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Groups urge competitive elections to UN Human Rights Council

[JURIST] An international coalition of human rights advocates have urged [letter text] UN member nations to support a "competitive, genuinely-contested and principled electoral process" for future seats on the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official website]. In a letter sent Thursday to members of the General Assembly, 74 human rights groups including Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International (AI) and the Carter Center criticized the 2009 UNHRC elections [JURIST report], saying that they were marred by "lack of candidates and competition; endorsed regional slates; late, absent or insubstantial pledges and commitments; and widespread vote trading." In an effort to honor Resolution 60/251 [text, PDF], which established the council, member nations were urged to consider candidacies individually, not as part of a regional bloc, to evaluate candidates based on human rights records rather than political and economic concerns, to eschew vote-trading, and to require human rights pledges from candidates 30 days prior to elections. The UNHRC is scheduled to hold its 12th session [council materials] in September, the first such meeting for members elected in 2009.

HRW and other advocacy groups had expressed similar concerns [press release] about the electoral process following the elections in May. The groups criticized the election of Russia, China, Cuba, and Saudi Arabia to the UNHRC, among others. In April, the US State Department [official website] released [press release; JURIST report] its commitments and pledges to human rights in anticipation of May election. The US announced its intent to seek a seat on the council [JURIST report] in early April, hoping to affect more change by working from inside the council than by boycotting the effort. The UNHRC was created [JURIST report] in 2006 to replace the much-criticized Committee on Human Rights, at which time the Bush administration declined to seek a Council seat or participate in its proceedings due to a perceived anti-Israeli sentiment by the UNHRC.

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