The reelection of the United States to the United Nations Human Rights Council was a positive development in a largely disappointing election by the UN General Assembly (UNGA) yesterday, in which seven countries with poor human rights records—Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Gabon, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela—were also elected.
According to a Freedom House assessment of the candidates, of the 16 new Council members elected, the above-named seven clearly fail to meet the Council’s criteria for membership which states that members should “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights.” All were elected with an overwhelming majority. Council members are elected by the full UNGA in a secret ballot, with the five regional groups each presenting a slate of candidates. All regional groups, with the exception of the Western Europe and Other States Group, which includes the United States, ran “clean slates,” meaning that unqualified candidates ran unopposed and were virtually guaranteed a seat on the Council.
“The election of human-rights abusing countries such as Ethiopia, Pakistan, and Venezuela flies in the face of the very values that the Council was created to uphold. Their election hurts the Council’s credibility,” said Sarah Trister, author of the report and manager of congressional affairs at Freedom House. “If every regional group ran a competitive slate for the Council, states would have a real choice and countries with poor human rights records would be discouraged from throwing their hat in the ring.”
In the past two years, the Council has made notable progress in addressing some of the world’s most pressing human rights concerns, due in large part to U.S. engagement. The U.S. played an influential role in pushing the body to tackle the horrific human rights situations in Syria, Libya, Iran and Belarus. It has also guided increased efforts to address global issues of concern including internet freedom and freedom of association as well as helping to stymie efforts to ban blasphemy under international law.
“The United States is a positive force at the UN Human Rights Council and its leadership at the Council has made a real difference,” said Daniel Calingaert, executive vice president at Freedom House. “Freedom House welcomes the U.S. reelection and hopes to see this progress continue in its next term.”
The following countries were also elected to the Council: Brazil, Kenya, Sierra Leone, Argentina, Estonia, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Montenegro, and South Korea.