On 10 October 2023, the UN General Assembly (GA) convened in New York to elect new members of the Human Rights Council for the term 2024-2026. Albania, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burundi, China, Côte d’Ivoire, Cuba, Dominican Republic, France, Ghana, Indonesia, Japan, Kuwait, Malawi, and the Netherlands were duly elected. As soon as the votes were cast and the new members announced, many began to wonder whether the ‘Class of 2024’ will be stronger or weaker than the outgoing membership slate in terms of realising the full mandate of the Council and effectively promoting and protecting human rights around the world.
The Council’s credibility, effectiveness, and efficiency, and its ability to fulfil its mandate as set by the General Assembly, depends largely on its members and their commitment to the institution and the criteria for membership set out in GA resolution 60/251.
Will the new Council membership be stronger or weaker?
URG’s analysis, based on our objective analysis of the candidates that were elected (from our recent yourHRC.org election guide), and our latest data on those current members that will step down at the end of 2023, allows us to make the following predictions. It is important to recall that these predictions are based on empirical data analysis, as measured against the criteria for membership set out in GA resolution 60/251. That does not include how, for example, we expect certain countries to vote on resolutions under, say, agenda items 3, 4, 7 or 10, as it is not possible to objectively assign a numerical ‘score’ to those voting patterns – though we do explain the ‘usual’ voting practices of incoming members below.
- The African Group membership is predicted to be marginally weaker in 2024 with the exit of Senegal and Gabon, which have stronger records of cooperation with the human rights system than their successors, Ghana and – especially – Burundi. What is more, Burundi is the only candidate in its regional group to have been mentioned in the Secretary-General’s report on reprisals and that is the subject of regular resolutions under agenda item 4. Yet, with Côte d’Ivoire and Malawi re-elected for a second term, and Ghana generally having one of the strongest human rights (and democratic) records in Africa, the AG membership is predicted to not change significantly.
Although not included in the above ‘scores,’ an analysis of the voting patterns of incoming and outgoing AG members during previous membership terms suggests that, regarding AG members of the HRC as a whole in 2024:
-Voting on item 2 and 4 resolutions (country-specific violations) will be similar to the pattern seen in 2023. Members of the African Group tend to abstain or vote against item 2 and 4 texts, and both Senegal and Gabon, as well as the newcomer Burundi, have followed this pattern, while Ghana has tended to vote in favour of some resolutions (e.g., on the situations in the DPRK and the Syrian Arab Republic) but voting against or abstaining on others (e.g., texts on Belarus, Iran, and Sudan).
-African voting on item 3 resolutions (thematic issues) may see slightly more ‘no’ votes on civil and political rights issues, though voting on economic, social, and cultural rights issues is likely to remain unchanged. While Senegal and Gabon have generally joined consensus and voted in favour of CPR issues (as has Ghana in the past), Burundi has voted against resolutions on SOGI, counter-terrorism, and human rights defenders.
-Voting on item 7 resolutions is likely to remain unchanged. African Group members tend to vote in favour of these texts, and both incoming members, Burundi and Ghana, have voted along these lines during past membership terms.
-There is a likelihood of slightly more ‘no’ votes on item 10 resolutions when a vote will be called in 2024 (e.g., on resolutions on Georgia or Ukraine). Historically, Burundi has tended to vote against these resolutions (e.g. on cooperation with Georgia), though the other incoming member, Ghana, has in the past voted in favour.
- The Asia-Pacific Group membership is predicted to be stronger than before, with the incorporation of newcomers Indonesia, Japan, and Kuwait. The latter two outperformed all the outgoing members (Nepal, Pakistan, and Uzbekistan) in URG’s analysis of cooperation with the human rights mechanisms. Importantly, Kuwait is returning to the Council a decade after it served its only previous term, reinforcing the Council’s inclusivity (the other newly elected members have each already served five terms).
Based on voting patterns of incoming and outgoing APG members during previous membership terms, it is estimated that in 2024:
-Voting on item 2 and 4 resolutions (country-specific violations) is predicted to be similar to 2023, during which time APG members have tended to abstain or vote against. While the incorporation of Japan might see more votes in favour of resolutions presented under these two items.
-Voting on item 3 resolutions (thematic issues) is predicted to remain broadly unchanged, as the group tends to vote in favour or join consensus on resolutions dealing with civil and political rights, as well as economic, social, and cultural rights issues. Japan may again be an outlier, as it has in the past voted against resolutions on mercenaries, racism, or resolutions on the effects of economic reform policies, the effects of foreign debt, and globalisation and its impact on human rights.
-Voting on item 7 resolutions is also predicted to remain largely unchanged, as APG members nearly always vote in favour. The exception is incoming member Japan, which has voted against a number of resolutions on the OPT, the occupied Syrian Golan, and human rights violations emanating from Israeli military attacks.
-Regarding item 10 resolutions, when a vote is called in 2024, (e.g., on resolutions on Georgia or Ukraine), the APG vote count is expected to be marginally better than in 2023 (i.e., more yes votes). All three outgoing members abstained on these texts in 2023. Of the incoming members, Indonesia and Kuwait are likewise expected to abstain. The reason why there may one more ‘yes’ vote from the APG in 2024 is Japan, which historically has tended to vote in favour of these resolutions.
- The Eastern European Group membership slate voting is not expected to shift significantly in 2024, though it is possible it will be slightly stronger as newly elected members Albania and Bulgaria have a slightly stronger track record (in terms of cooperation with the UN human rights system) than their predecessors, Czechia and Ukraine. Indeed, Bulgaria had one of the highest scores in URG’s 2023 election guide, and Albania was not far behind.
Based on voting patterns of incoming and outgoing EEG members during previous membership terms, it is estimated that in 2024:
-Voting on item 2 and 4 resolutions (country-specific violations) will remain mostly the same. In 2023, EEG members voted in favour of resolutions, inter alia, on human rights in Eritrea, the Syrian Arab Republic, and Belarus. Both Albania and Bulgaria have historically voted in favour of item 4 resolutions.
-Voting on item 3 resolutions (thematic issues) is not expected to change significantly either, as both Albania and Bulgaria have a history of joining consensus, except for certain resolutions dealing with economic, social, and cultural rights, (when Albania and Bulgaria have voted against. This is in line with the voting patterns of outgoing members, Czechia and Ukraine.
-Voting on item 7 resolutions will likely remain similar to the previous year, when EEG members leaned towards voting against resolutions on the occupied Syrian Golan but in favour of resolutions on the right of Palestinian people to self-determination and on Israeli settlements in the OPT. In previous years, Bulgaria followed the group’s voting pattern, while Albania tended to abstain on resolutions dealing with the occupied Syrian Golan and Israeli settlements in the OPT.
-Regarding item 10, voting is not expected to change significantly, as both Albania and Bulgaria have tended to join consensus or vote in favour when votes were called, in line with EEG’s voting pattern for item 10 resolutions in 2023 (e.g., Ukraine, Colombia, or Georgia).
- The Latin America and the Caribbean membership is estimated to be weaker, as outgoing members Bolivia and Mexico had stronger track records than the newly elected members, Cuba (which continues into its second term), Brazil, and the Dominican Republic. Significantly, the Dominican Republic, a small island State, will serve its first term ever as a Council member, which again sends a positive message of inclusivity in a regional group that has one of the lowest percentages of members that have held a seat on the Council.
As a new member holding a seat for the first time, the Dominican Republic’s positions will be closely watched. Considering this, and the voting patterns of incoming and outgoing GRULAC members during previous membership terms, URG estimates that in 2024:
-Voting on item 2 and 4 resolutions (country-specific violations) will remain divided in the regional group. Cuba has tended to vote against item 2 and 4 texts, while in the past Brazil has generally voted in favour. Time will tell how the Dominican Republic will vote, however, as a small State democracy, it is possible the country will judge tabled resolutions on their merit.
-Voting on item 3 resolutions (thematic issues) may change slightly. Brazil has generally joined consensus or voted in favour of these resolutions, with some exceptions (e.g., when it abstained on democratic and equitable international order, right to development, or unilateral coercive measures). In 2023, Cuba joined consensus on item 3 resolutions and voted in favour of the one resolution that was subject to vote (enhancement of international cooperation in the field of human rights). The outgoing members, Bolivia and Mexico, have also traditionally joined consensus, though Mexico tended to abstain more, notably on the resolutions presented by Cuba (mercenaries, and democratic and equitable international order).
-Voting on item 7 resolutions is likely to remain unchanged, as both the outgoing members, Bolivia and Mexico, as well as Cuba and Brazil, have historically voted in favour of these resolutions.
-Regarding item 10 texts, 2024 is predicted to see slightly more ‘no’ votes (i.e., if votes are called on the texts on Georgia and Ukraine), mainly due to the departure of Mexico – though again, this could be offset by the voting of the Dominican Republic.
- The Western European and Others membership will largely remain the same, with France remaining as a member and the Netherlands replacing the United Kingdom – although the Dutch record of cooperation with the human rights mechanisms is considerably stronger than its predecessor.
-Voting on item 2 and 4 resolutions (country-specific violations) will remain broadly the same.
-Likewise, voting on item 3 resolutions (thematic issues) is unlikely to change, as all three countries have tended to join consensus or vote against the same resolutions.
-Voting on item 7 resolutions is likely to change slightly, as the UK has traditionally voted against resolutions that came to a vote, whereas the Netherlands has tended to vote in favour of many texts, including on the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, Israeli settlements, and the human rights situation in the OPT.
-On item 10, WEOG voting will likely remain unchanged, as the UK, France and the Netherlands tend to join consensus or vote in favour when a vote is called (e.g., on Georgia and Ukraine).
Photo credit: A general view of participants during the 54th session of the Human Rights Council. 11 September 2023. UN Photo / Jean Marc Ferré
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