Non-election to UN Human Rights Council welcomed by watchdog group

UN Watch, a human rights organisation founded in 1993 to monitor UN compliance with principles of its charter, has lauded a decision not to elect Iran to a seat in the newly established UN Human Rights Council.

“We’re delighted and relieved that Iran’s outrageous attempt to obtain a seat on the human rights council was soundly defeated,” Hilal Neuer, Executive Director of UN Watch told IRIN on Wednesday from Geneva. “Iran’s domestic and foreign policy is hostile to the very principles of human dignity and the principles of the universal declaration of human rights.”

Citing the country’s egregious human rights violations of minorities, including the Baluch, Kurds, as well as the 300,000-strong Bahá'í community, the largest religious minority in the country, coupled with its trampling of women’s rights, he remarked: “Iran is probably the last country that should have submitted a candidacy for the Human Rights Council.”

An underlying principle of modern human rights was the rejection of racism and Iran today had proven the leading inciter of hatred against an identifiable group, he said, namely its “genocidal anti-Semitism” repeatedly promoted by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

His comments came one day after Cuba, Saudi Arabia, China and Russia won seats on the newly established council despite their own poor human rights record, while two rights abusers – Iran and Venezuela – were defeated.

According to the Associated Press (AP), rights groups were generally pleased with the election of the 47 members of the council that would replace the highly politicised Human Rights Commission, which in recent years had been discredited after some countries with terrible human rights records used their membership to protect one another from condemnation.

“The spoiler governments, the governments that have a history of trying to undermine the protection of human rights through their membership on the old commission are now a significantly reduced minority when it comes to the council,” Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch (HRW), said.

Even before the vote, Roth said that the council was much improved over the discredited panel as many former members accused of violations had not sought seats, including Sudan, Zimbabwe, Libya, Congo, Syria, Vietnam, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Eritrea and Ethiopia.

Yvonne Terlingen, UN representative for Amnesty International (AI), was “fairly pleased” that the countries elected would provide a basis for a new “strong and effective human rights body,” the AP report said.
Meanwhile, HRW stated that the requirement of an absolute majority of the full UN membership (96 votes) to win election to the council had been designed to avoid the election of abusive states.
In addition, member states should decline to support countries with poor human rights records, and should therefore vote for countries likely to use their council membership to actively promote human rights, HRW urged.
But despite the enthusiasm over Tuesday’s vote, there was also food for thought from UN Watch with regard to the road ahead.

“So far, we have lowered the proportion of non-democratic and outright repressive regimes from 55 percent in the 2006 membership of the old Human Rights Commission, to 49 percent in the 2006 membership of the new Human Rights Council,” Neuer said in a statement shortly after Tuesday’s vote. “This is a small step forward, but hardly a cause for any cheer.”

Close to half of the members elected to the council failed to meet accepted democratic standards, the monitoring group said, noting of the four regional groups whose members were fully decided, 20 of 41 countries elected were rated either “Partly Free” or “Not Free” under Freedom House’s annual global survey of political rights and civil liberties.