UN criticised over new human rights council members

The Human Rights Council at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland.
The Human Rights Council at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. Copyright REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
By Alice Tidey
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The latest cohort of countries to be elected onto the Council includes the Philippines, Bahrain, Eritrea and Cameroon, drawing condemnation from Human Rights Watch.


The UN drew criticism on Friday for allowing countries with dismal human rights records to join its Human Rights Council.

Eighteen new members — including Somalia, Eritrea, Cameroon, Bangladesh, and the Philippines — were voted into the Council on Friday from five regional blocs of countries. The selection process is meant to ensure that the different world regions are equitably represented.

But ahead of the vote, aid group Human Rights Watch had slammed this year's process which saw every candidate run unopposed, thus assuring them a seat on the Council "regardless of their rights records."

The group particularly criticised the inclusion of the Philippines which it says is "undergoing a human rights crisis that may amount to crimes against humanity."

Human Rights Watch estimates that more than 12,000 suspected drug dealers and users have been killed since Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte launched his war on drugs in July 2016, although the country's authorities put this number at around 4,000. More than 30 Western countries have called on the Philippines to allow a UN probe into alleged human rights abuses.

It also condemned the election of Eritrea and Bahrain on the Council citing their governments' persecution and jailing of critics and human rights defenders and argued that "grave abuses against residents of the country's Anglophone region" have been committed in Cameroon by government security forces and armed separatists.

The US, which withdrew from the UN Human Rights Council in June describing it as "hypocritical and self-serving" as well as a "cesspoll of political bias", also criticised the latest election.

Outgoing US ambassador to the UN, Nicki Haley, said on Friday that "this lack of standards continues to undermine the organisation and demonstrates again why the United States was right to withdraw from it earlier this year."

"The United States will continue to support reforms that would make the Human Rights Council credible," she added.

What does the UN Human Rights Council work?

The body was created in 2006 to replace the UN Commission on Human Rights which was discredited by governments and aid organisations because of the presence of human rights violators.

The Council is made up of 47 UN member states which are elected for three years, with a new cohort joining every year. It meets three times a year and its aim is to promote and protect human rights around the world.

It also sends out special rapporteurs, special representatives, independent experts and working groups to examine, advise and publicly report on the human rights situation in specific countries.

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