China, Cuba, Pakistan elected to UNHRC

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Overview of the Human Rights Council one day after the U.S. announced their withdraw at the United Nations in Geneva, (photo credit: DENIS BALIBOUSE/REUTERS)

UN Watch director: Membership should be based on a nation’s human rights records, but rarely is

The United Nations General Assembly elected China on the Human Rights Council, despite its treatment of Uigher Muslims, some one million of whom have been held in detention camps.

It had the support of 139 out of the 191 nations who cast their vote. China was one of 16 nations that vied for 15 three-year seats on the 47-member council, which holds annual elections for its rotating membership.

Cuba, Russia and Pakistan were also elected, but Saudi Arabia failed to secure a seat, receiving only 90 of the minimum 97 required votes.

Former US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley tweeted in response, “the UN Human Rights Council is a total farce not worthy of its name or the United States giving it any credibility.”

Prior to the vote, Lisa Nandy, the United Kingdom’s shadow foreign secretary from the Labour Party, wrote a letter to the country’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, asking that the UK oppose China’s UNHRC membership.

“The UK must publicly oppose China’s re-election to the UN Human Rights Council and show that our support for the Uighur people goes beyond warm words and empty rhetoric,” Nandy wrote.

She also wrote that there are reports of forced labor, mass internment and forced sterilization of Ujgher Muslims.

“These acts are, prima facie, a crime against humanity,” she said. “It may be that, on certain accounts, the acts share some of the features of genocide, within the meaning of the 1948 Convention.”

Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth wrote that “it takes audacity for the Chinese government to think it deserves a seat on the UNHRC as it detains more than one million Uighur/Turkic Muslims to force them to abandon Islam and their culture.”

HILLEL NEUER, executive director of the Geneva-based NGO UN Watch, called for the UN to end elections to the UNHRC and to open it up to all of the UN’s 193 members.

Limiting UNHRC membership to 47-countries based on an election gives a status symbol to those countries that are elected, even though they have a poor human rights record.

“We have to consider scrapping the entire election process” because “the elections have no effect other than a negative effect of allowing those countries to parade themselves around the world as elected members – and it does not have the desired effect of keeping them off,” he said.

The resolution that created the UNHRC in 2006 said that membership should be based on the nation’s human rights records, but that resolution is rarely adhered to, he said.

The history of the UNHRC has shown that too often “most of the worst abusers get elected,” Neuer said.

The result of Tuesday’s elections “is that most likely China, Russia, Cuba, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia will be elected,” he said.

Human rights abusers elected to the UNHRC “go around the world and say look at me, I have a badge of approval,” Neuer said. “The moment after the elections happened, you will see the media proudly proclaiming how wonderful they are and how the… international community chose them to be on the human rights body.”

He explained that even in non-contested races, each country must receive 97 votes, so that if UN members abstain, countries like China will not be elected.

“We urge all member states not to vote for those countries that have poor human rights records, even if there are no competition in their group,” Neuer said.

The United States and Israel have long complained about the UNHRC failure to tackle true human rights issues, charging that it has provided a haven for human rights abusers. In particular, both countries have accused the council of bias against Israel, particularly given that it approves more resolutions against the Jewish state than against any other nation during a given year.

Tuesday’s election also weakened support for Israel at the UNHRC, given that two countries which end their terms in 2020, Australia and the Czech Republic, were replaced by nations with a voting record that is less sympathetic to the Jewish state.

Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan said after the votes that, “Today’s Human Rights Council elections prove once again that this council has nothing to do with protecting human rights and everything to do with violating them. Since 2006, the council has adopted 90 resolutions condemning Israel, more than all the resolutions against Syria, North Korea and Iran, combined. The obsessive focus on Israel, along with its protection of oppressive, dictatorial regimes, shows that the Human Rights Council is in the business of white-washing the crimes of these countries. I call on all democracies that are still members of the council to immediately resign from this shameful and antisemitic body.”

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