China and Russia were among 15 countries elected to the UN Human Rights Council on October 13, drawing sharp criticism from rights groups and the United States over their abysmal human rights records.
The 193-member UN General Assembly also elected Ivory Coast, Gabon, Malawi, Cuba, Bolivia, Uzbekistan, France, and Britain to the 47-member council. Senegal, Nepal, Pakistan, Ukraine, and Mexico were reelected for a second three-year term.
Last week, a coalition of Western human rights groups called on UN member states to oppose the election of China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Cuba, Pakistan and Uzbekistan, saying their human rights records made 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.
Candidates were elected by secret ballot in geographical groups to ensure representation.
The Asia-Pacific group, which included Saudi Arabia, was the only competitive race, with five candidates vying for four seats. Saudi Arabia failed in its bid to gain a seat.
“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. Had there been additional candidates, China, Cuba and Russia might have lost too,” said Human Rights Watch UN director Louis Charbonneau.
China has been condemned by Western countries for its treatment of ethnic minorities in the country’s Xinjiang region and the crushing of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.
Rights group also criticize Russia for its support of Syria’s government and possible war crimes, as well as repression of dissent at home.
In 2018, the United States withdrew from the UN Human Rights Council due to its alleged anti-Israel bias and election of the world’s worst human rights offenders to the body.
“Today the UN General Assembly once again elected countries with abhorrent human rights records, including China, Russia, and Cuba. Venezuela was elected in 2019,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement. “These elections only further validate the U.S. decision to withdraw and use other venues and opportunities to protect and promote universal human rights.”
The Geneva-based Human Rights Council can highlight abuses and has special monitors watching certain countries and issues. It also periodically reviews human rights in UN member countries.
The new members will begin their term on January 1, 2021.