Last week (17 October), 14 new member states were elected to the 47-member state Human Rights Council for the 2020-2022 term.
Among them were 11 states with a rating of ‘narrowed’ or worse by the Civic Space Monitor, a platform which tracks the state of civil society freedoms worldwide.
In the Latin America and Caribbean regional group, Brazil and Venezuela, respectively rated as obstructed and repressed, were elected in a three-way contest with Costa Rica, which is rated as open. We regret that states did not take the opportunity presented by Costa Rica’s late-stage candidacy to build a stronger Human Rights Council, which can only be achieved through a membership committed to cooperating with its mechanisms and upholding its aims and values.
Since the current administration of Brazil came to power in 2018, the country has seen an increase in violent rhetoric and, over the last year, a curtailment of human rights protections and undermining of Human Rights Council mechanisms. This falls far short of the behavior which any member of the Council should demonstrate, and we are particularly concerned by Brazil’s reelection given its influence in the region and beyond.
Just one month ago, a report presented at the 42nd Session of the Human Rights Council by the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights detailed serious human rights violations by the Venezuelan government, including arbitrary arrests, torture, and extrajudicial executions. Nevertheless, 105 states at the UN General Assembly states voted for Venezuela to join the Council. The election of Brazil and Venezuela by UN member states at the expense of Costa Rica’s membership severely undermines the commitments of the Human Rights Council.
Namibia (narrowed), Libya (closed), Mauritania (repressed) and Sudan (closed) won the four seats available to the Africa group. Benin also stood for election. We urge the transitional government of Sudan to take steps towards ensuring full accountability for past human rights violations, and to use this opportunity to play a more constructive role in the international community as an advocate for human rights given its strategic position in the Horn of Africa. The ongoing serious human rights violations in Libya makes it unfit for membership and we urge the Human Rights Council to make clear that membership does not preclude it from continued international scrutiny.
Armenia (obstructed) and Poland (narrowed) took the two open Eastern European Group seats, elected over the Republic of Moldova (obstructed). In the Asia-Pacific Group, Indonesia (obstructed), Japan (narrowed), Marshall Islands (open) and Republic of Korea (narrowed) won the four available seats over Iraq, which had also stood for election. We urge these new members states to use their election to the Human Rights Council as an opportunity to strengthen their commitments to human rights and civic space.
Germany (open) and the Netherlands (open) take the remaining Western European and Others Group seats, having stood unopposed.
The election of so many states with poor civic freedoms records means that civil society engagement at the Council itself is even more vital in order for people to be given a voice at the international level that is denied to them at the national level, and we urge the Human Rights Council to protect and enhance space for civil society within all multilateral institutions.
CIVICUS looks forward to working with the delegations in Geneva which share our vision, and that of our members, for universal human rights. We will continue to work with civil society in every member state to strengthen civic space on the ground, and to hold to account states which seek to repress the voices of civil society.