The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) was elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) on October 15, along with fourteen other member states. DRC, newsworthy for its recent spates of violence and delays in elections, seems like an unlikely addition to a UN body known for upholding peaceful power transitions and civil liberties.
Admittedly, fellow electees Pakistan, Qatar, and Nigeria (among others) do not have spotless human rights records either. Nonetheless, DRC’s election, won with 151 votes, seems particularly egregious to observers. Accordingly, international outrage came from multiple sources. Louis Charbonneau, the UN Director at Human Rights Watch (an NGO), argued that “accepting Congo’s election bid would undermine the founding principles and credibility of the UN’s top rights body and its ability to promote respect for human rights.” He also pointed out that 157 Congolese organizations called on the UN to reject DRC’s bid as a response to its poor human rights record. Meanwhile, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley used the election to criticize the HRC election process, saying, “In fact, the DRC – a country under investigation at the Human Rights Council – ran unopposed. That calls into serious question the General Assembly’s methods of selecting membership in the Human Rights Council.” Notably, the US has traditionally abstained from serving on the Council and has recently shown an anti-UN streak, demonstrated by its withdrawal from UNESCO.
The HRC has a winding history with the UN. From its origins in the post-World War II era , the United Nations has placed an emphasis on human rights. This is particularly highlighted in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), which, as its name suggests, formed the first bill of rights for people across the globe. It was only in 2006, however, that the Human Rights Council was created as sub-body of the UN General Assembly. It is responsible for making recommendations to the General Assembly and conducting reviews of the human rights records of member states. Since then, critiques have been levied about its ability to be apolitical and thorough. Others argue that it puts a spotlight on human rights, albeit an imperfect one.
In any case, the DRC will become one of 47 members of the HRC and serve a three year term. Time will tell whether its human rights record will change with its membership.