No, Sudan Was Not Elected to “Top Human Rights Body” At the UN

But that’s nonetheless what UN Watch blared as a headline. Here’s what happened: yesterday, the UN’s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) admitted Sudan as one of its 54 members. Membership to ECOSOC is voted on by the General Assembly based on the principal of equitable geographic representation, meaning that a set number of seats are set aside for Africa, for Asia, Europe, etc. Sudan very unfortunately was voted in for one of those African seats.

ECOSOC is most definitely not the top Human Rights Body at the UN and it is misleading to say so.  The top human rights body is the UN Human Rights Council. Sudan most definitely wanted to cynically join the Human Rights Council this year. But it was effectively blocked by a coalition of countries who understood that Sudanese membership would undermine the council.

To be sure, ECOSOC does have some roles tangentially related to human rights. For example, ECOSOC is responsable for granting accreditation to NGOs who want to participate in UN meetings.  In 2007, Sudan and the United States under the Bush administration joined together to block the accreditation of two LGBT rights NGOs. That was certainly a move inimical to the advancement of human rights, but it was reversed in 2009 when the USA under President Obama led a coalition to reverse this ruling.

The bottom line is that the United Nations is a reflection of its members. Not all members are liberal democracies  — and sometimes, even liberal democracies do illiberal things like stymie LGBT rights. The world is flawed, so the UN is flawed. What matters, though, is how leaders work through these institutions, despite their imperfections, to advance the cause of progressivism and human rights.