NEW YORK, NY (Oct. 9, 2023) — On Oct. 10, 193 member states of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) face the crucial task of filling 15 of the 47 seats of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC). The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) calls on democratic member states to oppose the election of authoritarian regimes, which include Burundi, China, Cuba, Russia, and Kuwait this year. These candidates have failed to meet the Council’s membership criteria.
Ahead of the vote, HRF joined UN Watch and the Raoul Wallenberg Center for Human Rights in publishing a comprehensive report evaluating the human rights records and UN voting histories on human rights-related issues of candidate countries seeking election to the Council. The report’s analysis was based on the membership criteria established by UNGA Resolution 60/251, which mandates members to “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights” and “fully cooperate with the Council.” The report found that unqualified countries previously used their positions on the Council to shield human rights abusers and failed to advocate for victims of human rights abuses.
Due to Russia’s appalling human rights record and war against Ukraine, which has resulted in over 25,000 civilian casualties, the UNGA expelled Russia from the Council in 2022. Reinstating Russia on the Council while the Ukraine conflict persists would be detrimental to global human rights and show that the UN is not committed to holding Russia accountable for its actions in Ukraine. China and Cuba currently serve on the Council, while Burundi and Kuwait have served prior terms.
The UNHRC election is an opportunity for the UNGA to hold candidate countries accountable for their human rights records, safeguarding the Council’s integrity. UN member states hold both a legal right and a moral obligation to refrain from voting for unqualified candidates, even if they run unopposed in closed slates.
Closed slates often come from behind-the-scenes agreements, resulting in the number of candidates matching the number of available seats. Many UN member states mistakenly assume their role is merely to confirm the pre-selected candidates on closed slates, which regional groups determine. This year, three out of five regional groups lack competition.
This circumstance robs UN member states of the opportunity to exercise their voting responsibilities, as outlined in the 2006 UNGA resolution that established the Council. However, no member state is obligated to vote for a candidate, even when they appear on a non-competitive list, and can defeat unopposed candidacies by refraining from voting altogether.
To successfully block an unqualified candidate, a majority of states must cast negative votes against a candidate country on three consecutive ballots under Rule 94 of the UNGA Rules of Procedure. After the third inconclusive ballot, votes can be cast for any eligible member, opening the process to states not initially on the ballot. Additionally, using write-in votes, the UNGA can convince hesitant governments that they have a viable opportunity, ultimately encouraging them to pursue their candidacy.
Member states must act in accordance with their commitment to promote and protect human rights as they cast their votes. HRF calls on democratic member states to uphold human rights principles, ensuring that the UNHRC supports the victims of human rights abuses and defenders of human rights worldwide.
Read the joint report on this year’s UNHRC candidates here.
The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies.
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