Human Rights Council elections | Competition and principled voting are key


Competitive slates and the willingness of States to vote with a mind to the human rights records of the candidates, are both crucial to upholding membership standards in the Human Rights Council. The results of the vote for the Eastern European slate give an indication of what is possible.

(New York) On Friday the UN General Assembly did not re-elect Russia to the Human Rights Council, instead choosing Croatia and Hungary for the two available spots on the Eastern Europe slate. For the Latin America and Caribbean Countries grouping (GRULAC) grouping, Brazil and Cuba were elected over Guatemala. All other regions put forward closed slates.

‘In a process that rarely throws up surprises – in part because of the lack of competition in some regions – this is a remarkable outcome,’ said ISHR’s Eleanor Openshaw. 'This is evidence that competitive slates work. The UN General Assembly members were given a choice with the Eastern European candidates and voted Croatia and Hungary in over Russia.’

The UN General Assembly conducted a secret ballot for 14 seats on the Human Rights Council in a process led by the new President of the UNGA, Fiji’s Mr Peter Thomson. The vote count – initially scheduled for 45 minutes - took considerably longer, with the close votes on the Eastern European slate providing the likely reason. 

For the Western European and Others Group (WEOG) region, the US and UK were elected unopposed. In Asia Pacific, both China and Saudi Arabia were elected, along with Iraq and Japan. The newly elected African members are Egypt, Rwanda, South Africa and Tunisia.

Members of the Council serve three-year terms and are not able to stand for immediate re-election after two consecutive terms.

There have been NGO calls to reject the candidacies of Russia and Saudi Arabia in the last weeks. The former have focused primarily on Russia’s record in regard the conflict in Syria. The latter, by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, focused primarily on unlawful attacks by the military coalition Saudi Arabia leads in Yemen. 

‘The integrity and credibility of the Human Rights Council relies on its members' commitment to work to the highest standards of the respect of human rights. This should inform who States vote for,’ said ISHR's Fabiana Pardi. ‘New and current members must also be held to account in accordance with their pledges.’

The continued membership of other States on the Council have also been under focus recently. Burundi has refused to cooperate with the Human Rights Council and  gross and systematic human rights violations continue in the country according to the United Nations Independent Investigation on Burundi (UNIIB).

‘In the case of Burundi, ISHR is calling on UN Member States to recommend Burundi’s suspension from the Council if they fail to fully cooperate with the recently established Commission of Inquiry,’ said Ms Pardi. ‘The integrity of the Council is being severely undermined by Burundi’s actions.’

‘We must continue to demand that existing members of the Council are held to account for their human rights and cooperation records, and are thrown out when they fail to meet the standards the General Assembly has established,’ said Ms Openshaw. 


Voting record for Human Rights Council Elections: 

GRULAC:  Cuba, 160;  Brazil, 137;  Guatemala, 82.

Eastern Europe:  Hungary, 144;  Croatia, 114;  Russia, 112.

Asia – Pacific:  China, 180;  Japan, 177; Iraq, 173; Saudi Arabia, 152.

Africa:  Tunisia, 189; South Africa, 178;   Rwanda, 176;  Egypt, 173.

WEOG:  USA, 175;   UK, 173.



  • United Nations
  • UN General Assembly
  • UN Human Rights Council