In a surprisingly quick vote, the UN General Assembly has chosen 44 of the 47 members of the new Human Rights Council, including Cuba, China, Saudi Arabia and other nations with controversial human rights records.
Voting was divided into five geographic groups with 13 seats each to Africa and Asia, 8 from Latin America and the Caribbean, 7 from Western Europe and other states and 6 from Eastern Europe.
Only three nations from the Eastern European region, the Czech Republic, Poland, and the Russian Federation, were able to garner the required 96 votes for membership. Voting will resume later in the day for the remaining members.
The United States did not run for a seat on the new Human Rights Council and voted against the resolution that set it up, objecting to the presence of nations that it says are rights abusers. The United States also sought more effective mechanisms to counter
Ken Roth, the head of the largest human rights monitoring group in the United States, Human Rights Watch, says that despite shortcomings, the new rights body is an improvement over its predecessor, the UN Human Rights Commission, particularly since some of the most notorious rights abusers, Burma, Belarus, North Korea, Sudan, and Zimbabwe, did not run for seats.
"The good news is that two of the least deserving governments were not elected: both Venezuela and Iran failed to make the cut. That is a step in the right direction. Obviously, there are a number of governments that that did get elected that we would prefer not to be there: China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Cuba. But this was almost inevitable. I think that the important step is that we have made real progress. The spoiler governments, the governments who have a history of trying to undermine the protection of human rights through their membership on the old Commission are now a significantly reduced minority on the new Council."
The remaining four members will be chosen from Azerbaijan, Hungary, Lithuania, Romania, Slovenia and Ukraine. Lots will then be drawn to determine whether members serve one, two or three year terms. The new Human Rights Council will meet in Geneva for the first time on June 19th.