China, Russia join UN human rights body, while Saudi bid fails
Seats are allotted according to regional groups, and Russia ran unopposed, as did Cuba; China beat Saudi for its seat.
China, Cuba and Russia on Tuesday were elected to the UN Human Rights Council despite vehement opposition from activists and organisations who say the countries’ governments are among the worst offenders of human rights globally.
The United Nations General Assembly elected 15 new members to the 47-nation council. Seats are allotted according to regional groups, and Russia ran unopposed, as did Cuba.
Saudi Arabia failed to win a seat, losing out to China, Nepal, Pakistan and Uzbekistan for spots in one group.
“Saudi Arabia’s failure to win a seat on the Human Rights Council is a welcome reminder of the need for more competition in UN elections,” said Louis Charbonneau, the UN director at Human Rights Watch. “Had there been additional candidates, China, Cuba and Russia might have lost too.”
The Human Rights Council has a long history of including members with checkered records on the very issue it’s supposed to help oversee. Venezuela was elected last year despite being accused by the UN of extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detentions and torture.
“Today is a black day for human rights,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of Geneva-based monitoring NGO UN Watch. “The United Nations Human Rights Council was founded to protect victims from human rights abuse. And yet they’ve just elected some of the world’s worst abusers.”
The council’s controversial membership does not mean it cannot shine a spotlight on human rights violators, though. A UN expert appointed by the council, for instance, recommended probing the role of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
A separate panel in March said Russia’s military conducted “indiscriminate” bombardments against civilians in Syria last year.
But rights groups say countries accused of violations try to use their seats to prevent scrutiny of their abuses. The US has long argued that the council ignores widespread violations by several offenders while focusing too much on Israel, prompting President Donald Trump to withdraw from the group in 2018.
The Asia-Pacific vote was the only contested one. Ivory Coast, Malawi, Gabon, Senegal, Mexico, Bolivia, Cuba, Russia, Ukraine, Britain and France all won uncontested seats on Tuesday.
Russia’s ascension to the council comes as Europe takes steps to to retaliate against President Vladimir Putin’s government over the poisoning of Russia’s top opposition leader, Alexei Navalny.
Meanwhile, 39 countries denounced China earlier this month for its treatment of ethnic minority groups and for curtailing freedoms in Hong Kong.