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Rights Groups Dismayed Over Libya's Election To UN Human Rights Council


Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi during a visit to the UN General Assembly in September 2009

UNITED NATIONS -- Member nations of the UN General Assembly today elected 14 unopposed new members to the UN's Human Rights Council, disappointing rights advocates who had argued that many candidates fell far short of the standards for membership.

Hillel Neuer, executive director of the Geneva-based UN Watch, dismissed the results, saying, “What we have this year is a farce. We have elections without competition. That makes no sense. We have countries like Libya that...have atrocious human rights records."

UN Watch leads a coalition of 37 human rights organizations that lobbied the United States and European Union to defeat Libya's candidacy.

In a letter to the U.S. permanent representative to the UN, Susan Rice, and Spain's permanent representative, Juan Antonio Yanez-Barnuevo -- whose country currently holds the rotating EU Presidency -- the coalition described Libya as "one of the world's most repressive societies" where political parties, free speech, and independent media are banned.

Separately, UN Watch and the Washington-based organization Freedom House also called on diplomats to reject the candidacy of Angola, Malaysia, Mauritania, and Qatar.

It simply didn't happen. Malaysia, a known human rights violator, even garnered more votes than new members Spain and Switzerland.

U.S. Regret

Iran initially wanted to run but withdrew from the race last month in the face of mounting opposition.

Following the elections, Rice said the United States regrets certain countries' election to the council.

But she added that Washington still prefers to press for changes from within the council rather than oppose it from the outside.

"We don't measure the success of the council solely in terms of who is on the body. The most important metric is what the council does and what actions it takes or doesn't take," Rice said.

"It is the U.S. view that countries that run for and are elected to the Human Rights Council ought to be those whose records on human rights are strong and cannot be impugned," she added.

The council was created in 2006, replacing the UN Commission on Human Rights, which had earned a reputation where rights abusers protected each other from criticism.

Flawed Process

The nomination of Libya to run the UN watchdog in 2003 underscored what many saw as a fundamental flaw in the way the commission was set up. But its replacement has been a disappointment to rights advocates like Neuer.

"We were promised competitive elections at the Human Rights Council as part of the 2006 reform that would bring the best candidate forward. This was supposed to be a council for the victims, it was supposed to be a voice for the victims, and today we're seeing tragically a council for the perpetrators of human rights violations," he said.

The General Assembly resolution establishing the council requires members to uphold the "highest standards" of human rights and "fully cooperate" with the council. It also envisioned an election process in which states would issue pledges and commitments that UN members should consider in casting their votes.

Iran initially planned to run but after heavy criticism of its human rights record withdrew last month rather than face likely defeat.

with RFE/RL correspondent Nikola Krastev at the UN