By Patrick Worsnip
UNITED NATIONS, May 7 (Reuters) - Two human rights groups branded Angola, Belarus, Egypt and Qatar on Monday as unfit to sit on the U.N. human rights body, which all look set to join next week, because they themselves violated rights.
The four countries are among 15 competing for 14 seats on the Human Rights Council, which last year replaced its largely discredited predecessor, the Commission on Human Rights. The U.N. General Assembly will elect the new members on May 17.
In a report on the council’s first year, one of the groups, UN Watch, said it had been little better than its forerunner, with the majority of its acts being condemnations of Israel.
Some other groups have been less critical of the Council. In March, New York-based Human Rights Watch urged the United States, which has so far declined to stand for membership, to appoint a full-time envoy to the body.
The group’s executive director, Kenneth Roth, said in a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that while the Council "is imperfect, it is the premier international forum for the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms. No viable alternative exists."
Monday’s joint report by UN Watch and Freedom House on next week’s election said Angola, Belarus, Egypt and Qatar "are authoritarian regimes with negative U.N. voting records (on rights issues) and are not qualified to be Council members".
Only 14 of the 47 seats on the Geneva-based Council fall vacant this year. Under the regional structure, only the Western group at present faces a contest, with Denmark, Italy and the Netherlands competing for two seats.
CAST A SHADOW
Belarus and Slovenia are standing for the two Eastern European seats. Thomas Melia, deputy executive director of U.S.-based Freedom House, said Western countries seeking to push out Belarus wanted Bosnia to run as well, but diplomats said Slovenia had threatened to stand down if it did.
The United States and European Union have long accused Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko of crushing all opposition and muzzling independent media.
The Slovenian mission to the United Nations declined comment.
The rights groups’ report described Slovenia, Denmark, Italy and the Netherlands as "well qualified" for the Council. Among other candidates, it called Bolivia, India, Indonesia, Madagascar, Nicaragua, the Philippines and South Africa as "questionable".
India, Indonesia, the Netherlands, the Philippines and South Africa are existing members standing for re-election.
The Council was set up after former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said its predecessor suffered from a "credibility deficit" that cast "a shadow on the reputation of the United Nations system as a whole". That body had been criticized in the West for ignoring rights abuses in developing countries.
But the Council too has been troubled by conflicting concepts of rights. Geneva-based UN Watch said it "has not been an improvement over the much-derided Commission. In some ways it has even been worse."
Of 12 country-specific resolutions by the Council, nine had been censures of Israel, while three had related to Sudan, the group said.