Next week, the UN General Assembly decides who should be on the Human Rights Council. On May 12th, the General Assembly is expected to elect as many as 18 new members – more than a third of the council's total membership.
However, some groups are calling on UN members to block certain countries from getting a seat on the council. Freedom House and UN Watch say some of the countries seeking membership have poor or questionable human rights records.
Paula Schriefer, advocacy director for Freedom House, which is based in Washington, expressed her concerns to VOA about next week's vote.
"Our biggest concerns are [that] countries with some of the worst human rights records in the world will get re-elected to the Human Rights Council, further discrediting an institution that's already shown that it hasn't performed very well in terms of promoting and supporting human rights," she says.
Freedom House conducts an evaluation that categorizes countries based on their human rights records, grading them as qualified, not qualified and questionable.
"We actually listed seven countries in the not qualified category, but I would say there's even a range within that. The ones that we're most concerned with are those that really get the absolute lowest scores that Freedom House gives out on an annual basis in terms of human rights. And those three countries would be China, Cuba and Saudi Arabia," she says.
Four other countries, including the African countries of Cameroon and Djibouti, also received poor scores, but not quite as low as the above mentioned.
"These are countries that I would put in sort of the top tier of the countries that are not qualified. Cameroon, actually of the two, has a slightly worse human rights record.… Although interestingly, it has a better voting record looking at important human rights resolutions and votes at the UN. Djibouti has a slightly better human rights record, but a slightly worse voting record at the United Nations.…Overall, they're just not qualified to sit on the council," she says.
Schriefer says membership of some of these countries on the Human Rights Council has prevented all the facts about the treatment of their citizens from being revealed. She says, "These countries not only reflect badly on the council because they've got poor domestic records of supporting human rights, but they tend to also of course to act (to prevent) the council from exposing human rights abuses in their own countries and in other countries as well."
One example she gives is Sudan. "Many of these countries have voted against taking any strong resolutions on Sudan. If you look at other countries that fall in our category of the worst – countries like Belarus… Chad…Equatorial Guinea…Somalia…Uzbekistan, Zimbabwe, not a single resolution is being passed to censor these countries," she says.
Schriefer says that the countries have been "very effective in convincing other countries to vote along with them. Yes, they could be blocked. Certainly if countries with good human rights records would counter that and be more effective in terms of getting those sort of swing countries to vote along with them.… But it takes a tremendous amount of work."
Countries, such as Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, Jordan and Bangladesh have "mixed" human rights records.
"They're not the lowest performers in terms of their human rights. Most of these countries fall in…in Freedom House's terminology…the partly free category of countries. And they've had mixed records," she says.
Freedom House lists the countries found qualified to sit on the Human Rights Council as the United States, Belgium, Hungary, Mauritius, Mexico, Norway and Uruguay.