Abusers Need Not Apply

As Jessica notes below, fourteen new members have just been voted to the new Human Rights Council. The real story here is what country did not win a seat. Belarus, a repressive dictatorship in Eastern Europe, was blocked from gaining a seat on the council on Thursday when it could not muster the requisite number of votes in the General Assembly. Given Belarus’ appalling human rights record that should not come as a surprise. Still, there was a chance that Belarus could have snuck in the council because Eastern Europe was guaranteed two slots on the 47 member panel, and only Belarus and Slovenia originally entered the race.

For a while, it looked as if Belarus was a shoo-in. The United States and other western countries, however, persuaded Bosnia to run and then worked behind the scenes to lobby members of the General Assembly to vote for Bosnia over Belarus. A coalition of NGO’s like Human Rights Watch, the Open Society Institute, and the Democracy Coalition Project also lobbied hard to deny Belarus a seat on the Council.

According to the New York Times, the new United States Ambassador to the United Nations Zalmay Khalilzad called the outcome “heartening.” This is significant statement because just over one year ago, the United States refused to vote to create the new Council (which replaced the discredited Human Rights Commission) and eschewed running for a seat. At the time, the United States worried that there were not enough safeguards preventing a country with dismal human rights record from gaining membership. However, the vote against Belarus goes to show that when member states are sufficiently determined to keep an abusive state off of the council, the rules on voting and membership are, in fact, adequate.