GENEVA (Reuters) – Morocco won the vote on Wednesday to chair the United Nations Human Rights Council, after a heated confrontation with South Africa, which said Rabat’s record on human rights the man made him unfit to preside over the body.
The Moroccan candidate, Ambassador Omar Zniber, received 30 votes, and his South African opponent, Ambassador Mxolisi Nkosi, obtained 17 in a secret ballot in Geneva.
Before the vote, Nkosi told Reuters that Morocco was “the antithesis of what the Council stands for” and said the country’s election would undermine the body’s credibility.
Morocco, in turn, accused South Africa and some other African states of undermining its efforts to occupy this position, a prestigious but above all symbolic position.
“The election of the Kingdom, supported by a large number of countries around the world despite the efforts of Algeria and South Africa to counter it, demonstrates the confidence and credibility inspired by Morocco’s external actions …”, declared the Moroccan Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The vote marks a rare public conflict within the African group whose turn it was to lead the 47-member council. He normally strives to make decisions as a whole.
The dispute partly revolves around Morocco’s claim to sovereignty over Western Sahara, where the Algeria-backed Polisario Front is seeking independence. Morocco has denied allegations of rights violations by its opponents.
As part of a broader strategy, Morocco is courting countries, including its African neighbors, to gain support for its policies regarding the former Spanish territory.
He failed to gain support from South Africa, which helped organize an event to promote self-determination for the Sahrawi people in Geneva last year.
Rights groups say Morocco’s new role should encourage it to protect human rights at the highest levels.
“In particular, Morocco must refrain from intimidating or retaliating against human rights defenders working at the UN,” said Tess McEvoy, co-director of the New York office of the advocacy group International Service. for Human Rights.
The United Nations Human Rights Council, which meets several times a year, is the only global intergovernmental body designed to protect human rights around the world. This can increase monitoring of countries’ human rights records and authorize investigations.
(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber and Emma Farge in Geneva, Ahmed El Jechtimi in Rabat; editing by Timothy Heritage)
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