(New York) – Ahead of elections to the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) this fall, Amnesty International and the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) hosted a Q and A at UN headquarters in New York with candidate States.
The event, which was held for the fifth year in a row, has become an established feature of the annual election process for candidates to the HRC.
Brazil, Croatia, Guatemala, Hungary, Iraq, Japan, Tunisia, the United Kingdom and the United States used the event to elaborate on the pledges they have made in connection with their candidacies, and were questioned on how they would work as members to address human rights violations and to strengthen the work of the Council.
Disappointingly, eight candidates – China, Cuba, Egypt, Malaysia, Russia, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, South Africa – either did not respond to the invitation, or declined, to participate.
The moderator of the event, Mr. Ivan Simonovic, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, drew a parallel between the event and the selection process for the new Secretary-General, noting that the annual discussion with HRC candidates had paved the way to a more transparent and open approach in which States and civil society have for the first time been able to engage with candidates for the post.
‘This event provides a crucial opportunity for States to present their credentials as candidates to the Human Rights Council’ said Richard Bennett, Head of Amnesty International’s UN Office in New York. ‘It also provides a useful moment for reflection by candidates and the audience on what membership on the Council means in terms of protecting and promoting rights at home and at UN level.’
Regrettably, two of the five regional groups are running ‘closed slates’ this year, where the number of candidates matches the number of available seats. ‘Running closed slates all but guarantees victories for the candidates, regardless of their human rights records, thus potentially opening the Council’s door to membership by “abuser” States,’ said Madeleine Sinclair, Co-Director of ISHR’s New York office.
The audience in the room and those following the debate on the UN webcast, which included member States and civil society representatives, raised questions on diverse topics.
Questions about the situation of migrants; discrimination and violence on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity; restrictions on civil society space, free expression and assembly; human rights violations in the context of violent extremism; racism; sexual and reproductive rights; violence against women; the rights of persons with disabilities; and the responsibility to protect, were all put to the candidates.
Questions were also raised on issues such as cooperation with the UN human rights system, the financing of the international human rights system, and States’ plans to ratify core human rights treaties.
Among the responses,
- Brazil pledged to promote the participation of civil society at the UN, including by running for a seat on the Committee on NGOs for 2019;
- Croatia said it was drafting a new national policy for gender equality, reflecting recommendations from the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW);
- Guatemala said it will continue working on labor and education issues to empower women and girls and on ending sexual violence in conflict
- Hungary reaffirmed its commitment to efforts to prevent & address reprisals;
- Iraq said that if elected it would bring a unique perspective to HRC, in particular regarding extremism and the refugee crisis;
- Japan said it would continue to promote a culture of dialogue within the HRC;
- Tunisia said its priorities at the HRC would be freedom of expression online, the protection of journalists, civil society space, human rights defenders, reprisals, and peaceful assembly.
- The UK pledged to defend civil society space and continue to champion the role of NGOs at the HRC; and
- The USA said it would like to further develop atrocity prevention through the HRC.
‘We were very pleased to see hear a number of States affirm the important role of NGOs in the HRC’s work, and pledge to defend civil society space’, said Ms Sinclair.
This year saw the greatest number, and a majority, of States participating. ‘It is really positive to see greater and greater engagement from year to year in the event, given that it is voluntary. Some States may have taken note that all those who participated last year were ultimately elected, said Mr Bennett.
‘We encourage all State candidates to see this as an opportunity in the future to demonstrate the kind of transparency and accountability that is expected of all Council members,’ said Ms Sinclair.
Amnesty International: Richard Bennett, [email protected]
International Service for Human Rights: Madeleine Sinclair, [email protected]