Germany announces bid for Human Rights Council membership

Published: 21 February 2019  Author: Stefan Talmon  DOI: 10.17176/20220106-150249-0

When presenting the Federal Government’s 13th Human Rights Report to Parliament on 19 February 2019, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas announced that Germany would run again for the 47-member Human Rights Council in Geneva – a year earlier than planned. He stated:

“We believe that strong institutions are essential for this type of progressive human rights policy. That is why the Federal Government has decided to run for the Human Rights Council in Geneva again a year earlier than planned, that is, for the 2020-2022 term, because particularly at times when others withdraw – and unfortunately, that is now what is happening in far too many cases – Germany must be a strong voice for human rights. This would make us a member of the Security Council and of the Human Rights Council at the same time in 2020. We want to make use of that to join up human rights and security issues more closely because the Security Council in New York still often does not pay enough attention to those who are suffering.”

The Human Rights Council was established by the United Nations General Assembly on 15 March 2006. Members are elected directly and individually by the majority of the members of the General Assembly, through a secret ballot. Membership is based on equitable geographical distribution, and seats are distributed among the five regional groups within the United Nations system. Germany is part of the so-called “Western European and other States” group (WEOG), which holds seven seats on the Council. Members of the Council serve for a period of three years, and after two consecutive terms are not eligible for immediate re-election. Germany served on the Human Rights Council as one of its founding members from 2006 to 2009, and again for the 2013-2015 and 2016-2018 terms.

After serving for two consecutive terms Germany had initially planned to put itself forward for election again only in 2020, for the 2021-2023 term. This would leave a full three years between its terms of office. As revealed by Foreign Minister Maas’ statement, one of the motivating factors for Germany’s early bid for re-election was the U.S. withdrawal from the Human Rights Council in June 2018. Upon the United States’ withdrawal, Iceland was elected to the Council to take over the relinquished WEOG seat and to complete the United States’ term. Iceland’s term of office – together with that of the United Kingdom – will come to an end on 31 December 2019. Having served two consecutive terms, the United Kingdom will not be eligible for re-election. In this situation, Germany – as a strong supporter of the Human Rights Council – might have considered it advisable that one of the bigger States of the WEOG puts itself forward to fill one of the two vacant seats of that group. The other seats of the group will be held by Australia, Austria, Denmark, Italy and Spain. Elections for the 2020-2022 term will be held in October 2019.

Category: Human Rights

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  • Stefan Talmon

    Stefan Talmon is Professor of Public Law, Public International Law and European Union Law, and Director at the Institute of Public International Law at the University of Bonn. He is also a Supernumerary Fellow of St. Anne’s College, Oxford, and practices as a Barrister from Twenty Essex, London. He is the editor of GPIL.

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