May 4 - Issue 10 - Human Rights Council Elections May Not Be Fully Competitive
The General Assembly election for fourteen members of the UN Human Rights Council is scheduled for May 17, 2007. Whereas last year several members were elected for one-year or two-year terms because it was the first election, this year members will be elected for the full three-year term (2008-2011). The 14 member states that were elected last year and designated a one-year term will see their seats expiring this June. The General Assembly recently approved an extension of the Council’s first year until June 18, 2007 so that the current members can vote on the structural reforms currently under consideration by several institution-building working groups (for more information on this process see ReformtheUN.org). The fifth and final session of the HRC for this year, then, will be held from June11-18. Following that meeting the newly elected members will take up their posts.Fifteen member states have submitted candidacies to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Thirteen of the fifteen have included human rights pledges as part of their candidacy. The submission of pledges was initiated by the General Assembly in Paragraph 8 of Resolution 60/251 establishing the Council. Candidates’ pledges can be viewed here. 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. Currently the required minimum number of votes required is 97. If any of the candidates fails to receive 97 positive votes, they must compete in a second round against any additional high-scoring candidates. This is also true for candidates who are not officially running but who receive write-in votes from GA members. Four out of the five regional groups are expected to run “clean slates” of candidates – that is, the same number of candidates as seats available to that region this year. If any member of the slate does not receive the required minimum 97 votes, and one or more candidates receive write-in votes, those countries would compete for the seat in a second (and any subsequent) round of voting.
|Africa||Asia||Eastern Europe||Latin America and Caribbean||Western Europe and Others||Total|
|Total seats on Council||13||13||6||8||7||47|
|Current members not up for re-election||
Rep. of Korea
|Current members whose terms expire in 2007||
*Have submitted pledges in support of their candidacies.HRC Race in Each Region
- Within the African Group, the North African sub-region has held three of the region’s four seats. None of the three current members are running for re-election, but the sub-region has endorsed Egypt for one of the African Group’s seats.
- Three other countries have declared their candidacies – Angola and Madagascar, as well as South Africa which has bid for re-election. With three declared candidates and three open seats, Africa thus far appears to have a clean slate for this race.
- Several other African countries have been approached by both member states and non-governmental organizations to enter the race and create a more competitive election.
- The four Asian members elected last year all received one-year terms and will see their terms expire this year. By an agreement within the Asian Group, all four are being “grandfathered in” for renewed terms. Bahrain, however, will endorse Qatar to replace it.
· Eastern Europe:
- Slovenia, which will serve as the next European Union (EU) president, has declared its candidacy for HRC election. Other Eastern European states have been reluctant to run against Slovenia and pull votes from it, but there is disagreement about the current slate among EU states and more broadly in Eastern Europe.
- Belarus claims to have secured enough votes for election despite its poor human rights record. The General Assembly adopted a resolution in December 2006 in which it expressed “deep concern” about Belarus’ failure to cooperate with the Human Rights Council and listed human rights violations in the country amounting to the deterioration of the human rights situation.
- Efforts are underway by governments and civil society to encourage a third candidate to enter the race and create a competitive slate, as well as to increase the chances that Belarus will be defeated in the election (see “Civil Society Initiatives” below). But to date, there is no confirmation that an additional country will enter the race.
- Latin America and Caribbean (GRULAC):
- Venezuela has decided not to run for election, but it is expected that Bolivia will serve Venezuela’s interests if elected. Nicaragua likewise will represent the views of Cuba and the Non-aligned Movement.
- Argentina has chosen not to run for re-election and pursue campaigns for seats on other bodies. Chile, likewise, has chosen not to run this year. GRULAC has been a “swing region” and played a bridging role between Africa and the EU on the Council at times. A slate of GRULAC candidates without Argentina or Chile, however, is cause for concern for human rights groups.
- Governments and NGOs have been approaching several alternative countries in Latin America and the Caribbean to come forward as candidates.
- The seven Central American states reportedly are unlikely to run against each other (Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama).
· Western European and Other States (WEOG):o The Nordic sub-region of WEOG reportedly has agreed to support Denmark as a replacement for Finland. But with only five members (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden), Denmark’s election to the Council is far from guaranteed.o The other WEOG seat coming open currently is held by the Netherlands, which has declared a bid for re-election. Also competing for the seat will be Italy. This makes WEOG the only region currently running a competitive race in this election. o The United States decided on March 6 this year not to run for election to the Council. This decision reportedly was due to skepticism within the U.S. government both about the appropriate level of engagement in the Council, as well as whether it would garner sufficient support for election. As an alternative to U.S. membership on the Council, civil society groups have suggested that the U.S. appoint a special envoy or permanent human rights ambassador to represent the United States at the Council. Useful Resources Human Rights Pledges from Candidates for Election Results of 2006 HRC Election (9 May 2006) Current members of the Human Rights Council Civil Society Initiatives Civil society groups are concerned about reports that regional groups have designated states to replace their current members on the Council, as described above, and that the election may not be fully competitive. A “clean slate” leaves voting member states with little if any choice in candidates. Instead of being selected for their human rights records, members will be chosen based on reciprocal voting arrangements made within each region. In response to this situation, Amnesty International sent a letter to member states asking them to study the human rights records of the candidate countries and to vote “only for those candidates that they genuinely believe will meet the highest standards for membership articulated in Resolution 60/251, and to exclude ‘vote trading’ from these important forthcoming elections.” Amnesty also provided background information on the declared candidates and a comparison of their respective campaign pledges. Along with the establishment of a universal review of all UN member states, competitive elections for members were anticipated to provide a critical opportunity to strengthen the Council, which has yet to meet the expectations for reform from many member states and civil society groups. Regarding these concerns, eight non-governmental organizations sent a joint letter to member states regarding the need for “open slates” in every region, that is, more candidates than available seats. This letter also echoed Amnesty International’s emphasis on using human rights criteria in voting. Civil society groups have noted that current members seeking re-election should be held accountable to their pledges from last year. One source identified India has having done poorly with regards to their commitments in 2006. To NGOs, many of these candidates (Angola, Belarus, Egypt, Qatar, and others) would represent “serious movement backwards” in the quality of several regions’ human rights representation, if elected. Belarusian human rights defenders and some international partners have launched an international campaign (www.hrw.org/no-on-belarus/index.htm) to defeat the election of Belarus to the Council and hold UN member states to the membership standards set by Resolution 60/251. The campaign’s 27 April letter to member states was signed by 46 organizations.