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Evaluation of 2010-2013 UN Human Rights Council Candidates:
Joint Analysis by Freedom House and UN Watch
Presented at United Nations Headquarters, May 4, 2010

PDF Version
 

Analysis

On May 13, 2010, the UN General Assembly will vote to fill 14 of the 47 Human Rights Council seats in the annual rotation of membership. Fourteen countries have presented themselves as candidates for the 14 open seats, including Libya for one of the four open Africa seats. The election of Libya and other notorious human rights abusers, however, is not a foregone conclusion, as each candidate must receive the affirmative votes of 97 other countries (an absolute majority of the membership of the UNGA).

In order to preserve a possibility that the Human Rights Council may one day be able to live up the ideals expressed in the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, UN Member States are urged to vote "No" in regard to the most conspicuously unqualified states in the secret ballot, in order that other, better qualified candidates may come forward. In order to successfully block an unqualified candidate, according to Rule 94 of the UNGA Rules of Procedure, a majority of states must vote against the country on three successive ballots. As the Rule explains, "after the third inconclusive ballot, votes may be cast for any eligible person or Member" – which would open the process to other states not already on the ballot. Moreover, the UNGA could make clear to hesitating governments that there is a realistic prospect of their election by casting write-in votes for the best-qualified alternatives eligible.

UN Watch and Freedom House call upon the Member States of the UN General Assembly to refrain from voting in favor of Libya, Angola, Malaysia, Mauritania and Qatar. In the Africa group, better alternatives would include Botswana, Cape Verde, Mali and Tanzania, among others. In the Asia group, better candidates include Papua New Guinea and Micronesia.

Up to the release date of this report (May 4), in each of the regional groups exactly the same number of countries have put themselves forward as candidates as there are seats available. Thus, 4 Asian countries have presented themselves for the 4 available Asian seats; 4 African countries for the 4 available African seats; 2 countries from the Latin American and Caribbean Group ("GRULAC") for the 2 available GRULAC seats; 2 Eastern European countries for the 2 available Eastern European seats, and 2 countries from the Western European and Others Group ("WEOG") have presented themselves for the 2 available WEOG seats.

These "closed lists" deprive the Member States of the UNGA of the opportunity to exercise the responsibilities described in the 2006 UNGA Resolution creating the Council and – because of the records of many of this year’s candidates – threaten to further weaken the Council, which still struggles to establish a reputation superior to its widely disparaged predecessor, the UN Human Rights Commission.

Rating

Based on the above assessment of each country’s record of human rights protection at home and of its UN voting record, we find that 5 candidate countries are qualified for election to the Human Rights Council; 5 candidates have poor records and are not qualified to be Council members; and 4 countries fall somewhere in between, with qualifications that are questionable.

Qualified: Maldives, Guatemala, Spain, Switzerland, Poland

Questionable: Uganda, Thailand, Ecuador, Moldova

Not Qualified: Angola, Libya, Mauritania, Qatar, Malaysia

For supporting information, see the charts below.

Human Rights and Voting Records of “Not Qualified” Countries

Angola

Human Rights Record
Angola is ranked Not Free by Freedom House with a score of a 6 out of a worst possible 7 for political rights and a 5 out of a worst possible 7 for civil liberties. Long-delayed legislative elections held in September 2008 but were not free and fair. Media restrictions became less stringent after 2002, but despite constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression, journalists remain subject to intimidation, dismissal, detention, and legal sanction by authorities, resulting in self-censorship. Defamation of the president or his representatives and libel are criminal offenses, punishable by imprisonment or fines. The only daily newspaper, national radio station, and dominant television stations are state owned. Lengthy pretrial detention is common, and prisoners are subject to torture, severe overcrowding, sexual abuse, extortion, and a lack of basic services. Despite increased resources and human rights training, security forces continue to commit abuses with impunity.

UN Voting Record

In the past year at the GA, Angola abstained on the resolutions condemning the human rights situations in Iran and North Korea, was absent during the vote condemning the human rights situation in Myanmar (Burma), and voted in favor of "Combating defamation of religions." At the HRC, Angola voted to shield Sri Lanka from condemnation on the killings of thousands of civilians during the winter of 2009. It also failed to support the resolutions that extended the mandates of the human rights experts on the situations in DRC and Sudan. Though it joined consensus on the resolution condemning the human rights situation in Myanmar (Burma), it abstained during the Council’s vote on the DPRK.

Libya

Human Rights Record
Libya is ranked Not Free by Freedom House and was one of only nine countries to receive a worst possible score of a 7 for both political rights and civil liberties in 2009, qualifying it as one of the "world’s most repressive societies." Power theoretically lies with a system of people’s committees and the indirectly elected General People’s Congress, but in practice those structures are manipulated to ensure the continued dominance of Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi, who holds no official title. Political parties have been illegal for more than 35 years and organizing or joining anything akin to a political party is punishable by long prison terms and even the death sentence. There is no independent press. The regime hardened its monopoly on media outlets in mid-2009 with the nationalization of Al-Ghad media group, which was established in 2007 by al-Qadhafi’s son, Saif al-Islam, and encompassed the country’s only quasi-independent newspapers and radio stations. The government controls the country’s only internet service provider. Demonstrations that are allowed to take place typically support the aims of the regime. The law allows for the establishment of nongovernmental organizations, but those that have been granted authorization to operate are directly or indirectly linked to the government.

U
N Voting Record
In the past year at the GA, Libya voted against the resolutions condemning the human rights situations in Iran, Myanmar (Burma) and North Korea, and voted in favor of "Combating defamation of religions." It was not a member of the HRC.

Mauritania

Human Rights Record
Mauritania is ranked Not Free by Freedom House with a score of a 6 out of a worst possible 7 for political rights and a 5 out of a worst possible 7 for civil liberties. General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, who removed President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdellahi from office in an August 2008 military coup, won presidential elections held in July 2009. The military imposed new media restrictions after the 2008 coup, beginning with the takeover of state broadcast media. In May 2009, the police assaulted a group of journalists and prevented them from covering a sit-in by the National Association of Lawyers. Amnesty International reports that the police violently broke up two peaceful protests in April 2009. The judicial system is heavily influenced by the government. Prison conditions are harsh, and security forces suspected of human rights abuses operate with impunity.

UN Voting Record
In the past year at the GA, Mauritania voted against the resolution condemning the human rights situation in Iran, abstained on the resolutions condemning the human rights situations in Myanmar (Burma) and North Korea, and voted in favor of "Combating defamation of religions." It was not a member of the HRC.

Qatar

Human Rights Record
Qatar is ranked Not Free by Freedom House with a score of a 6 out of a worst possible 7 for political rights and a 5 out of a worst possible 7 for civil liberties. The head of state is the emir, currently Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, whose family enjoys a monopoly on political power. The emir appoints a prime minister and the cabinet. Only a small percentage of the country’s population—about 200,000 people out of 1,409,000 residents—are allowed to vote or hold office. The government does not permit political parties. While the constitution guarantees freedom of expression, content in the print and broadcast media is influenced by leading families, and journalists practice a high degree of self-censorship. Qataris have access to the internet, but the government censors content and blocks access to sites it deems unacceptable. While the constitution grants freedom of assembly, protests are rare, and the government restricts the public’s ability to organize demonstrations. All NGOs need state permission to operate, and the government closely monitors their activities. Despite constitutional guarantees, the judiciary is not independent in practice. The majority of Qatar’s judges are foreign nationals, who are appointed and removed by the emir.

UN Voting Record
In the past year at the GA, Qatar voted against the resolution condemning the human rights situation in Iran, abstained on the resolutions condemning the human rights situations in Myanmar (Burma) and North Korea and voted in favor of "Combating defamation of religions." It was not a member of the HRC. However, during the preceding 2008-2009 year, Qatar voted at the HRC for the May 2009 resolution praising Sri Lanka after it had killed an estimated 20,000 civilians, and though it joined consensus on the resolution condemning the human rights situation in Myanmar (Burma), it refused to support the resolutions that extended the mandates of the independent monitors on Congo and Sudan.

Malaysia

Human Rights Record
Malaysia is ranked Partly Free by Freedom House with a score of 4 on the scale of 1 (high) to 7 (low) for both political rights and civil liberties. In recent years, the government and law enforcement bodies have suffered a series of corruption scandals, despite the government’s anticorruption campaign pledges. Judicial independence is compromised by extensive executive influence. Arbitrary or politically motivated verdicts are not uncommon, with the most prominent case being the convictions of Anwar Ibrahim in 1999 and 2000. Freedom of expression is constitutionally guaranteed but restricted in practice. The 1984 Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA) gives the government the authority to revoke licenses without judicial review. It also requires that publications and printers obtain annual operating permits, encouraging self-censorship and limiting investigative journalism. With traditional media so heavily restricted, the internet has emerged as a primary outlet for free discussion and for exposing cases of political corruption. The government responded in 2007 with an escalating crackdown, including the first defamation charges against bloggers. Religious freedom is restricted in Malaysia, as practicing a version of Islam other than Sunni Islam is prohibited. Freedoms of assembly and association are also limited on the grounds of maintaining security and public order. There is no constitutional provision specifically banning torture, and police have been known to torture prisoners and use excessive force or inhumane tactics in conducting searches. Despite government initiatives and continued gains, women are still underrepresented in politics, the professions, and the civil service. Violence against women remains a serious problem.

UN Voting Record
In the past year at the GA, Malaysia voted against the resolutions condemning the human rights situations in Iran, Myanmar (Burma) and North Korea, and voted in favor of "Combating defamation of religions." It was not a member of the HRC. However, during the preceding 2008-2009 year ago, Malaysia voted at the HRC for the May 2009 resolution praising Sri Lanka after it had killed an estimated 20,000 civilians, and though it joined consensus on the resolution condemning the human rights situation in Myanmar (Burma), it refused to support the resolutions that extended the mandates of the independent monitors on Congo and Sudan.

Candidates from the African Group (for 4 seats)
To replace Angola, Egypt, Madagascar, and South Africa

 Country 

FH Rating

FH Press Freedom

RSF
Ranking

UN Voting
Record

Suitability for
Membership

Angola

Not Free

Not Free

119

Negative

Not Qualified

Libya

Not Free

Not Free

156

Negative

Not Qualified

Mauritania

Not Free

Partly Free

100

Negative

Not Qualified 

Uganda

Partly Free

Partly Free

86

Negative

Questionable

 

Candidates from the Asian Group (for 4 seats)
To replace India, Indonesia, Philippines, and Qatar

 Country

FH Rating

FH Press Freedom

RSF
Ranking

UN Voting
Record

Suitability for
Membership

Malaysia

Partly Free

Not Free

131

Negative

Not Qualified

Maldives

Partly Free

Partly Free

51

Positive

Qualified

Qatar

Not Free

Not Free

94

Negative

Not Qualified

Thailand

Partly Free

Partly Free

130

Negative

Questionable

 

Candidates from the Latin American and Caribbean Group (for 2 seats)
To replace Bolivia and Nicaragua

 Country

FH
Rating

FH Press Freedom

RSF
Ranking

UN Voting
Record

 Suitability for
Membership

Ecuador

Partly Free

Partly Free

84

Negative

Questionable

 Guatemala

Partly Free

Partly Free

106

Positive

Qualified


 

Candidates from the Western European and Others Group (for 2 seats)
To replace Italy and the Netherlands

 Country

FH
Rating

FH Press Freedom

RSF
Ranking

UN Voting
Record

Suitability for
Membership

Spain

Free

Free

44

Positive

Qualified

Switzerland

Free

Free

8

Positive

Qualified


 

Candidates from the Eastern European Group (for 2 seats)
To replace Bosnia and Herzegovina and Slovenia

 Country

 FH
Ranking

FH Press Freedom

RSF
Ranking

UN Voting
Record

Suitability for
Membership

Poland

 Free

Free

37

 Positive

Qualified

Moldova

 Partly Free

Not Free

114

 Positive

Questionable


PDF Version