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New members elected to UN Human Rights Council include five human rights violators

Fourteen new members of the United Nations Human Rights Council were elected by the General Assembly on 13 May, including five countries with poor human rights records - Angola, Libya, Malaysia, Thailand and Uganda. An NGO Coalition, composed of groups including Human Rights Watch and the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), called on these five countries to take demonstrable measures to improve their human rights practises, including by responding to all outstanding requests for visits by Council-appointed human rights experts. In addition, rights groups called for a revision of the elections process.

Because members from the five UN geographical regions have started to put forward only as many candidates for the Council as there are seats allotted to each region, there is no longer a competitive vote for the seats, commented the NGO Coalition for an Effective Human Rights Council. The Council numbers 47 seats and new members will take their seats on 19 June 2010.

"The Council elections have become a pre-cooked process that strips the meaning from the membership standards established by the General Assembly," said Human Rights Watch. "States serious about the role the Council can play in promoting human rights should push for competitive slates in all regions, and should be willing to compete for a seat themselves." NGOs have had an impact in the past when the election process was competitive.

The Asia Group did have the potential for a competitive election until Iran withdrew its candidacy in April. "Iran's withdrawal showed that international pressure can improve the membership of the council," said CIHRS.

In a separate letter, Human Rights Watch called on Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak "to revoke Malaysia's long abused Internal Security Act and other preventive detention laws... (and) amend or revoke laws that violate the rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association."

Reporters Without borders (RSF) chose to target Libya, noting "it is a country that is far from being a model of respect for human rights." RSF comments, "The Human Rights Council's predecessor, the UN Commission on Human Rights, suffered a major blow to its credibility when Libya was elected as its Chair in January 2003." Libya has cracked down on media, targeting independent news websites and newspapers, as well as YouTube, after videos of demonstrations were posted.

RSF says, "Many political leaders and NGOs think that by incorporating the less democratic countries into the Human Rights Council the situation in these countries will gradually improve. The examples of China and Cuba, which have been members of the Council for years, show that this is not the case."

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