UNITED NATIONS – Three European countries and two Asian nations are battling for seats on the UN Security Council in elections on Tuesday, June 28, that are drawing attention to the refugee crisis and human rights.
Five non-permanent seats are up for grabs in the vote at the UN General Assembly, but two are all but decided.
Ethiopia and Bolivia are running unopposed after their regional grouping put them forward as their candidates, but they must still pick up 2/3 of votes cast in the 193-nation assembly.
Italy, the Netherlands and Sweden are competing for two spots while Kazakhstan and Thailand are squaring off for a seat reserved for Asia.
On the eve of the vote, Human Rights Watch called on UN member-states to take a cold, hard look at the human rights record of Kazakhstan and Thailand.
Thailand's military junta, which seized power in May 2014, has banned political activity and ramped up prosecutions under tough sedition and royal defamation laws.
"Thailand's pledges to lead the promotion and protection of human rights worldwide as a Security Council member ring hollow in the face of its widespread abuses at home," said HRW's deputy director for global advocacy, Philippe Bolopion.
Vying for a council seat for the first time since its 1991 independence from the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan has been criticized for cracking down on journalists and political activists.
"Debate happens in UN corridors in New York in a way that is not allowed in Kazakhstan itself," Bolopion said.
Italy takes migrants to UN
Italy has lobbied fiercely for a council seat, portraying itself as a crossroads country in the Mediterranean and touting its experience dealing with the refugee crisis.
"Italy is a global security actor," said Italian Ambassador Sebastiano Cardi during a recent election debate.
"We think we are ideally placed to deal with the peace and security issues on the agenda."
Italy is also seen as a player in efforts to pull Libya out of chaos.
The Netherlands, home to the International Criminal Court and other world tribunals, has played up its commitment to international justice while Sweden has highlighted its role as a major aid donor.
Italy and the Netherlands have a "very good chance of winning" seats, said David Malone, rector of the United Nations University.
"Surely Asia, with many governments focused above all on economic and social development in often creative and highly successful ways, can do better" than Thailand and Kazakhstan, he said.
The 5 elected countries will begin a two-year stint on the council on January 1, taking their seats alongside the five permanent council members – Britain, France, China, Russia and the United States.
As the most powerful body of the United Nations, the Security Council can impose sanctions, endorse peace accords and authorize the use of military force.
It also oversees 16 peacekeeping missions in the world, with a budget of about $8 billion.
Winning a Security Council seat "is a great PR victory for governments to their constituents," said Martin Edwards, who teaches UN and global governance at Seton Hall University.
The challenge is finding space to influence decisions that are mostly in the hands of the five veto-wielding members.
"They'll have the chance to speak but some states speak more loudly than others," said Edwards.
The other five non-permanent members are: Egypt, Japan, Senegal, Ukraine and Uruguay. – Rappler.com