Sri Lanka, which has been strongly criticized for its human rights record, lost its bid for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council, but four other countries with poor rights records won seats — Pakistan, Bahrain, Gabon and Zambia.
In a close race for two Western seats on the UN’s premier human rights body, France on Wednesday received 123 votes and Britain 120 votes — barely defeating Spain, which got 119 votes.
The hotly contested election for 15 seats on the 47-member council, whose performance has also come under attack, was the subject of intense lobbying. British Foreign Secretary David Milliband and French Human Rights Minister Rama Yade were in New York on Tuesday seeking support.
Candidates for the Geneva-based council are chosen by regional groups, and the entire 192-member General Assembly votes by secret ballot for new members by region.
In Wednesday’s election, Africa and Latin America had uncontested slates while Asia, Eastern Europe and the Western European and other States group had contested slates.
In the contest for four council seats from the Asian region, Japan, Bahrain, South Korea and Pakistan defeated Sri Lanka and East Timor. In the race for two seats in the Eastern European group, Slovakia and Ukraine defeated Serbia and the Czech Republic.
The four African candidates — Burkina Faso, Gabon, Ghana and Zambia — and the three Latin American candidates — Argentina, Brazil and Chile — all won easily since they had no formal opposition.
New York-based Freedom House, which promotes worldwide freedom, and Geneva-based UN Watch, which monitors the world body’s performance based on its Charter, evaluated the 20 candidates for the 15 council seats on their records of promoting human rights.
Their report gave negative ratings to Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bahrain, Gabon and Zambia, and “questionable” ratings to three candidates with mixed human rights records — Brazil, East Timor and Burkina Faso.
It gave “qualified” ratings to Ghana, Japan, South Korea, the Czech Republic, Serbia, Slovakia, Ukraine, Argentina, Chile, France, Spain and Britain.
The Human Rights Council was created in March 2006 to replace the UN’s widely discredited and highly politicized Human Rights Commission.
But the council has been widely criticized for failing to change many of the commission’s practices, including putting more emphasis on Israel’s rights abuses than on any other country.
The US was virtually alone in voting against the establishment of the council, arguing that the new body was only marginally better and would not prevent rights-abusing countries from membership.