Okeil: The Human Rights Council is facing political balances and politicization of some issues
Mennatallah Bakr: Since its establishment in 2006, no Arab country has ever assumed the presidency of the Human Rights Council
issued Maat for Peace, Development and Human Rights (Egypt) a new report entitled"Fiji ... The first Pacific island nation to win the presidency of the United Nations Human Rights Council."The report addressed the attitudes of the three countries that ran for the Human Rights Council's presidency (Fiji - Uzbekistan - Bahrain) to the council’s mechanisms, whether contractual and non-contractual committees, the universal periodic review mechanism, and the special procedures. Besides, it determined the extent of the countries' cooperation with the Human Rights Council and their attitudes towards the implementation of the voluntary pledges they made since they obtained membership in the council.
The report showed that on January 15, 2021, Fiji became the first Pacific island nation to win the presidency of the United Nations Human Rights Council, beating Bahrain and Uzbekistan in a secret ballot that resolved a tense deadlock over the selection. The vote was called after an impasse that meant the Council, the only intergovernmental global body to promote and protect human rights worldwide, began meetings this week leaderless for the first time in its 15-year history. The presidency rotates geographically with each region typically making a selection by consensus but members of the Asia Pacific group could not agree, forcing the first-ever secret ballot in the Council. Fiji’s Nazahat Shameen Khan, a British-educated former High Court judge, won with 29 votes versus 14 for Bahrain and 4 for Uzbekistan. Delegates voted one-by-one due to the COVID-19 measures.
The report indicated that since the establishment of the Human Rights Council in 2006, the elected president used to be unanimously chosen by the members of the regional group alternating for the presidency. Since its establishment, 15 presidents have assumed the presidency of the HRC, but for the first time, 2021 witnessed competition among three members of the regional group of countries of Asia and the Pacific (the State of Fiji - the State of Bahrain - the State of Uzbekistan). The competition for the presidency was among “the first Arab country running for the presidency of the Human Rights Council, the first country from the Pacific running for the same position and a new member state to the Human Rights Council. This unprecedented situation, coupled with the global health crisis imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic, has suspended the election of the presidency and paved the way for the introduction of new procedures concerning the presidential elections such as the direct secret ballot. The report added that the decision to resort to elections by direct secret ballot was not an easy one, and the Council had to hold several organizational sessions to discuss the taken decision and the adopted procedures.
Having monitored and analyzed the attitudes of the three countries competing for the presidency of the HRC towards the cooperation with the UN mechanisms for the protection of human rights and the extent of their commitment to implement their obligations established under international conventions and treaties, the report concluded that there is a lack of cooperation with the UN mechanisms, and asserted that running for the presidency of the HRC imposes upon states the responsibility for a rapid transition towards improving the human rights situation, respecting international charters and legitimacy, as well as fulfilling the commitments and pledges they make.
For his part, Ayman Okeil, President of Maat, said that the Human Rights Council is the internationally responsible body for supporting the promotion and protection of all human rights in all parts of the world. The Council also has the capacity to discuss all thematic issues and situations of human rights and to make recommendations on them. Therefore, the future electoral process must be in line with the principles stipulated in General Assembly Resolution 60/251 and the Institution Building-Package of the Council, which includes transparency, non-politicization as well as the promotion and protection of human rights. The president of the council must embody these values, adhere to the minimum standards stipulated in the General Assembly Resolution 60/251, which requires members to adhere to the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights and to cooperate fully and in good faith with the Council and its mechanisms. Consequently, the council chair must demonstrate commitment to standing up to reprisals and to have a history of supporting cooperation with council mechanisms.
For her part, Mennatallah Bakr, Director of the International Mechanisms for the Protection of Human Rights at Maat for Peace, added that Maat looks forward to the concrete and practical commitment of all countries to their pledges and obligations, and wishes that they would improve the human rights conditions, and support the Council's initiatives that consider and promote human rights, away from political disputes and selective policies, and establish binding mechanisms on countries to guarantee effective protection of human rights.
Ms. Bakr pointed out that since its establishment in 2006, no Arab country has ever assumed the presidency of the HRC. Therefore, she continued, we look forward to the effective participation of these countries and hope that they would chair the council in the years to come. Bakr concluded that this wish may come true if only the Arab countries improved the human rights situation, and showed good cooperation with international human rights mechanisms.