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United Nations5.05.2006

Concern about candidates for new Human Rights Council as election day approaches

Reporters Without Borders voiced concern today about the list of candidates for the new, 47-member UN Human Rights Council and the impact they could have on its credibility. The elections are to take place on 9 May.

“Cuba, China, Iran, Russia, Tunisia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia... these are countries that violate freedom of expression and human rights on a massive scale and yet they are all candidates,” Reporters Without Borders said.

“If they are elected, the council will be discredited from the outset,” the organisation warned. “After pushing so hard for the former Human Rights Commission’s reform, Kofi Annan must remind UN member states they are supposed to take a close look at the human rights situation in the candidate countries before voting.”

Reporters Without Borders added: “Thanks to the regional quota system, countries such as Algeria, Nigeria and Tunisia are also certain to be elected, yet the rights of journalists are regularly flouted in these three countries. You would think all the debates we have heard in recent months had been to no avail. No lessons seem to have learned from the unfortunate experiences of the past.”

According to the UN General Assembly resolution that decided how the Human Rights Council will work, 13 seats are reserved for African countries. But so far only 14 African countries have said they are candidates. So all but one are bound to be elected if no other country from the region announces its candidacy between now and 9 May.

Some of the world’s leading press freedom predators are among the 65 countries that have so far declared themselves to be candidates. China and Cuba are the world’s two biggest prisons for the press. Censorship is still the rule in Iran and Saudi Arabia, and journalists risk severe punishment if they dare to touch on subjects that have been declared off-limits. In Russia, the Kremlin continues to take over the leading news media, starting with the TV stations. Journalists are the victims of violence almost every day in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Finally, the murders of two journalists last year in Azerbaijan continue to go unpunished.