Tokyo, Seoul on key U.N. rights body

Kyodo

Japan was among 18 countries elected Monday to serve on the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council beginning in January.

“Gaining 182 votes is good for us and it represents broad support from the membership,” Kazuo Kodama, Japan’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations, said after the elections were held at a plenary session in the General Assembly by secret ballot. “We will do our best.”

Japan has been criticized recently by some countries for its handling of issues such as the wartime “comfort women” and for its position on the death penalty. Japan last served on the council during a three-year term that expired in 2011.

Despite such criticism Japan received 182 yes votes, after the United Arab Emirates with 184 and Kazakhstan with 183 votes in the Asian group.

South Korea gained 176 positive votes and Pakistan was close behind with 171.

With the exception of the Western European group, which had five candidates for three slots, the Asian, African, Eastern European and Latin American countries put forward uncontested candidates.

The United States, Germany and Ireland beat out Greece and Sweden to represent their group. The African bloc put forward Gabon, Cote d’Ivoire, Sierra Leone, Kenya and Ethiopia.

The Eastern Europeans presented Estonia and Montenegro, while the Latin Americans put forward candidates from Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela.

The process has prompted human rights groups to voice their concerns.

“Until there is real competition for seats in the Human Rights Council, its membership standards will remain more rhetoric than reality,” Peggy Hicks, the organization’s global advocacy director, said in a press release.

Some human rights groups have also called on countries such as Ethiopia, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates and Venezuela to take steps to improve their human rights records, according to Human Rights Watch.

The 47-member body was formed in 2006 to replace the human rights commission and is the principal U.N. political body dealing with human rights issues. Under ex-U.S. President George W. Bush the Americans did not participate on grounds that Israel faced repeated criticism while other rights abuses were occurring worldwide.

The U.S. reversed course under President Barack Obama and gained an uncontested seat.