12/07/2017 8:19 PM AEST | Updated 12/07/2017 8:19 PM AEST

Australia In Prime Position For Seat On UN Human Rights Council

It is now down to two candidates for two seats.

Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Australia wants a seat at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland.

CANBERRA -- France has pulled out of the running for a seat on the United Nation's premier human rights body, the Human Rights Council, leaving Australia one of two nations vying for two 2018/2020 seats.

After two years on the UN Security Council (2013/2014), Australia's been lobbing other UN member nations hard for a temporary seat on the 47-nation Geneva-based body responsible for the promotion and protection of human rights.

It is understood France had felt its bid was under-prepared and will try for a later council seat.

Despite the maths looking solid, it isn't a done deal for either Australia or Spain. Both nations will have to survive a vote in October where majority approval of 193-member UN general assembly is required.

In a statement to HuffPost Australia, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said the Turnbull Government wanted and deserved the seat.

"The Australian Government is continuing its positive campaign for a seat on the Human Rights Council.

"The support for Australia's candidacy demonstrates the values and principles that underpin Australia's international engagement.

"We will continue to campaign to ensure the South Pacific region is represented, for the first time, on the Council and we are looking forward to making a positive contribution."

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop

It's been a controversial bid from Australia with human rights groups and refugee activists insisting Australia does not deserve a seat due to its punishing offshore immigration processing policies.

Previous elections to the council have also been controversial, including the election of Saudi Arabia over Russia because of a lack of competition.

Elaine Pearson from Human Rights Watch was hoping this year's process would be more competitive and is hoping another candidate nation comes forward.

She's told HuffPost Australia that Australia has run a "sophisticated and energetic campaign".

"It's disappointing that France has pulled out, a seat of the Human Rights Council should be a prize to be won by candidates not a gift handed to them," she said.

"Competitive elections encourage more scrutiny of candidates' human rights records.

"Without competition, the credibility of the Council is undermined.

"It's the absence of competitive elections that has allowed human rights abusers like Saudi Arabia sit on the Council and hamper its effectiveness."

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