​​Morocco elected new president of the UN Human Rights Council

Today, Morocco was elected to chair the UN Human Rights Council. The result generated strong reactions.

Published 10 January 2024

Today, Morocco was elected to chair the UN Human Rights Council. The result generated strong reactions.

In today´s UN Human Rights Council vote, Morocco won the election for the central position, with 30 votes, against its opponent South Africa, receiving 17.

The Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara has followed the elections at the UN Human Rights Council closely, supporting the demand of Sahrawi activists that Morocco cannot be elected to preside the important council.

"Oppressors will never be human rights defenders. Morocco has always been, and always will be, an oppressor, no matter what it does next, said Fatma Moulay, a Sahrawi activist who has helped coordinate a campaign against Morocco's candidacy. "It is disheartening to see Morocco win the presidency, given their bloody history of human rights abuses. It undermines human values, and the credibility of the council, she continues.

Two days prior, the Norwegian Support Committee and the Rafto Foundation, together with eight other Norwegian organisations, wrote a letter to Minister of Foreign Affairs Espen Barth Eide about the upcoming election.

“Knowing Morocco´s trend and downward spiral of refusing to engage with UN bodies, denying serious violations and subjecting victims and their families to reprisals and even punishing human rights defenders attending the sessions of the Council, Morocco´s current bid is alarming. Such a presidency would seriously threaten the legitimacy and credibility of the UN Human Rights Council”, the organizations wrote in the letter to the Foreign Minister.

With the completion of the election, the result was as feared.

"We now have a situation where a country that actively opposes the UN Human Rights Council is put in charge of it. It is a sad day for human rights. This undermines the credibility of the UN system, says Erik Hagen, president of the Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara.

The presidency of the Human Rights Council holds important symbolic and practical power, including a role in proposing candidates for Special Procedures and expert mechanisms, appointing experts to serve on investigative bodies and building awareness and trust in the UN Human Rights Council. In recent years, the UN Committee on Torture and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention have condemned Morocco for repeated and widespread human rights violations in occupied Western Sahara. Morocco has also been condemned for its systematic pattern of reprisals against victims who have brought cases to the two bodies, both of which part of the Human Rights Council. 

"The bodies that Morocco now seeks to lead have succeeded in condemning Morocco's gross abuses in recent years. It is perfectly clear that Morocco wants this seat in order to prevent scrutiny of its own abuses, says Professor Mads Andenæs, who acts as a lawyer for the most famous group of political prisoners from Western Sahara.

“The result of today's election comes at a dangerous time. We cannot afford to lose any more trust in the UN system. Morocco has managed to completely shut down the territory it occupies and has now succeeded in gaining the presidency of the only human rights body that has held Morocco accountable in recent years. This is a blatant attempt to cover up the human rights violations they are committing in Western Sahara. Now we expect the rest of the Council to hold Morocco accountable, says Tone Sørfonn Moe, jurist and legal representative for Sahrawi political prisoners, part of the Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara.

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