Update: 19.05.2010

Switzerland to rejoin the UN Human Rights Council

On 13 May 2010, the UN General Assembly elected Switzerland as a member of the Human Rights Council for the 2010-2013 term with acomfortable number of 175 votes. Along with Switzerland 13 other new members, amongst them countries like Spain, Poland, Malaysia and Thailand, were also chosen to join the body. In spite of intense protests by international human rights organisations prior to the election Lybia was chosen, too.

In an interview with Swissinfo Jürg Laube stated that Switzerland will, amongst other, focus on the right of Special Rapporteurs to work independently. In the recent past, unfortunately, there have been repeated diplomatic initiatives to restrict the autonomy of the Special Rapporteurs and the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights.

Libya: Return to compliance with existing election procedures instead of exclusion

In Switzerland as well as abroad the election of Libya to the Human Rights Council has caused widespread outrage as this is contrary to the credibility of the institution. What is particularly unfortunate about the decision is that here in Switzerland it provides arguments to the parties on the right of the political spectrum and strenghtens the position of anyone categorically critical of the UN. Influential members of the Swiss People's Party are already calling for an immediate withdrawal from the Council.

In order to put countries like Libya under increased pressure to respect human rights, for a lot of critics a categorical expulsion from the Human Rights Council would be extremely counterproductive. What would be much more important for states like Switerland is to insist on returning to the standard election procedure to ensure that the candidates live up to the highest human rights standards.

Fixed game

In the past few years there has always been a choice of competing candidates within a group of countries which had to undergo several rounds of voting in the UN Genreral Assembly prior to getting elected. Such a competitive procedure, from a human rights point of view, has always been an enormous advantage. For this reason it is regrettable that this year within the five groups of countries there was no competition since all groups just presented but as many candidates as there were seats.

Cultural relativism as an excuse

When asked for his opinion on the nomination of Libya the experienced Algerian ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Idriss Jazaïry was quoted in an interview by the Swiss newspaper «Der Bund» as having said that «the rotation principle is central to the composition of the Human Rights Council. Each country has the right to stand for a seat. Should we tell the Libyans that their seat in the Human Rights Council is less deserved than any other state of their group?». He went on to say that the inclusion of states like Libya or Kuba did not interfere with the reputation of the Human Rights Council. «With regard to human rights everybody has a different view. This is based on the region and the culture in which one lives. The interesting aspect of a multilateral system is its ability to find common aims regardless of the cultural background and different values» (cf. «Der Bund», 12 May 2010, page 2). Once again, cultural relativism serves a cheap excuse to conceal the true aim which is political prevalence. It would be a severe blow to the Human Rights Council should this argument turn into a standard.

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