(CNSNews.com) – The United Nations General Assembly on Thursday elected Sudan – whose president is accused of war crimes -- to an influential body whose powers include choosing members for agencies dealing with women and children, and accrediting civil society groups wanting to participate in sessions of the U.N. Human Rights Council.
The Islamist regime in Khartoum received more votes than the United States did in the election for 18 new members of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the U.N. body that coordinates socio-economic and related affairs.
Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir has been wanted by the International Criminal Court since early 2009 on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, arising from the conflict in Darfur. Genocide charges were added in 2010.
Yet the Africa group at the U.N. endorsed his regime along with four other countries (Benin, Mauritius, Tunisia and South Africa) for the five Africa seats up for grabs on the 54-member ECOSOC.
Such “closed slate” elections, common at the U.N., largely deprive countries of the ability to defeat candidates they deem unacceptable. With Sudan one of just five candidates for five available posts, only a failure to achieve the required two-third majority of votes would have stymied its chances.
In Thursday’s election, 176 countries out of the 192 total voted for Sudan – far more than the 128 it needed to succeed. In comparison, the U.S., one of four countries in the Western group to be elected to ECOSOC, received 171 votes. Of the 18 countries elected, only three – Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Nepal – received fewer votes than the U.S.
ECOSOC is responsible for about 70 percent of the human and financial resources of the entire U.N. system, including 14 specialized agencies, nine “functional” commissions, and five regional commissions.
As such, it elects members of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) and the executive board of the U.N. Children’s Fund among other bodies dealing with issues such as narcotics and crime prevention and criminal justice.
In 2010, ECOSOC elected Iran to the CSW, despite an appeal by hundreds of Iranian women’s rights activists, who told the U.N. that Tehran would use its position “to curtail progress and the advancement of women.” The CSW is described as the U.N.’s “principal global policy-making body dedicated exclusively to gender equality and advancement of women.”
Among ECOSOC’s functions, it oversees accreditation for non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Acquiring “consultative status” with ECOSOC enables an NGO to attend and express their views at meetings of ECOSOC and its subsidiary organs, and to participate in sessions of the Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva.
U.N. Watch, an NGO that monitors the world body, slammed the General Assembly for electing Sudan, which it called “genocidal, misogynistic and repressive,” to ECOSOC.
In a statement it called on the Obama administration, the European Union, U.N. secretary-general Ban Ki-moon and U.N. human rights commissioner Navi Pillay to condemn the move.
U.N. Watch executive director Hillel Neuer said Sudan’s election “diminishes the credibility of the United Nations human rights system and casts a shadow upon the reputation of the organization as a whole.”
He pointed in particular to ECOSOC’s power to grant “consultative status” to NGOs.
“ECOSOC is the body that accredits and oversees human rights groups at the U.N., deciding who can participate at the U.N. Human Rights Council,” he noted. “The dominant influence of non-democracies has often led to the rejection or expulsion of human rights groups that dare to criticize China, Cuba or other repressive U.N. member states, and they have often barred gay-rights NGOs.
“There is no question that Sudan will be a malign influence,” Neuer added. “This is a terrible decision – and world leaders, who failed to prevent it, must at least now speak out for basic decency and morality in U.N. bodies.”
The same closed slate practice that facilitated Sudan’s election to ECOSOC has enabled countries like Cuba, China, Libya and Saudi Arabia to get seats on the HRC, despite widely-condemned human rights records.
On Monday, the General Assembly will elect 18 new members of the 47-member HRC for the next three years. Among those in the running are Pakistan and Venezuela, both of which have poor human rights records at home. As both are on closed slates for their respective regional group, they are almost certain to be elected.
The Obama administration, which took the U.S. into the HRC in 2009 – reversing its predecessor’s policy of shunning the council – says its participation has improved the HRC and is running for a new seat.
The Western group is the only one not putting forward a closed slate in Monday’s vote, and the U.S. is set for a five-way contest for three seats. The other four candidates are Germany, Greece, Ireland and Sweden.
When the U.S. announced its intention to compete for a seat for the first time in 2009 the Western group already had three candidates nominated for three available seats, but one of them, New Zealand, withdrew at the eleventh hour.