The UN recently elected new members to the Human Rights Council. Unsurprisingly, liberal democracies are in the minority. At UN Dispatch, Mark Leon Goldberg runs some numbers and finds that the UN Human Rights Council is fairly representative of the broader United Nations in terms of how free its members are:
Of the 46 members of the council 20 are rated “free,” 15 partly free, 11 not free. But this line of criticism leaves out is that the world as a whole is not majority “free.” Of the 194 countries rated by Freedom House, 87 are free, 60 partly free, and 47 not free, which is a break down of 45%/31%/24%. That is a proportion roughly equal to the current membership of the Human Rights Council.
Goldberg attributes the underwhelming (though, as he points out, improving) results to the system of geographic representation at the UN:
The Human Rights Council, like most UN bodies, works off a system called equitable geographic representation. That means that regions with more countries (say Africa) get a greater number of seats on deliberative bodies than regions (say Western Europe) with fewer countries.
This is true, and fair enough. But here's what I would like to know: are the African countries elected to the Council freer than the average for that region? Ditto for other parts of the world. In other words, within the system of geographical representation, do better human rights performers tend to be elected to the Council?
The data that Goldberg and his readers have collected doesn't directly answer that question, though it does offer some insight. If I'm reading the numbers correctly, 26% of the Asia group at the UN is classified as free but only 15% of that group's HRC members are. 67% of the UN's Latin America and Caribbean caucus are free, but only 50% of that group's HRC have that designation. The data is marginally more encouraging for Africa and even better in Eastern Europe, where HRC members are more likely to be free than the group as a whole.
Underlying this number-crunching is an almost philosophical question. Should the Human Rights Council aim for a membership that is as free as possible, or is it important that the Council essentially foster within its ranks a dialogue between free and not free? If you believe that serving on the Council is itself an important mechanism for transmitting norms, you might prefer a Council where free countries command a majority but that includes a number of non-free states who can be "educated" about human rights.
David Bosco reports on the new world order for The Multilateralist.