Four of five regional groups run 'closed slates' in Human Rights Council elections


On 12 November 2012, the General Assembly elected 18 members to the Human Rights Council (Council). The new members will take up their seats on the 47-member body on 1 January 2013. They are (by region):


On 12 November 2012, the General Assembly elected 18 members to the Human Rights Council (Council). The new members will take up their seats on the 47-member body on 1 January 2013. They are (by region):

  • Africa: Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Gabon, Kenya, Sierra Leone [1]
  • Asia: Japan, Kazakhstan, Republic of Korea, Pakistan, United Arab Emirates [2]
  • Eastern Europe: Estonia, Montenegro [3]
  • Latin America and Caribbean: Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela [4]
  • Western Europe and Others: USA, Germany, Ireland [5]

Only the Western Europe and Others group ran an open slate, that is, they presented more candidates than there were vacant seats available. Five candidates competed for three seats. The USA, Germany and Ireland defeated Greece and Sweden.

Four of the five geographic regions that are allocated seats on the council (African group, Asian group, Eastern European group, and Latin America and Caribbean group) ran ‘closed slates’, where the number of candidates matched the number of available seats. Running closed slates continues to be criticized by human rights NGOs since it can all but guarantee victories for the candidates, regardless of their human rights records. The lack of competition not only opens the Council’s door to ‘abuser’ States, but it also goes against the spirit and the letter of the resolution that established the Council.  Resolution 60/251 requires not only that members of the Council uphold the ‘highest standards’ of human rights and 'fully cooperate' with the Council, but also that members of the General Assembly consider the voluntary pledges States submit with their candidacy to show how they will improve the promotion and protection of human rights domestically and internationally.

Due to the practice of running closed or so-called 'clean' slates, this year saw the possibility of a particularly shameful spectacle for the UN. Sudan, a country whose head of State has been indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court, came close to winning a seat on the Council. Sudan was originally one of five candidates for five seats in the closed African slate. The slate was rearranged ten weeks before the election, after a campaign by human rights organizations and States culminated in a decision by Kenya to contest the Sudanese nomination. This led Sudan to drop its bid and the African group to present another closed slate with Kenya instead of Sudan as the fifth candidate alongside Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Gabon, and Sierra Leone. Unfortunately similar efforts to dissuade the African group from including Ethiopia in a closed slate were not successful.

Unfortunately proposals made by human rights NGOs and like-minded governments during the review of the Human Rights Council in 2011 to prohibit ‘closed slates’, and to establish a public ‘pledge review’ mechanism to improve Council members’ accountability for fulfilling pledges and the standards in Resolution 60/251 were not successful. Though the proposals only reflected an attempt to operationalize the commitments in Resolution 60/251, and not to add any new elements, detractors refused to consider including them during the review.  The result of their intransigence has led to business as usual in the Council elections, with vote-trading and uncontested slates the norm.

A backdrop to this year’s elections is the ongoing work of the Third Committee of the General Assembly, responsible for humanitarian and human rights issues, which takes place in New York from early October through the end of November. Before the Human Rights Council Review in 2011, the elections were held in May. One of the consequences of the change to November elections is that the campaigns are run and the elections held while a number of divisive issues are being considered by the Third Committee. States and NGOs have questioned what effect this has had on Third Committee negotiations and on the elections, particularly given the reality of vote trading at the UN.

[1] The votes were: Gabon (187), Cote d’Ivoire (183), Sierra Leone (182), Kenya (180), and Ethiopia (178). Three States that did not run also received votes: Sudan (4), Tanzania (1), and Rwanda (1).

[2] The votes were: United Arab Emirates (184), Kazakhstan (183), Japan (182), Korea (176), Pakistan (171)

[3] The votes were: Estonia (184), Montenegro (182)

[4] The votes were: Brazil (184), Argentina (176), and Venezuela (154). Two States that did not run also received votes: Bolivia (2), Panama (1).

[5] The votes were: USA (131), Germany (127), Ireland (124), Greece (78) and Sweden (75)