In Multipolarity

From, Oct 28, 2016

Logo of the UN Human Rights Council

Logo of the UN Human Rights Council

For the first time since 2006, Russia will not be a member of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) after being narrowly beaten by Croatia in a UN General Assembly vote for 14 expiring seats on the 47-seat council on October 28.

Saudi Arabia was successfully re-elected [uncontested, see below], despite criticism from human rights organizations.

The elections took place against a backdrop of criticism from non-governmental human rights organizations, who say that the body has been hijacked by oppressive regimes looking to deflect criticism and drive their own agendas.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International produced a joint statement earlier this year condemning Riyadh for “an appalling record of violations” in Yemen, where it has conducted a bombing campaign against Houthi rebels since 2015, which has resulted in the deaths of up to 4,000 civilians. The two organizations called for Saudi Arabia, a member of the UNHRC since it was created in 2006, to be suspended – to no avail.

General Assembly of the United Nations

General Assembly of the United Nations

Saudi Arabia used its power in the council to block an outside inquiry into the campaign last month, while leading a successful resolution that placed the responsibility of investigating human rights abuses in the hands of its allies, the exiled Yemeni government.

Saudi Arabia carried out 157 executions domestically last year – the highest number in two decades, and is on pace to match the number this year. Critics of the regime have often faced detention, while women do not enjoy autonomy and equal status before the law.

Riyadh has repeatedly refused visits from UNHRC rapporteurs looking to investigate the justice system, incidences of torture, and discrimination.

In its official campaign brochure, published ahead of the vote, Saudi Arabia boasted about its human rights record, claiming, for example, that it supports “the empowerment of women at all levels” in compliance with “Sharia law, which guarantees fair gender equality.”

On Twitter, Sept 22, 2016: No joke: Saudi Arabia is running for the UN Human Rights Council—and their campaign brochure cites the Saudi record on. . . women’s rights. – (@HillelNeuer)

Ahead of this year’s vote, Russia, another member that has sat on the UNHRC since 2006, has come under concerted pressure from human rights organizations. A petition signed by 80 NGOs, including Human Rights Watch and Refugees International, asked the voting countries to “question seriously whether Russia’s role in Syria which includes supporting and undertaking military actions which have routinely targeted civilians and civilian objects renders it fit to serve on the UN’s premier inter-governmental human rights institution.”

Russia dismissed the petition, published this week, as “cynical” and “dishonorable,” and said the accusations were motivated more by politics than by concern for human rights. Moscow, which has been conducting airstrikes in the country over the past year, says that it is acting legally, following an official call for assistance from the Syrian government, and insists that its war efforts are targeted at terrorists.

China, Cuba, Egypt, Iraq, Rwanda and Malaysia, which all stood for re-election, were also accused by NGOs of being undeserving of a place on the UNHRC.

The current human rights body replaced the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in 2006, which was plagued with identical accusations of domination by authoritarian regimes and preoccupation with Israeli violations in Palestine, at the expense of human rights crimes elsewhere in the world. The election of Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya to head the commission in 2003 was lambasted by Western media and politicians, and was seen as the catalyst for the reforms that have resulted in the formation of the UNHRC.

Countries are elected to three-year terms on the Human Rights Council.

Related readings:

*  The list of election candidates for the 14 seats on the UN Human Rights on Oct 28, 2016 as well as the list of current members of the UN Human Rights Council is here.

Russia fails to win re-election to U.N. Human Rights Council, Reuters, Oct 28, 2016

Russia failed to win re-election to the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council on Friday, beaten by Hungary and Croatia in a vote by the 193-member UN General Assembly. Hungary received 144 votes, followed by Croatia with 114 votes and Russia with 112 votes. [End article.]

[Of the 14 vacating seats on the HRC up for election on Oct 28, 2016, two were in the ‘Eastern European States’ category. There were three nominations–Hungary, Croatia and the Russian Federation. The only other contested category was ‘Latin America and Caribbean States’ where Cuba, Brazil and Guatemala contested for two seats; Cuba and Brazil were elected. Saudi Arabia was elected by acclamation in the ‘Asia-Pacific States’ category.–New Cold]

*  Excerpt from Russia loses seat on UN Human Rights Council, New York Times, Oct 28, 2016:

… It was the first time a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council had lost a seat on the Human Rights Council, an intergovernmental body established in 2006 to strengthen “the promotion and protection of human rights.” The council’s members are elected for three-year terms.

The United States previously experienced a similar blow. In 2001, it lost an election to the council’s predecessor, known as the Human Rights Commission. At the time, the Bush administration appeared surprised by the setback, which it attributed to contentious American positions on China, Cuba and the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. Colin L. Powell, then secretary of state, said that “we left a little blood on the floor.”

The United States regained its seat on that body the next year.

In 2006, the United States also lost a seat on the International Law Commission. That was seen as a response to the Bush administration’s perceived repudiation of international law. That commission, though lesser known, usually writes first drafts of far-reaching global treaties.

The Human Rights Council is politically influential. Its responsibilities include establishing panels to investigate human rights abuses in specific countries. Human rights advocates had hoped that the council would impanel an inquiry into rights abuses in Yemen. It was vigorously opposed by Saudi Arabia, which was re-elected on Friday for another three-year seat…

From the website of ‘UN’:

The Human Rights Council (HRC) was created by the General Assembly in 2006 for the purpose of addressing human rights violations, replacing the former UN Commission on Human Rights. Whereas the Commission was a functional commission of ECOSOC, the Council holds the higher status of a subsidiary body to the GA. [1]


The Council has 47 members with staggered terms of three years. Election rules are based on the HRC’s founding resolution. Members are elected in a secret ballot by a majority of the General Assembly members, whether or not they are present and voting – in other words, an absolute majority as opposed to the higher threshold of support a two-thirds majority would require. If any of the candidates fails to receive the minimum of 97 positive votes, they must compete in a second round against any additional high-scoring candidates. The same applies to candidates who are not officially running but who receive write-in votes from GA members. Seats are distributed to each geographic region as follows:

African States13 seats
Asian States13 seats
Eastern European States6 seats
Latin American and Caribbean States8 seats
Western European and Other States7 seats

Each membership term lasts for three years. Members can serve two consecutive terms but will not be eligible for immediate re-election afterwards in order to prevent de facto permanent membership.

Criteria for membership

GA Resolution 60/251 states that “when electing members of the Council, Member States shall take into account the contribution of candidates to the promotion and protection of human rights and their voluntary pledges and commitments thereto” (Paragraph 8). These are the only stated criteria for membership in the Council. The pledge states that the country will uphold international standards of human rights and enumerates actions undertaken by that state in advancing and protecting human rights. It typically includes a listing of their involvement in international institutions.

In addition, candidates must accept that they will be subjected to periodic peer-reviews of their human rights record if they gain a seat on the Council. Amnesty International has issued recommended pledges for candidate countries…


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