Rights champions hoped for a new beginning at the UN yesterday as the world body prepared to elect 47 nations to its new Human Rights Council, even if some of the worst abusers end up winning seats.
"This is a great opportunity to make a fresh start," UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said, cautioning, however, that UN members should vote carefully because the council's first members would have a heavy responsibility in setting up the way the new rights body works.
Kenneth Roth, executive director of New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), predicted the council would be "significantly better" than the commission -- which was shut down in March -- due to more stringent voting requirements and a peer review process that had discouraged some of the worst rights abusers from even running.
From among the 64 announced candidates, HRW called on states to reject Azerbaijan, China, Cuba, Iran, Pakistan, Russia and Saudi Arabia, saying their human-rights records made them unworthy of membership.
But Roth predicted China, Cuba and Russia would win seats anyway, due to their popularity among UN colleagues.
"Inevitably, there will be some governments on the new council who shouldn't be there," he said.
"We are looking at a very different selection pool than we traditionally did for the commission, and that's a big step forward," Roth said.
He said the best indicator of how different the list of candidates is is the number of recent commission members "who have not even dared to seek membership on the new council," including Sudan, Zimbabwe, Libya and Vietnam.