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On Wednesday, Morocco’s ambassador in Geneva secured the position of President for the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in 2024 through an uncommon secret ballot involving member states. Omar Zniber received 30 votes in a competition against South Africa’s ambassador, Mxolisi Nkosi, who garnered 17 votes.
Although it was Africa’s turn to assume the presidency of the UN’s primary human rights body, the continent’s nations could not reach a consensus on a single candidate among the 13 members of the council, leading to the adoption of the unusual secret ballot.
Expressing the significance of the council’s work, Zniber, after his win, underlined its role in promoting, respecting, and guaranteeing universally recognized human rights, as stated in a release from the Geneva-based body.
Despite opposition from Algeria and South Africa, Zniber’s successful candidacy prevailed.
The North African kingdom perceives the international community’s election of its ambassador as the president of the UNHR as an endorsement of its constructive approach and unifying leadership on crucial issues. These include inter-religious dialogue, tolerance, the fight against racial hatred, the right to a healthy and sustainable environment, migrants’ rights, and the impact of new technologies.
In response to ongoing criticisms from Moroccan and international NGOs regarding repression within the country, particularly targeting journalists, activists, and human rights, Morocco has faced accusations of utilizing trials for common law crimes, notably sexual offenses, and digital surveillance. The alleged use of Pegasus spyware to hack the phones of journalists, activists, and politicians, both domestically and internationally, has been a source of dispute. Despite these allegations, Moroccan authorities have consistently denied them as unjust and fantastical.
Persistent discrimination against women and minorities is another point of concern raised by NGOs. Established in 2006, the Human Rights Council’s role is to safeguard and promote human rights globally, addressing violations. The presidency of the council rotates annually among the five regional groupings.
The first presidential vote occurred in 2021 when the Asia-Pacific group, slated to assume leadership, failed to agree on a single candidate. Fiji emerged victorious in a three-way contest. The president’s responsibilities include overseeing council meetings, appointing independent experts to investigate alleged rights abuses in countries, and determining the level of action against cases of state intimidation directed at those cooperating with the council.
Zniber, Morocco’s permanent representative at the UN in Geneva since 2018, succeeds former president Vaclav Balek, the Czech ambassador to Geneva.
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