Editors' Choice World

Wed 14 October 2020:

China, Russia and Cuba were elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council on Tuesday, despite opposition from activist groups over their human rights records, but Saudi Arabia failed in its bid to win a seat.

Pakistan received 169 votes, Uzbekistan 164, Nepal 150, China 139 and Saudi Arabia 90 votes – ending Riyadh’s bid to again be a member of the UN’s top human rights body.

Fifteen countries were elected to the 47-nation council on Tuesday.

Human Rights Watch has described China and Saudi Arabia as “two of the world’s most abusive governments“. The New York-based group also singled out numerous war crimes in the Syrian war as making Russia a highly problematic candidate.

Experts say with a number of countries with questionable rights records being elected, the current system of entry to UNHRC is in serious need of reform.

“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.”

Kevin Jon Heller, professor of international law at the University of Copenhagen, said: “Of course it is regrettable that countries with such terrible human rights records can be elected to the council. But that is the nature of the UN’s messy bureaucracy.

“There is simply no way to avoid the kinds of backroom deals that result in outcomes like this. There is simply no evidence that countries take human rights records into account when they vote.”

‘Like a gang of arsonists’

Last week, a coalition of human rights groups from Europe, the US and Canada called on UN member states to oppose the election of China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Cuba, Pakistan and Uzbekistan, saying that their human rights records make them “unqualified.”

“Electing these dictatorships as UN judges on human rights is like making a gang of arsonists into the fire brigade,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch.

The council aims to spotlight various abuses, and periodically reviews human rights in every UN member country. Created in 2006 to replace a commission written off because of some members’ poor rights records, the new council soon came to face similar criticism, including that rights abusers sought seats to protect themselves and their allies.

Membership in the UNHCR is distributed between five regional groups: Africa, Asia-Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean, Western Europe and Eastern Europe. African and Asia-Pacific states have 13 seats on the council each, Latin America has eight, Western Europe seven, and Eastern Europe receives six seats.

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