Luxembourgh Times
Human rights

Luxembourg elected to UN Human Rights Council for first time

Membership gives Grand Duchy a global platform to urge other countries to end repressive policies

National flags line the entrance to the building in Geneva, Switzerland, that is home to the UN Human Rights Council.

National flags line the entrance to the building in Geneva, Switzerland, that is home to the UN Human Rights Council. © Photo credit: Shutterstock

Luxembourg was elected to join the UN Human Rights Council for the first time in its history on Thursday, allowing the country to vote on resolutions designed to promote and protect freedoms around the world.

Luxembourg was one of 18 new countries elected during a vote at the UN’s General Assembly in New York on Thursday. They replace nations whose mandate expire this year. The Grand Duchy’s three-year term will begin on January 1. The intergovernmental organisation based in Geneva, Switzerland, has 47 members. It can launch investigations into alleged human rights violations and issue recommendations to governments, but countries can ultimately ignore the resolutions. Its recent work has included a resolution urging Myanmar's government to stop marginalising its Muslim Rohyinga population and establishing an inquiry into alleged human rights violations in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

Amnesty International Luxembourg welcomed the country's election and promised it would "pay particular attention to ensuring that the government fully assumes this responsibility".

The human rights campaign group said in a statement that it was "concerned that corporate responsibility, including in the technology sector, is so rarely mentioned in Luxembourg's engagements with the Human Rights Council."

An Amnesty International study, reported by the Luxembourg Times in June, revealed the shadowy structure of the spyware firm NSO and its multiple entities in the Grand Duchy. Governments around the world may have used the spyware to target numerous activists, journalists, lawyers and dissidents, a consortium of international media outlets revealed the following month.

Whilst NSO Group is based in Israel, the July media reports prompted Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn to concede nine NSO entities were based in the country, after initially saying there were only two. Luxembourg would need to act if a link was shown between NSO's operations in the Grand Duchy and human rights violations, the minister said without specifying any potential responses. Asselborn said he sent letters to the nine NSO entities reminding them of their human rights duties.

The country's election to the UN council would be an opportunity to "ensure Luxembourg adopts legislation on obligations relating to the duty of vigilance of companies in the area of human rights," Amnesty International said.

The UN council has been criticised for including countries with a record of human rights violations. Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Eritrea and Somalia were among those elected alongside Luxembourg on Thursday, joining the likes of Russia, China and Venezuela. The United States withdrew as a full member in 2018, when the then country's UN Ambassador Nikki Haley accused the council of being a “protector of human rights abusers, and a cesspool of political bias." The US is due to return as a full member next year after being elected during Thursday's vote.