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Vague and Procedural Commitments: Asian States Failed to Make the UN Human Rights Council Elections Meaningful

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(20 May 2011, Geneva/Bangkok) – The United Nations General Assembly today elected 15 new member States to the Human Rights Council (Council), a 47-member intergovernmental body mandated to promote universal respect for the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms. Seats to the Council are allotted by regional groupings, and today’s election saw the inclusion of 4 new Asian members to the Council, namely India (181 votes), Indonesia (184 votes), the Philippines (183 votes) and Kuwait (166 votes). Kuwait was the last-minute candidate State, replacing Syria which had deferred its bid for a seat amidst its deplorable human rights record as protesters in the country continue to face severe and violent repression.

“We are deeply dismayed at the conduct of the group of Asian States, who again put forward only as many candidates as there were vacancies through the practice of endorsement within the regional group. This tendency of seeking “clean slates” deprives the opportunity for the General Assembly to select members to the Council based on their human rights performances as well as the quality of their voluntary pledges and commitments”, expressed Mr. Yap Swee Seng, Executive Director of the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA). “While we welcome Syria’s move not to assert its bid at this year’s election, we regret that Kuwait’s hasty candidacy was presented in the same manner based on the pre-determined agreement within the group of  Asian States”, he added.

Voluntary pledges and commitments made by candidate States are expected to be measurable and time-bound with concrete action points for implementation. It is also imperative that the pledges are based on open and inclusive consultation with all stakeholders in the country and involve streamlining the recommendations from UN human rights mechanisms, including Treaty Bodies, Special Procedures and the Universal Periodic Review. “It is disappointing that the pledges and commitments presented by India, Indonesia and the Philippines fall short of being an effective tool to gauge their qualification for membership to the Council as they continue to be vague and devoid of any concrete assurance which reduces them to simply a procedural exercise”, said Ms. Poengky Indarti, Executive Director of the Indonesian Human Rights Monitor (IMPARSIAL). “Indonesia’s commitment to promote interfaith cooperation at the international and multilateral levels is positive, however the same initiatives must be prioritised at home as well by building on the calls of affected constituencies in the country”, she continued.

In addition, the pledges made by the three Asian States have raised more questions rather than provide clarity on their commitments. “India has expressed its commitment to ratify the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). However, uncertainty remains whether the Government of India will render its full support and ensure that the Prevention of Torture Bill 2010, as amended by the Select Committee of the Upper House, is passed by both Houses of Parliament at the earliest. Failing which, India’s commitment towards the ratification of the CAT would become questionable”, said Ms. Vrinda Grover, representative of the Working Group on Human Rights in India and the UN (WGHR).

“The membership election was one of the Council’s landmark features when it was established in 2006. The clean slates practice must end immediately so that States may stand for election and compete on their serious and demonstrable contributions and pledges in upholding the highest human rights standards and fully cooperating with the Council. To this end, certain measures must be put in place for the Council to meet the membership standards set out in General Assembly resolution 60/251, for instance, annual assessment of the level of cooperation by member and candidate States with the Council and its sub-organs.”, urged Mr. Emmanuel Amistad, Executive Director of the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP). (ENDS)


For further information or media interviews, please contact:

In Bangkok, Yap Swee Seng, FORUM-ASIA, +66 81 868 9178, [email protected]

In Geneva, Giyoun Kim, FORUM-ASIA, +41 79 595 7931, [email protected]

Notes to editors:

  • Member States of the UN Human Rights Council (Council) are elected directly and individually by secret ballot by the majority of the members of the UN General Assembly (GA). The 47 seats to the Council are distributed as follows among regional groups: Asian States (13); African States (13); Latin American and Caribbean States (8); Eastern European States (6); and Western European and other States (7). The members of the Council serve for a period of three years and shall not be eligible for immediate re-election after two consecutive terms.

  • The elections of members to the Council take place every year in May. Four for out of the six elections since 2006, Asian States have attempted to put forward “clean slates”. The elections for 15 new members to the Council for 2011-2014 took place in New York today on 20 May 2011 at 10 a.m. EST. With today’s election results, Asian member States sitting in the Council from 19 June 2011 are Bangladesh, China, Jordan, India, Indonesia, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Malaysia, the Maldives, the Philippines, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Thailand.

  • · When electing members of the Council, the GA shall take into account the contribution of candidates to the promotion and protection of human rights and their voluntary pledges and commitments made thereto. The pledges and commitments made by Asian candidate States are available at: