The world’s largest democracy gets re-elected to the UN Human Right Council; all you need to know

by Elton Gomes

On Friday, the United Nations General Assembly elected India with the highest number of votes to the influential Human Rights Council, with a pledge to combat intolerance. India received a total of 188 votes, which was the highest received by any of the 18 countries elected in the voting.

This is the fifth time India has been elected to the Geneva-based Council, the main body of the United Nations (UN) that looks after promoting and monitoring human rights.

Speaking to the media after the verdict, India’s Ambassador to the UN Syed Akbaruddin said the result was a testament that the world holds India in the highest esteem. Akbaruddin also expressed his gratitude to the UN for their support towards India.

“There were 18 candidates and we got the highest votes. We feel grateful to all the friends in UN for their support. We’ll work in a balanced way to protect human rights of the world,” Akbaruddin told ANI.

In January 2019, India will join China, Nepal, and Pakistan, which were elected to the 47-member Council in previous years to serve three-year terms. When it nominated itself for the Council, India showcased its position as “the world’s largest democracy (and) India’s secular polity.”

What does the win mean for India

The new members of the Indian contingent will serve a term of three years beginning January 1, 2019. India had previously been elected to the Geneva-based Human Rights Council for the terms of 2011-2014 and 2014-2017.

India’s last tenure had ended on December 31, 2017. As per the rules, it was not eligible for immediate re-election as it had already served two consecutive terms.

How were the elections held

Elections took place via secret ballot in the 193-member General Assembly on Friday. However, the number of candidates for all the five regions matched the vacancies, which made the elections a mere formality.

On the 47-member Council, the seats are allocated based on “equitable regional distribution”, which meant that the Asia-Pacific region would have a total of 13 seats, with some coming up for election every year.

India was included in the first batch of 47 countries that were elected to the Council in 2006 after it was established. India also received an initial one-year term instead of three to facilitate a rotating roster of vacancies every year.

India got elected again in 2007, 2011, and 2014 to three-year-terms. Since countries can be elected for only two consecutive terms, India took a year’s break after its term ended in 2017.

What is the UNHRC

The Human Rights Council was created by the Assembly in March 2006 as the principal United Nations body dealing with human rights.

The Human Rights Council comprises 47 elected Member States, and is categorised on the basis of equitable geographical distribution. Seats in the Council are allocated to the five regional groups as follows: African States, 13 seats; Asia-Pacific States, 13 seats; Eastern European States, 6 seats; Latin American and Caribbean States, 8 seats; and Western European and other States, 7 seats.

All five of the General Assembly’s regional groups had submitted competition-free slates. This meant that all candidates, regardless of their rights records, were almost assured seats on the council.

Why is this important

India’s presence on the Council will be important as the former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Raad Al Hussein asked the body to facilitate an international commission of inquiry into allegations of human rights violations in Kashmir.

India has promised that it will continue to support global efforts to tackle problems such as racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance. In the nomination pledge, India presented a broader approach to human rights, emphasising on topics such as climate justice, health, and poverty alleviation.

On the eve of the elections, rights group Human Rights Watch stated that UN member nations should oppose the candidacies of the Philippines and Eritrea to the Human Rights Council due to their “egregious human rights records”.

Elton Gomes is a staff writer at Qrius

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