The UN Human Rights Council has elected Ambassador Omar Zniber of Morocco as president of the UN Human Rights Council for 2024 after he beat South African envoy, Mxolisi Nkosi in a vote.
Voting was by secret ballot on January 10 and held after the 47-member council resumed its work for 2024 without a leader for only the second time in its 18-year history.
Of the votes cast, Zniber won 30 to the 17 cast for Nkosi with all members voting.
The council presidency rotates annually between five regional groups that generally reach a consensus on a candidate to endorse. However, members of the Africa group could not do so, forcing the vote.
Zniber was elected in a process in which all 47 members of the Geneva-based human rights body voted to appoint its president for 2024 – the council’s 18th annual cycle.
“It is an honour for both the Kingdom of Morocco and for me personally to have been elected as head of this august Council for its 18th cycle – a position belonging to Africa,” Ambassador Zniber told the council after being elected.
He said he now had a duty to work for the council whose work is “so important and so fundamental” to “guarantee human rights as universally recognized.”
Zniber’s presidency takes immediate effect, and he joins ambassadors Febrian Ruddyard of Indonesia, Darius Staniulis of Lithuania, Marcelo Eliseo Scappini Ricciard of Paraguay, and Heidi Schroderus-Fox of Finland, who were elected on December 8, 2023, as council vice-presidents for the current year.
A career diplomat, Zniber has served as ambassador to the UN in Geneva since 2018. Nkosi is also a career diplomat with vast foreign affairs experience who has served in Geneva since December 2020.
Although voting for the top rotating post at the council has been rare, non-governmental organizations told the Geneva Solutions publication that allowing the decision to go to a vote enables fairer and more transparent elections.
“As we have seen in recent years with the defeat of council candidates such as Russia, competitive elections enable electors to make choices based on human rights considerations, among others, rather than having that choice made for them behind closed doors,” Phil Lynch who heads the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), told Geneva Solutions.
According to a scorecard set up by the ISHR, neither South Africa nor Morocco meets all the standards set by the Human Rights Council. South Africa nudges Morocco in the scoring, with neither country having ratified fundamental international human rights treaties and optional protocols relating to them.
The Human Rights Council holds its first session for the year from February 26 to April 5, when crises in Ukraine and Gaza are expected to stir hot debate and divisions.