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Seven candidates attend event related to UNHRC elections

UNITED NATIONS, Jul 10 2013 (IPS) - Only seven candidates running for  membership in the Geneva-based U.N.  Human Rights Council (UNHRC) this year showed up during an event Tuesday, which provided a platform for candidates to outline their plans and commitments towards protection of human rights as well as their vision for membership.

According to Amnesty International (AI), which along with International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) co-organised the event, invitations were sent to all 17 countries that had declared their candidacies.

These countries included Algeria, Morocco, Namibia, South Africa, South Sudan, China, Jordan, Maldives, Saudi Arabia, Viet Nam, Russian Federation, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), Cuba, Mexico, Uruguay, France and the U.K.

“We wish that more countries would take part,” Jose Luis Diaz, AI’s representative to the United Nations told IPS. “Even though, we did not have all of the candidates this year, we have representatives from all the regional groups.”

Representatives from France, Maldives, Mexico, FYROM, Uruguay, the U.K. and South Sudan participated in the event.

All the candidates were first asked to respond to a general question on how they would strengthen the Council and thereby improve the promotion and protection of human rights worldwide– if they were elected as members. Candidates were also asked specific questions about human rights challenges in their own countries.

Human Rights Ambassador of France, François Zimeray defended the “universality of human rights” and insisted that members must be asked to give their own accounts of human rights situation in their countries.

Asked about forced evictions against Roma communities in France, Zimeray said that each case of expulsion is judged on its own merits. “No expulsion can be decided in France without the order of a judge and it should never be a collective decision, but only an individual decision, “ he said.

AI in a recent article published April 2013 stated, “Evicting hundreds of people without offering any adequate alternative housing or support is a shameful and callous action that totally ignores France’s international human rights obligations.”

While Ambassador Ahmed Sareer, Permanent Representative of the Maldives to the U.N. outlined the achievements of his country in the human rights sphere. Asked about the recent attacks on journalists and activists in his country, Sareer said the broader issue should be considered here. This was the time when Maldives was under heightened political turmoil and crime rates were increasing, he said.

But many organisations such as Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) have condemned attacks on journalists in the country calling such reports as “disturbing signs that the Maldives is backsliding on press freedom.”

The discussion also touched on issues raning from enforced disappearances in civil society to combating torture. As members of civil society, the challenge is to ensure greater level of transparency and accountability, as well as constrain politicisation when it comes to human rights issues, Diaz told IPS.

The terms of 14 members of the council end  Dec.31, 2013. Elections to the council will be held in a few months. Latest media reports also suggested that Iran and Syria would contest the UNHRC elections this year. But Alireza Miryousefi, counselor, Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran, told IPS, “Iran withdrew its candidacy in February 2013.”

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