UNITED NATIONS (AP)–Egypt, Angola and Qatar easily won seats on the U.N. Human Rights Council Thursday despite opposition from human rights groups, but Belarus trailed and was forced into a second round of voting.
The rights groups complained that the four countries had poor rights records and did not deserve seats.
In the first round of voting, the 192-member U.N. General Assembly elected 12 of 14 new members to the 47-member council. The slates for African, Asian, and Latin American seats were uncontested, and all candidates topped the minimum 97 votes needed with large majorities.
In the African group, Madagascar received 182 votes, South Africa 175 votes, Angola 172 votes and Egypt 168 votes. In the Asian group, India received 185 votes, Indonesia 182 votes, Philippines 179 votes and Qatar 170 votes. For Latin America, Nicaragua got 179 votes and Bolivia 169 votes.
Initially, there were two candidates for two East European seats – Belarus and Slovenia – but diplomats said the U.S., Britain and France, which strongly oppose Belarus, pressed for Bosnia to enter the race as well.
In the first round of voting, Slovenia won a seat on the council with 168 votes, but Bosnia fell two votes short with 95 votes, trailed by Belarus with 78 votes, requiring a second round of voting.
There was also a contested race for two Western seats, with Denmark, Italy and the Netherlands competing to join the council.
In the first round, the Netherlands won a seat with 121 votes, but Denmark and Italy tied with 114 votes apiece, forcing a second round of voting.
The Human Rights Council was created in March 2006 to replace the discredited and highly politicized Human Rights Commission, and one aim was to keep some of the worst human rights offenders out of its membership. But it has been widely criticized in its first year for failing to change many of the commission’s practices, including putting much more emphasis on Israel than on any other country.
Last year, the council adopted eight resolutions criticizing Israel for its military actions in the Palestinian territories and Lebanon. The only other country to be criticized was Sudan. Censure by the council brings no penalties beyond international attention, but countries lobby hard to avoid scrutiny.
The Geneva-based council is composed of regional groups that give dominance to Africa and Asia, each with 13 countries. If they vote as a 26-member bloc, they have an automatic majority. Western Europe and North America together are represented by seven countries.
Before the vote, General Assembly President Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa asked members to consider the human rights records of the candidates.
Nineteen human rights groups and organizations appealed to the General Assembly on Monday not to accept Egypt because the government’s record “is full of serious human rights violations that have been practiced widely for long years.” A statement from the group alleged that Egypt condones police torture, arbitrary detention, trying civilians before military tribunals, and the rigging of elections.
Earlier this month, a report by two watchdog groups, U.N. Watch and Freedom House, said Angola, Belarus, Egypt and Qatar “are authoritarian regimes with negative U.N. voting records (on rights issues) and are not qualified to be council members.” The two groups also criticized the council for failing to criticize egregious human rights violations since it replaced the commission.
Human Rights Watch also urged the General Assembly to reject Belarus’ bid for membership, and Amnesty International and the World Federalist Movement’s Institute for Global Policy have questioned the fairness of the candidate selection process for Human Rights Council membership.