage is the chief legal officer for the Human Rights Foundation, a New York-based advocacy group.

“They go out of their way to try and be in these organs, because they know that that way they can control what more or less is being said about human rights from the U.N., and they can always go back to their countries and say, ‘look, how can I be a human rights violator if I’m in the world’s most important organ that regulates human rights abound the world?'”

The U.S. is among the most vocal critics of the current structure of the U.N. Human Rights Council. Earlier this year, Ambassador Nikki Haley ordered the U.S. withdrawal from the council, accusing it of more frequently providing “cover, not condemnation, for the world’s most inhumane regimes.”

In a statement after Friday’s elections, Haley said the uncontested election “demonstrates again why the United States was right to withdraw” from the council, though she said the U.S. would continue to press for institutional reform of the council from the sidelines.

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