Meanwhile at the UN: Another Human Rights Council election farce

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metzlerBy John J. Metzler

UNITED NATIONS — Truth is often stranger than fiction. Indeed elections for new members of the UN’s 47-member Human Rights Council proved yet again that some of the least qualified and most repressive regimes would win coveted seats on the watchdog committee tasked with monitoring human rights and freedoms globally.

The annual vote was held in the General Assembly to select and elect fifteen candidates from regional groups which would then serve three year stints on the Geneva-based Council starting in 2018.

The U.N. Security Council listens to South Korea's United Nations Ambassador Oh Joon during a meeting Monday, Dec. 22, 2014, at the United Nations headquarters. The U.N. Security Council placed North Korea's bleak human rights situation on its agenda Monday, a groundbreaking step toward possibly holding the nuclear-armed but desperately poor country and leader Kim Jong Un accountable for alleged crimes against humanity. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

While the United States, Britain and South Korea serve on the Council they are vastly outnumbered by regimes the likes of China, Cuba and Venezuela.

Let’s take a look at the often curious contenders and callous outcomes in which systematic rights abusers have been afforded an amazing aura of respectability.

Employing a multi-disciplined methodology and analysis, the respected UN Watch, a Geneva based human rights monitoring group offered its views on the new Council members, adding that only five out of sixteen countries are qualified.


Four seats for the African continent were presented as a closed slate. In other words please pick four out of four; Angola, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria and Senegal.

Angola a southern African petro state seems to embody all the bells and whistles of a classic kleptocracy; extreme wealth and poverty, forced labor, restrictions on media freedom, arbitrary arrest, torture and human trafficking. Angola’s long ruling leader Jose Eduardo dos Santos just stepped down after 38 years as leader of the old Marxist group the MPLA which ran the resource rich former Portuguese territory like a family business.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo nearly stands in a class by itself. A regime whose pedigree is marked by brutality, gender abuse, torture and widespread disappearances, and discrimination against minorities, the DRC has long been one of Africa’s hotbeds of violence towards its own population.

Louis Charbonneau of Human Rights Watch opined, “The Democratic Republic of the Congo’s election to the Human Rights Council is a slap in the face to the many victims of the Congolese government’s grave abuses.”

U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley called the DRC’s selection “yet another example of why the Human Rights Council lacks credibility and must be reformed in order to be saved. ”
She added that the DRC was under investigation by the same Council to which it was elected!

The other two African states selected include Nigeria and Senegal.

The Asian Group saw five countries running for four seats: Afghanistan, Malaysia, Nepal, Pakistan, and Qatar.

The only partly free country in the lot was Nepal, and they lost. UN Watch, scorned all four Asian candidates as “Unqualified” for Council membership.

Again let’s look at the record.

Afghanistan faces wide spread corruption, the use of torture and human trafficking among others. Equally Afghanistan’s embattled government is facing terrorism and insurgency.

Pakistan allows violence and discrimination against women, torture, sectarian violence and persecution of religious minorities.

Human Rights Watch describes violence against women and girls as “routine.” Moreover, under Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy laws, it is a capital offense to insult the Prophet Muhammed.

Qatar. While civil liberties and freedom of expression are significantly curtailed, the report adds that “Qatar is notorious for supporting jihadi terrorism. It supports the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood and its Palestinian offshoot, Hamas, and also has close ties with the Taliban, certain Al Qaida affiliates in Syria”.

Hillel Neuer, Director of UN Watch stated, “It is an insult to victims in these countries and it’s a defeat for the global cause of human rights when the UN helps gross abusers act as champions and global judges of human rights. When the U.N.’s highest human rights body becomes a case of the foxes guarding the henhouse, the world’s victims suffer.”

Amb. Haley added, “This calls into serious question the General Assembly’s methods of selecting membership on the Human Rights Council.”

Now some better news.

Latin America. Chile, Mexico and Peru were elected to the Council. UN Watch adds that Mexico’s status is “questionable,” given its flawed democracy and harsh media restrictions.

Western Europe and Others. Australia and Spain won seats. Both are working democracies.

Eastern Europe Slovakia and Ukraine won too. Slovakia is a democracy holding membership in both the European Union and NATO. Ukraine’s membership qualifications are more nuanced.

It’s lamentably laughable that the Council is offered such dismal choices for membership. And it’s tragically ironic that such regimes have gained an undeserved legitimacy to the very Council which should probably be watching them.

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014). [See pre-2011 Archives]