9 May 2006 The United Nations General Assembly today elected 47 members of the recently established UN Human Rights Council – a move immediately welcomed by Secretary-General Kofi Annan as an opportunity for a fresh start as the new body replaces the much criticized and now defunct Human Rights Commission.
Noting that the Council will be required to conduct a regular review of the human rights record of all countries beginning with those serving on it, Mr. Annan said through a spokesman: “This will give its members the chance to show the depth of their commitment to promote human rights both at home and abroad.”
With all countries taking part in the voting, Mr. Annan said that the high rate of participation reflected “a widely shared commitment to replace the previous Commission on Human Rights with a body that can work more effectively, and can embody human rights ideals with more credibility; and that the Council elected today offers the United Nations a unique opportunity to make a fresh start in its vital work of upholding the highest standards of human rights.”
All regions – Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Western Europe and Other states – obtained or exceeded the required 96-vote majority needed to fill their allocated number of members, except the Eastern European States, where only the Russian Federation, Poland and the Czech Republic won seats on the first ballot, while Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Romania were elected in a second round.
Speaking to reporters after the vote, General Assembly President Jan Eliasson described it as a “truly historic occasion” reflecting the will of all 191 Member States of the world body.
He also echoed Mr. Annan’s point about self-scrutiny on the Council. “I find it very important that all Member States have made pledges and commitments to human rights which they are expected to live up to, and also that they have accepted, by their membership in the Human Rights Council, to be reviewed, that their human rights record is to be reviewed,” he said.
Ghana topped the voting for the 13 African seats, which also included South Africa and Algeria, while India received the most votes for the 13 Asian seats, which also included China, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
Brazil received the most votes for the 8 Latin American and Caribbean seats, which also included Cuba and Uruguay, while Germany received the most votes for the 7 Western European and Other States region, which included France and the United Kingdom.
Mr. Eliasson said he would not comment on any individual country’s performance relating to its human rights record, instead stressing the principle that all members of the Council will have their human rights record reviewed.
“Let us remember that the three pillars of the United Nations are security, development and human rights. Without security, no development; without development, no security; but without respect for human rights, no lasting security, no lasting development.”
The United States was among only four countries that voted against setting up the Human Rights Council in a resolution in March that passed with 170 countries in favour and three abstentions, with the US saying that the new body does not go far enough in its reforms.
Despite its ‘no’ vote however, US Ambassador John Bolton has pledged that Washington will work cooperatively with other Member States to make the Council as effective as possible.
The Council will hold its first meeting in Geneva on 19 June.