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Havel Calls UN Rights Council Election A 'Farce'

Former Czech President Vaclav Havel said no democratic country could hold an election like that for the Human Rights Council.
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) -- This week's UN Human Rights Council elections, in which several nations seen to have dubious human rights records are virtually assured victory, are a "farce," says former Czech President Vaclav Havel.

In an article published by "The New York Times" on May 11, the Czech playwright and former anticommunist dissident called on UN member states to refuse to vote for any human rights violators when they fill out their secret ballots on May 12.

"Imagine an election where the results are largely preordained and a number of candidates are widely recognized as unqualified," Havel wrote.

He said countries should refuse to vote for rights abusers in the "shamefully uncontested election."

"Any supposedly democratic ballot conducted in this way would be considered a farce," wrote Havel, who penned more than a dozen farces for the stage. "Yet tomorrow the [UN] General Assembly will engage in just such an 'election' when it votes to fill the vacancies on the 47-member Human Rights Council."

Only 20 countries are running for 18 vacant seats on the Geneva-based council. UN diplomats said the outcome is nearly set in stone, since most countries in the five geographic regions have already struck agreements on who to support.

The council was set up three years ago to replace the UN Human Rights Commission, which was widely criticized for failing to overcome political alliances and take a strong stand on issues including China's rights record.

But the new council has also been criticized for singling out Israel and its treatment of the Palestinians and not taking a strong enough stand against violence in Tibet and Darfur.

The human rights group Freedom House said seven candidate countries had dubious rights records: Azerbaijan, Cameroon, China, Cuba, Djibouti, Russia, and Saudi Arabia. The group urged UN member states to block them.

Human Rights Watch also condemned the trading of votes for seats on the Human Rights Council as unacceptable.

The administration of U.S. President Barack Obama has reversed the policy of his predecessor George W. Bush, who shunned the council as a forum for attacking Israel.

But Obama, who joined Israel and other countries in boycotting the council's widely condemned racism conference in Geneva last month, decided that the United States would run for a seat in a bid to improve the UN rights panel from within.

Havel criticized the Western states, who had previously run competitive slates, for putting up only three candidates, the United States, Norway, and Belgium, for the bloc's three seats.

Havel also criticized Latin America with its "flourishing democracies" for letting Cuba make an uncontested bid to renew its seat, and Asia for allowing China and Saudi Arabia to join three other states in running for that bloc's five seats.

Azerbaijan's and Russia's "human rights records oscillate from questionable to despicable," Havel wrote, but only Hungary was opposing them in their bid for two Eastern European seats.

Others seeking three-year seats are Bangladesh, Djibouti, Kenya, Jordan, Kyrgyzstan, Mauritius, Mexico, Nigeria, Senegal, and Uruguay.