HRC Elections 2023: States pledge to keep Council relevant, inclusive and able to respond to crises

States running for the UN Human Rights Council responded to questions from civil society on their human rights records as they outlined their vision for strengthening the global human rights system during ISHR and Amnesty International’s annual pledging event.

Update (13 September): all questions to candidate States – both those present at the pledging event and those who declined or did not respond to the invitation – can be found here.

On 6 September, State candidates to the Human Rights Council joined an online event during which they were asked to outline their commitments and plans should they be elected.

Of 17 candidates, 11 were represented at the event: Côte d’Ivoire, Malawi, Ghana, Japan, Indonesia, Brazil, Peru, France, the Netherlands, Albania and Bulgaria. Six candidates declined or did not reply to the invitation: Burundi, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Russia, Kuwait and China.

Enhancing cooperation and supporting vulnerable groups

Brazil’s representative vowed to act in support of LGBTQ+ persons and groups and to preserve the Council’s ‘hard-fought achievements’ and ensure it can remain ‘​​relevant, representative and capable of bringing solutions’.

Bulgaria’s representative spoke of promoting the participation of civil society in the body, which she described as vital to raise awareness of and monitor emerging human rights issues, as well as ensuring the implementation of agreed-upon standards.

The representative for Côte d’Ivoire stressed his government’s willingness to ratify and implement international covenants, as well as recent efforts to ensure the independence of the judiciary as a clear testament to their commitment to upholding rights.

France’s ambassador at large for human rights pledged her country’s continued membership of the Council would serve to work towards the universal decriminalisation of homosexuality, the abolition of the death penalty, and the implementation of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

Ghana’s permanent representative to the UN in Geneva pledged to strengthen policies for the advancement of women and for the protection of the welfare of children, while vowing to maintain a high level of cooperation with the UN human rights system through a standing invitation to UN Special Procedures and a close cooperation with Treaty Bodies.

Speaking for Indonesia, the country’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva spoke of strengthening countries’ capacity to uphold human rights, through technical cooperation. He also promised to improve dialogue between States and fight ‘divisiveness’ and encourage a ‘robust’ implementation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Outlining his country’s priorities, the Minister for Japan’s Permanent Mission to the UN in Geneva pledged to advance women and children’s rights and highlighted his country’s intention to work closely with civil society.

Malawi’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN stated his country’s commitment to enhancing cooperation with Special Procedures through a standing invitation, to bolster its engagement with the Treaty Bodies and to continue reviewing national legislation where necessary, particularly to address discrimination against women.

The Netherlands’ human rights ambassador said his government’s priority as a member would lie in fighting for accountability for the perpetrators of violations, also stating its intention to foster ‘inclusive dialogue’ both between States and with civil society.

Peru’s vice-minister for justice committed to promoting multilateralism, to strengthening the Council through cooperation with all its bodies, and to fighting all forms of discrimination, particularly against women.

Expectations from civil society:

Participating States fielded questions on their human rights records and national legislation from individual defenders and civil society organisations from all regions. States who declined to participate also had questions read out in their absence. 

Peru responded to questions on its plans to address discrimination against Peruvians of African descent and on the excessive use of force by its law enforcement agencies during recent protests movements. The vice-minister for justice cited existing legislation and mechanisms, saying Peru had a ‘comprehensive approach to tackling racism’ as well as a policy to ensure law enforcement interventions are ‘done with a human rights focus’, though conceding that ‘all legal frameworks can be improved’. 

In response to a question on forced relocation of asylum seekers, including many children, into the refugee camp of Dzaleka, Malawi’s representative reaffirmed his country’s commitment to hosting refugees. He insisted all efforts were being made to ensure the rights of all asylum seekers, in particular children, were respected, though added that the Dzaleka camp is ‘not suitable’ for the number of people it is hosting and that authorities intend to close it and relocate its residents elsewhere.

France’s representative responded to questions on her country’s apparent unwillingness to accept a visit from UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly and of association Clément Voule, and on its plans to address systemic racism and discriminatory practices by its national law enforcement agencies. She responded to the former by reiterating that France has addressed a standing invitation to Special Procedures, while stressing that deontological codes are meant to address instances of ‘profiling’ by law enforcement.

Responding to a question on recommendations made at Brazil’s Universal Periodic Review regarding sexual and reproductive health rights, the Brazilian representative reiterated his country’s position that ‘safe and legal abortion’ only refers to the three cases allowed for in their national legislation: ‘spontaneous’ abortions, cases where the pregnancy puts the life of the mother at risk, or when the pregnancy is the result of violence.

Indonesia received questions on a possible visit to West Papua by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and its plans for the safety of defenders working on issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI). The Indonesian representative said an invitation had been extended to former High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein (2014 – 2018), but that he had delegated this task to his regional office. Regarding SOGI, the representative said this term had ‘no legal foundation’ and had ‘never been recognised’.

Ghana was asked about a stringently anti-LGBT bill that has been debated in the country since 2021. Their representative said the Ghanaian parliament was considering submissions by human rights activists, bar associations and other stakeholders to ensure the bill ‘complies with fundamental human rights and freedoms guaranteed under the country’s 1992 constitution’.

Bulgaria was asked how it intended to tackle migration while ensuring the rights and dignity of migrants and asylum seekers were respected. Their representative stressed that Bulgarian authorities only granted asylum when ‘all requirements for international protection are fulfilled’ and that authorities were seeking ‘lasting solutions’ to the ‘challenges’ posed by migration.

Questions for States that did not attend:

In a bid for transparency and equality, the six candidates that did not join the event also received questions with an open invitation to respond. These included the following:

  • To Burundi: what do you intend to do to guarantee the rights of human rights defenders and improve civic space?
  • To China: last year OHCHR issued a report concluding that practices in Xinjiang may constitute ‘crimes against humanity’. A State committing crimes against humanity should not be elected to the Council. Will China agree to a discussion of the report by the Council and commit to implement recommendations in the OHCHR report and the report by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination?
  • To Cuba: what concrete measures have you taken to promote respect for freedom of expression and the right to peaceful protest without discrimination on the basis of political opinion?
  • To the Dominican Republic: what measures are you contemplating to significantly improve the quality of life and working conditions of Haitians and people of Haitian descent who work in sugar cane fields? What actions will you promote in this area through the Council?
  • To Kuwait: peaceful protesters on- and offline continue to be arbitrarily arrested in Kuwait. What steps are you going to take to ensure the release of all those arbitrarily detained and ensure non-repetition?
  • To Russia: In 2022, the General assembly cited Russian ‘gross and systematic violations’ of human rights and international humanitarian law when it voted to suspend Russia from the Council’s membership.With more atrocities documented in the year since that vote, why should the General Assembly be asked to reconsider your membership?

At the time of writing, these are the 17 candidates seeking election:

  • African States: Côte d’Ivoire, Burundi, Malawi, Ghana (4 candidates, 4 seats)
  • Asia and the Pacific States: Kuwait, China, Indonesia, Japan (4 candidates for 4 seats)
  • Latin America and Caribbean States: Brazil, Peru, Dominican Republic, Cuba (4 candidates, 3 seats)
  • Western Europe and other States: The Netherlands and France (2 candidates, 2 seats)
  • Central and Eastern Europe States: Albania, Bulgaria and Russia (3 candidates, 2 seats)

Council members will be selected by a vote at the UN General Assembly on 10 October. ISHR has published a series of scorecards for each candidate State, analysing their records of cooperation with human rights bodies, support for civil society and engagement with UN Treaty Bodies and Special Procedures, among others.

Though no candidate can boast a perfect record, ISHR believes three States running this year are manifestly unfit to sit on the Council by any objective criteria: China, Russia and Burundi. We urge States to use their vote to strengthen the Council and its mandate to uphold the highest standards of protection for human rights globally and call on them to not vote for these three candidates.

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