Accessibility links

Breaking News

Countries with Questionable Records Elected to Human Rights Council

The U.N. General Assembly has elected 14 new members to the Human Rights Council -- among them Libya and Angola. Human rights monitoring groups say several of the new members have spotty records of their own and do not deserve a seat on the U.N.'s leading human rights body.

The vote in the General Assembly was by secret ballot, but the outcome was a foregone conclusion. There were 14 open seats and 14 candidates.

The seats are divided among regional groups of countries. The outcome: Angola, Libya, Mauritania and Uganda won the four seats allocated to Africa; Malaysia, the Maldives, Qatar and Thailand took the four Asian seats; Ecuador and Guatemala won the two Latin American and Caribbean seats; Moldova and Poland won the two Eastern European seats; and Spain and Switzerland took the two West European seats.

Human rights groups expressed disappointment, saying that at least five of the new members fail to maintain the "highest standards" of human rights.

Peggy Hicks is Human Rights Watch's Global Advocacy Director.

"We did detailed analysis of five states -- Libya, Malaysia, Thailand, Angola and Uganda -- all of which we saw as having problems that meant they did not meet the qualifications set in the General Assembly resolution establishing the council," Hicks said.

Those problems include preventative detention laws in Malaysia, the deaths of human rights defenders in Thailand, mass deportations of foreign migrants in Angola, proposed laws criminalizing homosexuality in Uganda and Libya's continued detention of 100 prisoners that the Minister of Justice says should be freed.

In letters to U.N. member states, a coalition of rights groups urged those countries take concrete steps to address these and other human rights concerns.

U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice says that while the United States, which was elected to the Human Rights Council last year, knows it is flawed, the Obama administration feels it is better to work for reform from within the body than to stand on the sidelines. She says that some of the newly-elected countries have more problematic rights records than others.

"We do not measure the success of the council solely in terms of who is on the body," Rice said. "The most important metric is what the council does and what actions it takes or does not take. And yet, it is the U.S. view that countries that run for and are elected to the Human Rights Council ought to be those [whose] records on human rights are strong and cannot be impugned. Those that do not make that standard really do not merit membership on the Human Rights Council."

In a separate development, last month Iran, which has been internationally criticized for its record of human rights abuses, withdrew its candidacy for council membership, amid concern it did not have the support to win a seat.

The 47-member council has a rotating membership. Each of the newly-elected countries will serve a three-year term, beginning in June.

The Geneva-based Human Rights Council was created four years ago to address human rights violations and make recommendations on them. But critics say it is made up of countries with their own poor human rights records and that its agenda includes criticizing Israel.