BY SAVANNAH HARRIMAN-POTE ’20
According to Geo TV, a Pakistani television channel, Pakistan secured a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on Monday, Oct. 16. The election was decided through secret ballot, and each candidate had to receive a simple majority of the 193 General Assembly member votes in order to receive a seat. Pakistan garnered 151 votes.
The UN News Centre stated that the UNHRC, established in 2006, “is responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe.” Geo TV reported that Pakistan’s UN ambassador, Maleeha Lodhi, called Pakistan’s election to the Council “a ringing endorsement of Pakistan’s strong commitment to human rights.”
But in the wake of Pakistan’s election to the UNHRC, international and national human rights organizations including the International Judiciary Council, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have called upon Pakistan to address its own human rights abuses. In a statement released Wednesday, Oct. 18, Human Rights Watch contends that “to secure the UN Human Rights Council membership, Pakistan pledged its commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights. However, the pledge failed to directly address many of the most serious human rights issues facing Pakistan, including enforced disappearances, the use of the death penalty, blasphemy laws, the country’s use of military courts, women’s rights including the right to education and threats to the work of human rights defenders, lawyers and journalists.”
The controversy surrounding Pakistan’s election to the UNHRC has reignited conversation regarding the possible contradiction between the council’s purpose and its members’ internal policy. The UN News Centre states that “when voting for members of the Council, member states take into consideration a candidate’s contribution to the promotion and protection of human rights. Upon election, members commit themselves to cooperating with the Council and to upholding the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights.” But out of the 10 countries cited as responsible for human rights violations in Amnesty International’s “State of the World’s Human Rights 2015/16” report, six countries — China, Egypt, Hungary, Kenya, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia — are also active members of the UNHRC, according to the UN Office of the High Commissioner.
Congo and Qatar were also elected on Monday to the UNHRC, and have likewise come under fire for their involvement in domestic human rights abuses. The Toronto Sun spoke to U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley, who called the most recent UNHRC election “yet another example of why the Human Rights Council lacks credibility and must be reformed in order to be saved.”
The UN News Centre states that “the General Assembly has the right to suspend the rights and privileges of any Council Member that it decides has persistently committed gross and systematic violations of human rights during its term of membership,” but notes that this measure has only been taken once in the Council’s 11 year history, when Libya lost its seat after a two-thirds majority vote in 2011.
When asked how she felt about Pakistan’s seat on the UNHRC, Tehreem Mela ’20, an international student from Pakistan and a member of Mount Holyoke’s Model UN team, expressed optimism. “No state will ever be rid of human rights crises, and Pakistan has a long way to go,” said Mela. “I think that the nomination will definitely be something that the state will take as a responsibility and not a laudatory action. Considering that it is an elected position, the country should be allowed to maintain its seat, especially since other countries with worse human rights records have already served on the position.”