Saudi Arabia, China appears to be among the countries with virtually assured seats on the UN’s top human rights body.
China, Russia, Cuba, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia are expected to be elected to the board of the UN human rights council on Tuesday, leaving human rights campaigners in the countries aghast and pleading with EU states to commit to withholding their support.
The Geneva-based monitoring NGO UN Watch described the situation as the equivalent of allowing five convicted arsonists to join the fire brigade.
The UN has 15 three-year term vacancies on the 47-strong council, with the seats grouped into five regions. Due to secretive backroom deals, the only regional group in which seats are being contested is in Asia and the Pacific, where five candidates are vying for four available seats. A candidate can only be defeated if fewer than 97 countries positively vote for them in the secret ballot at the UN general assembly in New York.
At a briefing organised by UN Watch, Yang Jianli, the president of Citizen Power Initiatives for China and a former political prisoner, said: “China was involved in the annihilation of political freedom in Hong Kong. By any standards, China has grossly abused the UN human rights founding principles. If this were an election for a UN human rights abusers council, it would be more than proper to vote for China, since it leads the world in violating human rights.”
He said democracies had a duty to vote against Beijing, and that victims of human rights abuses in China deserved to know how those democracies voted in the secret ballot.
Rosa María Payá, a Cuban human rights activist and daughter of the late dissident Oswaldo Payá, whose family say he was murdered, claimed that “Cuba uses the seat to protect their impunity, making sure the multiple accusations against them and criminal friends in Venezuela, China, Russia, and Belarus do not prosper. These groups act in gangs conspiring together to cover up the facts and empty the human rights council of content and effectiveness.”
Vladimir Kara-Murza, a Russian dissident who was twice poisoned, said seasoned UN watchers were rarely surprised, pointing out that regimes in Libya, Sudan, and in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had in the past been elected to the council.
“Yet we still find it astonishing that Russia is considered a legitimate candidate let alone that it is likely to be elected,” he said. “It has … been confirmed … that [the Russian opposition leader] Alexei Navalny has been poisoned by a highly controlled military-grade nerve agent produced by the Russian state that has been used for years by the Russian security services, leaving no doubt who was behind this attack.”
He pointed out the UN says countries on the human rights council must “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights”.
“If this is to have any meaning the worst abusers of human rights should not be allowed to be given a seal of approval,” said Kara-Murza.
Alongside Saudi Arabia and China, Nepal, Pakistan, and Uzbekistan are also vying for the four seats available to the Asia and Pacific group. Four countries have announced candidacies for the four Africa group seats: Ivory Coast, Senegal, Malawi, and Gabon. In addition to Russia, Ukraine is seeking one of two eastern European group seats. In the Latin American and Caribbean groups, Mexico, Cuba, and Bolivia are running unopposed for three seats. In the western European section, France and Britain will take the two available seats.
Donald Trump withdrew the US from the council two years ago, which campaigners say has strengthened the authoritarian view that human rights should be measured through the prism of economics as opposed to individual freedom.
Although human rights groups are often critical of the council, they say it provides a rare platform for NGOs to directly confront repressive regimes.