The United Nations approved, late Friday, the election of a new set of representatives to serve three-year terms at the Human Rights Council.
Eighteen countries in the world were selected and among them are five African countries, whose selection has caused criticism from many quarters. Other countries have been maintained and many others have left because they served the two terms.
The UN Human Rights Council is a forum where human rights issues are discussed. It was therefore a surprise that Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Eritrea, Somalia and Togo were voted in as the new African representatives.
All these countries have been accused of human rights violations, and many people have wondered why they got into the council in the first place.
Eritrea’s record has come under criticism at the United Nations for various reasons. The country has in place a compulsory and indefinite military service that has been said to be abusive. It has also been criticised for its lack of freedom of speech, expression and association.
Cameroon has recently come under scrutiny over the English-speaking region crisis and recent elections. The Anglophone region has seen months of brutal attacks against ordinary people and security forces, a situation Amnesty International calls ‘increasingly desperate with no one spared from the violence which is spiralling out of control.” The human rights group states that the situation is set to become worse if the government does not act fast to restore peace in the area.
For Somalia, civilian deaths and arrests have also been brought into question. The presence of al Shabaab has also increased the human rights abuses, which include sexual and gender based violence. Somalia has also been listed among the countries with restrictive laws against freedom of expression.
Togo has seen arbitrary arrest of and excessive use of force on civilians, who are protesting against one of Africa’s longest serving presidents, Faure Gnassingbé. Since August last year, the opposition and civilians have also been restricted from enjoying their fundamental rights due to these protests.
Burkina Faso has also been criticised for excesses by the army in dealing with militants in the country. Human Rights Watch documented execution-style killings and abuses by the army and militants since 2016. There have also been cases of arbitrary detainment and slow pace of investigation into the violence.
While many are questioning why these African countries with poor human rights records are in the Council, the Council has responded, saying:
[As] it is understood that the Council can only be as effective as its Member States, the election process was placed directly in the hands of the General Assembly, the only UN organ where every one of the 193 countries has equal voting weight.
In addition, the geographical group divisions and seat allocations are meant to prevent disproportionate focus on just a handful of regions and countries, and ensure that every country has a chance of fair consideration.
Finally, during the elections for each regional group, the General Assembly allows extra blank slates: this should theoretically ensure there are more candidates than available seats, enabling a competitive process. However, if – as was the case this year with 18 candidacies for 18 available seats – no extra countries apply, then no competition occurs, and whichever Member State applies, is likely to get elected.
It would be interesting to see what these African countries will do during their tenure.