Human rights groups raise alarm after China, Russia, others elected to UN body
The 15 countries elected Tuesday will serve for three years on the 47-member U.N. body, which is tasked with upholding human rights standards, addressing violations around the world and making recommendations for accountability.
The body has long drawn criticism for hypocrisy and politicization for putting representatives of countries with gross human rights violations in leadership positions.
Louis Charbonneau, UN director at Human Rights Watch, told Al Jazeera that “Serial rights abusers should not be rewarded with seats on the Human Rights Council.”
Human rights groups had earlier raised the alarm about the inclusion of autocratic governments campaigning to join the council, saying the inclusion of “dictatorships” of China, Russia, Cuba, Uzbekistan and Saudi Arabia should be opposed.
Saudi Arabia failed to secure the votes to join the council.
“The troubling fact that totalitarian regimes like Saudi Arabia, China, and Cuba are even eligible to stand for election to the Council represents a rebuke and indictment to the very existence of this ‘human rights’ body," Thor Halvorssen, president of the nonprofit Human Rights Foundation (HRF), said in a statement last week.
HRF, in partnership with the non-profit organizations U.N. Watch and Raoul Wallenberg Center for Human Rights, released a 30-page report ahead of the council vote evaluating the human rights records of the campaigning countries.
The report singled out the elected countries of China, Cuba, Pakistan, Russia and Uzbekistan as having poor records on human rights and maintained that they were unqualified for the council.
China is under scrutiny for its oppression of Uighur Muslims in the country’s Xinjiang region as well as its imposition of a National Security Law in Hong Kong and a rolling back of freedoms in that territory.
Russia faces continued scrutiny over allegations that Moscow was behind the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexi Navalny, it’s illegal occupation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea and its involvement in the Syrian civil war on behalf of the regime of Bashar al-Assad.
The report highlighted Pakistan as committing serious human rights violations, including unlawful or arbitrary killings; detention and torture; restrictions on freedom of speech and religion and violence against racial and ethnic minorities and the LGBTQ individuals.
In Uzbekistan, the HRF report said that human rights violations include extrajudicial killings; torture; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; restrictions on freedom of expression and the press and violent suppression of peaceful demonstrations and political participatoin, among others violations.
Cuba was criticized as implementing an ongoing campaign of repression of dissent and public criticism.
President Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Human Rights Council in 2018 over complaints that governments that abuse human rights are shielded from criticism by their participation on the council and that the body exhibited a “chronic bias” against Israel.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Tuesday’s election validated the U.S. decision to withdraw two years earlier.
The election of China, Russia, and Cuba to the UN Human Rights Council validates the U.S. decision to withdraw from the Council in 2018 and use other venues to protect and promote universal human rights. At #UNGA this year, we did just that.
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) October 13, 2020
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Kelly Craft on Tuesday said the election results showed the “Council makes a mockery of its intended purpose and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights” and highlighted Venezuela’s election to the council in 2019 as evidence of the body’s hypocrisy.
Today’s election results for the @UN Human Rights Council validates @POTUS Trump’s decision to leave that deeply corrupted body. With China, Russia, Cuba & Venezuela as members, the Council makes a mockery of its intended purpose and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
— Ambassador Kelly Craft (@USAmbUN) October 13, 2020
At least six countries elected to the council on Tuesday – Côte d’Ivoire, Bolivia, Nepal, Malawi, Mexico, Senegal, Ukraine — were highlighted in the report as having “some” problematic human rights records or concerning U.N. voting records.
Only the United Kingdom and France, both elected to the council, were highlighted as “qualified” in the report.
“It’s an outrage that regimes that systematically violate the human rights of the citizens they’re supposed to protect are being rewarded with the opportunity to become the world’s guardians and judges of human rights,” Halvorssen said. “It is unspeakable, unthinkable, and profoundly frustrating to human rights defenders everywhere.”
Only the Central African country of Gabon, also elected to the council on Tuesday, was not mentioned in the Human Rights Foundation report.