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15 Countries Join UN Human Rights Council

UN Human Rights Council (file photo)
UN Human Rights Council (file photo)

The U.N. General Assembly has elected 15 countries to join the 47-member U.N. Human Rights Council. The lead-up to Friday’s vote was overshadowed by Syria’s uncontested candidacy which was widely criticized because Damascus has been locked in a bloody two-month crackdown on anti-government protesters.

Candidates are chosen to run by their regional groups. The Asian Group has four seats on the council, one allotted for an Arab country. Syria was originally slated to stand for that seat but dropped its bid earlier this month under growing international pressure because of its violent actions against peaceful protesters seeking democratic reform.

Kuwait stepped in, the two countries saying they had decided to “swap” terms, with Kuwait standing for the 2011 to 2013 term and Syria saying it would postpone its candidacy until 2014.

Despite dropping its bid, Syria garnered what appeared to be five renegade votes Friday. Kuwait received 166, well above the 97 votes needed.

Only two regional groups had contested seats - Eastern Europe and Latin America and the Caribbean.

In the end, the Czech Republic and Romania prevailed over Georgia to win the Eastern Europe Group’s two available seats, and Chile, Peru and Costa Rica beat out Nicaragua for their three available regional seats.

Costa Rica’s U.N. Ambassador Eduardo Ulibarri noted that human rights are a major component of his government’s foreign and domestic policy. He said Costa Rica would bring to the council its objectiveness and make a conscious effort to not allow the council to become politicized - a charge often leveled by its critics.

“We are also determined to be active in going against any gross aggression against human rights throughout the world, regardless of the kind of political regime that commits those aggressions," said Ulibarri. "And at the same time, we think that it is very important to have a constructive approach in the council in the sense of trying to promote, for example, human rights education and training throughout the world, and also helping those countries who want to improve their standards and their record in human rights to build their own capacities in order to move forward in that direction.”

Other countries joining the Geneva-based council are the Congo, Burkina Faso, Botswana, Benin, India, Indonesia, Philippines, Italy and Austria. Each of the newly elected countries will serve a three-year term.

Austrian Ambassador Thomas Mayr-Harting spoke about one of the issues Vienna would like to work on during its term.

“One of the issues that we decided we would like to work on is the protection of minorities, which is something we have a strong commitment for, including religious minorities, where as you know, there is quite some concern these days," said Mayr-Harting.

While India’s Deputy Ambassador Manjeev Singh Puri said the pursuit of human rights for all countries would be his government’s goal.

“The need to respect human rights; the need to nurture human rights; to promote human rights," said Singh Puri.

The Geneva-based Human Rights Council was created five years ago, and is responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the world. The body addresses human rights violations and makes recommendations on them. But many critics say it is made up of countries with their own poor human rights records and an agenda that includes bashing Israel.