Next Year’s UN Human Rights Council Will Have the Smallest Proportion of ‘Free’ Members, Ever

Patrick Goodenough | October 28, 2015 | 6:18pm EDT
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The U.N. Human Rights Council meets in Geneva on October 1, 2015. (UN Photo by Jean-Marc Ferre)

( – The U.N. Human Rights Council in 2016 will have just 18 countries rated as “free” out of a total of 47 – the lowest number in the body’s decade-old history.

For the first time since the HRC was created in 2006, the proportion of members designated “free” by the Washington-based democracy watchdog, Freedom House, will drop next year to below 40 percent.

The United States will not be a member next year, having served the maximum two consecutive terms following the Obama administration’s decision to re-engage with the Geneva-based HRC in 2009.

American taxpayers account for 22 percent of the HRC's operating budget.

For more than four decades, Freedom House has given the world’s nations scores for political rights and civil liberties, and then ranked them as “free,” “not free” or “partly free.”

On Wednesday, the U.N. General Assembly in New York filled 18 vacancies for new three-year terms on the council, and among the successful nations were several controversial candidates.

Earlier, a report by three human rights groups – U.N. Watch, Human Rights Foundation and the Lantos Foundation – evaluated all 21 candidates in the election, and concluded that nine were unsuitable.

Of those nine, seven were elected on Wednesday: Ethiopia, United Arab Emirates, Venezuela, Ecuador, Burundi, Togo and Kyrgyzstan.

The remaining two, Pakistan and Laos, were unsuccessful. In part, that was because their regional group, Asia, presented a competitive slate – seven candidates for five vacancies.

The African group, by contrast, put up a closed slate – five candidates for five vacancies – thus all but assuring success for Ethiopia and Burundi (both “not free”), and Togo (“partly free”).


U.N. Watch executive director Hillel Neuer said the outcome marked “a black day for human rights.”

“The election of even more rights abusing regimes – on a body that already counts China, Russia, Cuba and Saudi Arabia as members – marks another severe blow to the credibility and efficacy of a body that was supposed to improve on its discredited predecessor,” he said.

(Neuer was referring to the sometimes scandal-ridden U.N. Commission on Human Rights, which was shut down after 60 years and replaced by the HRC in 2006.)

“If we allow Venezuela to be in charge of freedom of assembly, Burundi in charge of police accountability, and UAE in charge of labor rights, we are simply turning the U.N. into a laughingstock,” he said.

The results of Wednesday’s election mean that next year, the HRC will have just 18 “free” members.

Since the HRC’s establishment it has never had fewer than 20 “free” members before now. The previous smallest contingent of “free” countries was 20, in 2010, while the largest was 25, in 2006.

The number of “not free” members has ranged from a low of eight in 2009 to a high of 13 in 2010. Next year there will be 11.


The full membership in 2016 is:

--Free:  Belgium, Botswana, Britain, El Salvador, France, Germany, India, Latvia, Mexico, Mongolia, Namibia, Netherlands, Panama, Portugal, South Korea, South Africa, Slovenia, Switzerland

--Not free:  Algeria, Burundi, China, Congo, Cuba, Ethiopia, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Vietnam

--Partly free:  Albania, Bangladesh,  Bolivia, Cote d’Ivoire, Ecuador, Georgia, Indonesia, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Macedonia, Maldives, Morocco, Nigeria, Paraguay, Philippines, Sierra Leone, Togo, Venezuela

See earlier story:

After 6 Years of U.S. Membership, ‘Free’ Countries Still in Minority at UN Human Rights Council

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