The Maldives has been officially awarded a seat in the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, receiving historic support from the UN General Assembly members.
The votes, which were cast on 13 May at the UN Headquarters in New York, revealed the Maldives came in at the top of the Asian group running for the Council.
The seat was also highly endorsed by a group of international NGOs, with UN Watch and Freedom House reporting that out of fourteen candidate countries from all regions, only five, including the Maldives, have human rights records that merit a seat in the Council.
The report said only the Maldives, Guatemala, Spain, Switzerland and Poland have a worthy human rights record, while the remaining nine countries have either “questionable” or “unqualified” records.
The seat had already been secured after Iran withdrew its candidature last month, leaving four countries–Malaysia, Thailand, Qatar and the Maldives–running for four seats.
But the unprecedented support from Member States show the “enormous respect for the Maldives, its government, its people, its national human rights institution, and the work that we have all been doing to strengthen the respect for human rights,” said Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr Ahmed Shaheed.
He said “we topped the whole list. It was the highest number of votes ever on the Council.”
Dr Shaheed told Minivan News last month he believed the Maldives would be number one in the rankings.
Speaking in New York, Dr Shaheed said “this is a proud day for the Maldives,” adding that “five years ago we were a human rights pariah, today our bid to secure a Council seat has won almost universal support from UN Member States.”
Dr Shaheed added he was “delighted” the seat was won on merit; “today the world’s governments and human rights NGOs have joined together to recognise and endorse the enormous strides that the Maldives has taken in the realm of human rights.”
Press Secretary for the President’s Office, Mohamed Zuhair, said President Mohamed Nasheed was “very happy” about the seat in the Council, “especially because Maldives was elected with a very high award.”
He said he believes the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) “should become strengthened on this kind of endorsement.”
Zuhair added “human rights issues in the Maldives will be more highlighted” and said the votes show “international recognition of the Maldivian government in human rights issues.”
Speaking to Minivan News last month, President of the HRCM, Ahmed Saleem, said winning the seat was “a very good opportunity for the government to realise [they have] to make necessary changes.”
He added membership in the Council should improve human rights in the country “because the government also will have to act very positively now, there has to be room for improvement in the way the government reacts to human rights issues.”
Saleem noted he was “very delighted” the Maldives won a seat in the Council, as it “reflects well on us, as well.”
Human Rights Council
Seats for the Human Rights Council are voted upon by all forty-seven Member States of the Council, and seats are awarded with over 51% of votes, cast on secret ballots, by the General Assembly.
The Maldives secured 185 votes out of 192 Member States, making it the highest number of votes for a state in any region. Coming in second was Thailand, with 182 votes.
The Council, working out of the UN Palais des Nations in Geneva, is responsible for promoting human rights, addressing violations of human rights and promoting the effective coordination within the UN system.
This is the first time the Maldives has won a seat in a major UN body. The country will serve a three-year term. Countries are not eligible for immediate re-election after two consecutive terms.