Only 14 of 47 UN Human Rights Council countries are 'free'

70% of UN rights council members are non-democracies, says watchdog

UN Watch director says electing authoritarian regimes to panel ‘is like naming Al Capone’ to fight organized crime, makes it difficult for body to carry out positive work

Michael Horovitz is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel

A general view taken on November 24, 2022, shows the assembly during a special session of the UN Human Rights Council on the situation in Iran, at the United Nations in Geneva. (Valentin Flauraud/AFP)
A general view taken on November 24, 2022, shows the assembly during a special session of the UN Human Rights Council on the situation in Iran, at the United Nations in Geneva. (Valentin Flauraud/AFP)

The top United Nations human rights body started the year with a majority of its members defined as non-democratic countries and many accused of severe rights violations, drawing ire from the pro-Israel NGO UN Watch.

Only 14 members elected to the 47-member UN Human Rights Council, based in Geneva, are considered “free” countries by the rights group Freedom House, leaving 70 percent of slots occupied by nations designates as “partly free” or “not free.

“When the world elects regimes like China, Cuba, Pakistan, to its highest human rights body, that’s like naming Al Capone and his gang to fight organized crime. It’s a betrayal,” said UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer in an interview with ILTV on Thursday.

When such states are elected to the panel, “it’s very hard for the world to take it seriously, and it raises the question, how can they even implement mandates that are positive, like the inquiry created on Iran,” Neuer added, referencing a recently formed probe into unrest in the Islamic Republic sparked by the death in custody of 22-year-old Kurdish-Iranian woman Mahsa Amini.

The Human Rights Council has 47 member states, which are elected to three-year terms by the UN General Assembly through direct and secret ballots.

Neuer noted in a tweet on Sunday that countries with questionable human rights records such as Cuba, Qatar, China, Sudan, Eritrea, Algeria, Somalia, Vietnam, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, and Bangladesh are members of the council.

Hillel Neuer of UN Watch (photo credit: Michal Fattal/Flash 90)
Hillel Neuer, UN Watch executive director. (Michal Fattal/Flash90)

Israel and the US have frequently criticized the council for its obsessive focus on Israel.

Israel is the only country with a dedicated item on the council, Agenda Item 7, exclusively devoted to discussing alleged Israeli rights abuses in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

In May 2021, the panel formed a permanent Commission of Inquiry to investigate Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. A report by the commission in June blamed Israel’s “persistent discrimination against Palestinians” for violence between the two sides.

Neuer told ILTV in the interview on Thursday that it was mainly oil-rich Arab and Islamic States that initiate measures against Israel, “to deflect attention from their own records.”

Voting against Israel in the body “has become the default, and Israel needs to work hard to change it. It’s very much an uphill battle,” he said.

UN Watch was founded in 1993 and, according to its webpage, aims to combat “racism, antisemitism and anti-Israeli prejudice at the UN, taking the offensive against dictatorships and double standards.”

It is headquartered in Geneva and is a UN-accredited NGO, enabling it to participate in some debates and panels at the global body, where it has campaigned against human rights abuses around the world.

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