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How to Keep Bad Guys Off the Human Rights Council

from UN Watch
That’s from UN Watch, which helpfully compiles a list of declared and unconfirmed candidates for 14 of the 47 rotating seats at the Human Rights Council. Those in red are the ones UN Watch deems to be on a list of shame for having less than stellar human rights records.

If each “red” country secures a seat on the Human Rights Council, the council could become a less effective institution and lose a great deal of credibility. Right now, though, it is unlikely that each of those countries in red will win a seat because they must compete with countries that have better human rights records. And if just two more Asian countries declare their candidacy there’s a chance that no country in red will have won a seat on the council.

Seats on the Council are apportioned via a UN standard called “equitable geographic distribution” in which a certain number of seats are reserved to each region in accordance with the number of countries in that region. This makes sense from a demographic and democratic point of view–it makes the body more representative of the whole. But there are also drawbacks for the Human Rights Council becomes some regions, in general, have fewer countries with strong human rights track records than others.

One way around this problem is by having competitive elections. So, for example, if Sudan wants to run for one of the African seats, it has to compete with Ghana.  That is how it is supposed to work (and it’s helped keep Iran off the council so far) but regions sometimes collude amongst themselves to  put forward an equal number of candidates as there are open slots. This makes it much easier for all candidates to receive the required votes in the General Assembly.

Making elections uncompetitive by nominating the same number of countries as there are open seats is how bad guys can get onto UN bodies like this. That is why it is so disappointing to see only two countries (the UK and France) running for the two open seats in the Western Europe and Others group.

Competitive elections should be standard and Western Europe should be leading by example. Instead, the countries that profess to have the strongest human rights records are undermining the system’s ability to keep membership as elite as possible.

The elections are not until November. Here is hoping that Western Europe puts national pride aside and at least one other country enters this race.