CSW is gravely concerned that states currently under investigation by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) for grave human rights violations are among those recently elected to serve as members of the Council.
The clean slate (uncontested) elections, which took place in a secret ballot on 12 October at the UN General Assembly (UNGA) in New York, saw 18 states elected to the HRC, where they will serve a term of three years from 2019-2021.
Ahead of the vote, a collaboration of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) issued an calling on all UN member states to refrain from voting for candidates that fail to fulfil the required criteria of cooperation with the council and a commitment to uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights. Only 32 states chose to leave the ballot blank, while one abstained.
CSW’s United Nations Officer, Claire Denman said: “Despite some challenges, the Human Rights Council remains a key forum in which a state’s human rights record can be challenged. CSW is deeply concerned that states that have repeatedly failed to show any commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights, including those of their own citizens, or any regard for international standards, are among those elected to the Council. Membership of the Human Rights Council should not become a means of protecting a state from scrutiny of its human rights record, and newly elected states must be held to the highest standards.”
Among the newly elected states is Eritrea, which stands accused of the gravest international crimes, yet obtained 160 votes, far exceeding the 97-vote majority required. Since the establishment of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Eritrea in 2012, the country has failed to cooperate with the mandate holder, or to address the extensive violations identified in successive reports. Neither has Eritrea implemented any of the recommendations it accepted during two successive Universal Periodic Review (UPR) cycles.
In June 2016, a that there were “reasonable grounds to believe that crimes against humanity, namely enslavement, imprisonment, enforced disappearance, torture, other inhumane acts, persecution, rape and murder have been committed in Eritrea since 1991,” and that “without substantial legal and institutional reform, Eritrea is not in a position to provide accountability for these crimes and violations.” The COI recommended that the Security Council refer the situation to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court for consideration.
Claire Denman added: “The HRC was created in 2006 to replace the Commission on Human Rights, which increasingly lacked credibility. However, the recent election, which saw several human violators acquire seats on the Council, not only tarnishes the HRC’s image, but also sends a message to victims who are seeking redress that the UN can no longer be relied upon for assistance. For the HRC to regain credibility, strict measures must be implemented to ensure that elected states fully cooperate with and reflect the aims and purposes of the Council. Any state that does not fulfil its responsibilities with regard to advancing human rights both at home and abroad should lose the privilege of a seat at the Council. CSW also urges the UN to reform the electoral system, to ensure candidate hustings and pledges are mandatory, clean slates are dissuaded, and the entire process is made more transparent by ending the secret ballot.”