The Human Rights and Alliance of Civilizations Room in the Palace of Nations

Morocco elected to preside the UN Human Rights Council: A step away from human rights

Right Livelihood strongly condemns the election of the Kingdom of Morocco as President of the Human Rights Council for 2024. As a country with an appalling human rights record, which illegally occupies the territory of Western Sahara and violently represses its people every day, Morocco’s election raises serious questions about the credibility and effectiveness of the most important Human Rights body of the United Nations. 

On January 10, 2024, the Council reunited to elect its new president, following the candidacy of two Member States from the African Group: South Africa and the Kingdom of Morocco. Mr. Omar Zniber, Permanent Representative of Morocco, was elected with 30 votes out of 47. 

According to General Assembly Resolution 60/251, Members of the Human Rights Council must uphold the highest standards in promoting and protecting human rights and fully cooperate with the Council and its mechanisms. Yet, in Western Sahara, Morocco continues to engage in systemic and systematic human rights violations, which continue to occur with complete impunity and under the blind eye of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO). Morocco also showed, on multiple occasions, its unwillingness to cooperate with the Council’s Special Procedures without an implicit recognition of its illegitimate claims on Western Sahara. 

As stated by prominent Sahrawi human rights defender and Right Livelihood Laureate Aminatou Haidar:

“Given Morocco’s shameful history in the field of human rights, its election to the presidency of the UN Human Rights Council is a disgrace for an international body that claims to be committed to democracy and the respect of human rights for all. Morocco will regard this success as an endorsement of its occupation of Western Sahara by the international community, and it will be encouraged to continue committing serious human rights violations.”

While the election of Morocco raises questions on the application of Resolution 60/251 and the legitimacy of the Council for the reasons mentioned above, the appointment of Mr. Zniber comes with increasing risks for Sahrawi activists and human rights defenders in the coming year.

The Council President is meant to play a key role in addressing and preventing cases of reprisals and intimidation occurring therein. Yet, Morocco has directly engaged in cases of reprisals against those engaging with the United Nations in the past, as reported by multiple reports of the UN Secretary-General. The case of Laureate Aminatou Haidar was included in the 2020 and 2021 versions of said reports. The election of a State directly engaging in these types of reprisals is only likely to perpetuate a culture of impunity and fear for those engaging with the Human Rights Council.

The election of Morocco to the Council Presidency is yet another failure by the international community to recognise the Saharawi people’s plea and raises serious questions about the legitimacy of the Human Rights Council itself. 

“This will not stop us from continuing to expose Morocco’s daily violations against us in the occupied territories of Western Sahara, and it will not stop the legitimate struggle of the Saharawi people for the right to freedom,” Ms. Haidar concluded.

Right Livelihood stands committed in its support to her and the Sahrawi people in their struggle towards self-determination. It will continue its effort to highlight their situation at the Human Rights Council.