On May 9, the United Nations General Assembly will decide which countries will share the 47 seats of the newly created UN Human Rights Council. Germany is among the applicants.
Germany has been working to increase its international role
Sixty years after its founding, the Human Rights Commission must face the fact that it has long been ineffective. The upcoming UN Human Rights Council is supposed to change that. Germany was one of the first countries to submit its application to be a part of the new council's establishment. But Germany's membership is not a sure bet; after all, there are only seven seats reserved for the entire group of western European nations, and each country must be elected to the council with an absolute majority from the UN General Assembly.
Germany must think strategically to win over support from other countries, especially since it has many European competitors vying for Human Rights Council seats -- competitors who boast impressive records for respecting and actively promoting human rights.
Germany wants to boast with EU presidency
"People have different opinions about which countries should be members, but we are going to advertise with Germany's EU presidency role in 2007," said the country's human rights commissioner, Günther Nooke. "It is a position that many respect, especially those reviewing our candidacy and deciding whether we should be a member."
Human rights activists in China
Nooke would like to see Germany on the UN Humans Rights Council from the start and to maintain the position for at least several years. A country may only be voted onto the council for two terms, so even the five powerful, permanent members of the UN Security Council would have to end their membership on the human rights body after six years. However, not all of them even want a seat on the new council. Nooke said he regretted that the United States, for instance, will not be a candidate in the May 9 election.
"I don't think that Germany and Europe can distinguish themselves from the United States in this area," he said. "I personally would rather be on the side of the human rights policies of the United States than those of Vladimir Putin."
US opposed council
The United States is one of the few countries which voted against the establishment of the human rights council. It argued that the improvements to the previous body were not far-reaching enough.
Though Nooke recognized problems, he also stressed the opportunities the new body could offer.
"It is surely an advantage when council members can vote out countries which have seriously abused human rights," Nooke said.
In addition, human rights council members must tolerate being continually reviewed. In the future, it will hardly be possible for countries like Zimbabwe, Sudan or China, for instance, to stand in the way of UN human rights work without having to fear that they themselves will be criticized somewhere down the line.
"That means making the best of the situation," Nooke said. "Germany is very determined to fully apply the important, responsible and internationally recognized role it has played in the Human Rights Commission when the new council soon begins defining its tasks."
For Germany to play that new role, however, the United Nations General Assembly must first elect it to the Human Rights Council.