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UN: Concern Over Belarus Bid To Join Rights Council

The UN General Assembly is to elect new council members on May 17 (file photo) (epa) May 16, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Western governments and human rights activists are concerned over the possibility that Belarus -- sometimes called Europe's last dictatorship --> -- could win a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council.

But in a new development, reportedly backed by Western countries, Bosnia-Herzegovina has now joined Belarus and Slovenia in elections on May 17 for one of the two seats on the council set to go to Eastern Europe.

Bosnia put in the last-minute bid to join the UN Human Rights Council on May 15 .

According to the U.S.-based human rights group Freedom House, Western countries pushed Bosnia to run for the council to spoil the bid by Belarus, branded by Washington as Europe's last dictatorship.

"Belarus has an appalling human rights record, and has consistently failed to cooperate on any of the UN's human rights mechanisms."

Bosnia joins both Belarus and European Union member Slovenia in contesting two vacant East European seats in elections at the UN General Assembly in New York. Altogether, 14 seats will be up for grabs on the 47-seat council.

Bosnian Human Rights Minister Safet Halilovic tells RFE/RL's South Slavic Service in Sarajevo that given Bosnia's vast experience, he is hopeful his country will get a seat on the council.

"Bosnia is a country that experienced the most severe violations of human rights; it survived aggression and it is now a society in transition, with great experience in human rights, refugees, right to return, rights of minorities, and types of rights related to property. Because of all that, it would be most reasonable to have a Bosnian representative at the Human Rights Council."

He added that Bosnia's joining the council would be an important step in terms of European integration and that it would also boost Bosnian efforts to implement reforms it needs to make ahead of eventually joining the European Union.


As for Belarus, Urmi Shah, a spokeswoman for the New York-based group Human Rights Watch, said it would be "appalling" if Minsk were to be elected to the council.

"Belarus has an appalling human rights record, and has consistently failed to cooperate on any of the UN's human rights mechanisms. In January of this year, the [UN's] special rapporteur on Belarus, Adrian Severin, noted that the government had failed absolutely to cooperate with the UN's human rights mechanisms. His concerns were also echoed by other regional and international organizations, such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation [in Europe], the Council of Europe, and the European Commission," Shah said.

Last year, the UN Human Rights Council replaced the UN Commission on Human Rights, which was widely criticized for ignoring rights abuses in developing countries. At times, the commission had members such as Libya, often seen as a gross human rights abuser.

Council Criticism

The new body has also come in for criticism, particularly after it decided in March to end scrutiny of Iran and Uzbekistan

Shah says Minsk's election to the council would be darkly ironic. "The point of the new council is, and the new council members who participate on this body -- they are supposed to uphold the highest standards of human rights, and they are supposed to fully cooperate with the council and with the council mechanisms," she says.

"Now, Belarus has failed to do this for a long time. And although it says that it will cooperate, thus far it has not really shown this," Shah adds.

As part of its candidacy, Belarus has pledged to uphold human rights, despite international criticism of its elections as not free or fair and widespread reports of suppression of human rights under President Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

In a report by RFE/RL's Belarus Service, Minsk's permanent representative at the UN in Geneva, Syarhey Aleinik, is quoted as calling on the UN Human Rights Council "to renounce the policy of confrontation and concentrate its efforts on constructive cooperation."

Aleinik added, "We have a unique chance to take a new look at things and build a new, universal system of assessing the human rights situation."

(RFE/RL's Belarus Service contributed to this report)

RFE/RL Belarus, Ukraine, And Moldova Report

RFE/RL Belarus, Ukraine, And Moldova Report

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