Press Conference on Human Rights Council Election

12 May 2009

Press Conference on Human Rights Council Election

12 May 2009
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York



The 18 newly elected members of the Human Rights Council would need to prove themselves by implementing the international human rights agenda at home and abroad, Craig Mokhiber, Deputy Director of the New York Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said during a Headquarters news conference this afternoon.

Elected by the United Nations General Assembly this morning to three-year terms, the new members, including the United States -- a former critic of the international body, which was elected for the first time -- had not been ushered into “a club of the virtuous”, Mr. Mokhiber said.  (See Press Release GA/10826.)

“We would like to get away from the idea that there are good guys and bad guys.  Today, there were 18 human rights violators elected to the Human Rights Council”, he said, stressing that all 192 United Nations Member States had serious human rights problems.

Upon joining the 47-member Council, however, countries were more closely scrutinized by their peers and held to account for human rights abuses, he said.  Non-members did not escape the spotlight either, thanks to the new Universal Periodic Review, which assesses the human rights record of all the Organization’s Members.

“The strength of the Human Rights Council is that it has a number of innovations that actually force Member States to put their human rights money where their mouth is”, Mr. Mokhiber said.

By 15 May, the Council’s Universal Periodic Review will have scrutinized 80 countries using three public reports:  a Government document; a stakeholder report with input from non-governmental organizations and independent human rights commissions; and an OHCHR report, culled from testimony during three-hour hearings with special human rights treaty bodies, as well as special human rights procedures and mechanisms.  All those reports would be posted on the United Nations website.

The new Council members, elected by secret ballot, include:  five African countries (Cameroon, Djibouti, Mauritius, Nigeria and Senegal); four Asian States (Bangladesh, China, Jordan, Kyrgyzstan and Saudi Arabia); two Eastern European countries (Hungary and Russian Federation); three Latin American and Caribbean countries (Cuba, Mexico and Uruguay); and three Western European and Other States (Belgium, Norway and the United States) for three-year terms.

 During the press conference, Mr. Mokhiber refuted a correspondent’s claim that there was a “revolving door” of executives of human rights groups becoming Council members and vice versa.  Rather, their relationship was one of constructive critical engagement.  Representatives of non-governmental organizations, particularly national organizations, were increasingly involved in the Council’s work.  That was a good trend, since most human rights action took place on the ground.  At the same time, several non-human rights groups and anti-human rights entities, such as “chauvinistic lobbies”, were working to thwart the Council’s criticism of various Member States.

He said that, when the Council was set up three years ago, many people feared the best aspects of its predecessor, the Human Rights Commission, such as the independent special procedures and the broad participation of human rights groups, would decline.  But, that had not happened, thanks largely to the scrutiny of human rights groups.

Concerning plans to give the Council greater powers, such as the ability to impose sanctions on human rights violators, Mr. Mokhiber refuted criticism that the Council was powerless.  No country liked to be criticized by it, and it had the ability to morally persuade and politically exposure and pressure nations.  While countries were not easily shamed, they were concerned about theirstanding in international affairs, trade organizations and how they were viewed by potential trade and commercial partners.  The fact that Governments mobilized enormous political and economic resources to refute the Council’s criticisms was proof that the Council, indeed, had some form of power.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.