By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS | 11 October 2023 (IDN) — The UN’s 47-member Geneva-based Human Rights Council (HRC) has had a longstanding notoriety for having several so-called “repressive regimes” and “authoritarian governments” as its members—elected by the 193-member General Assembly.
At the elections, held by secret ballot on 10 October, the 15 new members elected included China, Burundi, and Cuba. But Russia, accused of violating the UN charter for invading Ukraine, failed in its bid for re-election.
Both China and Russia are two of the five veto-wielding permanent members (P5) of the Security Council, along with the UK, the US, and France.
In a statement released immediately following the elections, the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, warned that the election of Burundi and China undermines the credibility of the HRC.
“States elected to the HRC are supposed to demonstrate their commitment to the highest standards of human rights, including their full cooperation with all UN mechanisms.”
These are conditions set forth in UN General Assembly Resolution 60/251. The fact that potential mass atrocity crimes are being perpetrated by several HRC member states at home or abroad—including Cameroon, Eritrea, United Arab Emirates, and Sudan—is also deeply disturbing, the Global Centre said.
The HRC and its mechanisms and procedures—including the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), HRC-mandated investigative mechanisms, special procedures, and treaty bodies, as well as the technical assistance provided by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)—all play an essential role in providing early warning of the risk factors that can lead to crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, war crimes, and genocide, and provide recommendations to prevent their recurrence.
The Global Centre also said it has compiled profiles of each newly elected HRC member. These provide a basic overview of their commitment to preventing mass atrocities by protecting and promoting human rights.
Louis Charbonneau, UN director of Human Rights Watch said just ahead of the elections: “Everyday Russia and China remind us, by committing abuses on a massive scale, that they should not be members of the UN Human Rights Council.”
“No country on the Human Rights Council has an unblemished rights record, but every UN member nation should recognize that the council has membership standards for which Russia and China show despicable disregard,” he pointed out.
No place for Human Rights violators
He argued that UN member states should signal to the world that the worst human rights violators don’t belong on the UN’s top rights body.
Asked about the controversy surrounding China’s election to the HRC, UN Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq said: “This is a question that we repeatedly say the same things about this, which is that all the countries who are on the Human Rights Council are themselves obliged to open up their records for evaluation of their human rights.”
“And indeed, we believe that no country has a perfect human rights record, but they need to be willing to undergo this sort of evaluation that can improve the human rights situations in their respective countries,” he said.
“We believe that all the countries elected to the Human Rights Council by Member States have, therefore, earned their right to be there. They then need to show and demonstrate while they’re on the Human Rights Council their respect for human rights”, Haq said.
In a statement released on 10 October, International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) said: “A year after being suspended from the body, Russia will not be returning to the UN Human Rights Council in January, despite its best efforts. We are pleased to see that States at the UN General Assembly did not support Moscow’s candidacy for one of the available 15 seats between 2024 and 2026.”
“With this vote, States have voted in line with General Assembly resolution 60/251 and stopped Russia’s brazen attempt to undermine the international human rights system,’ said Madeleine Sinclair, co-director of ISHR’s New York office.
“Russia must answer for a long list of crimes in Ukraine and its ruthless and longstanding crackdown on civil society and individual liberties at home. We’re relieved voting States agreed that it could not have legitimately held a seat at the UN’s top human rights body,” Sinclair declared.
On 10 October, the General Assembly elected 15 new members to the Human Rights Council. The breakdown of the voting was as follows:
In the African region, which had four vacant seats, those elected were Burundi with 168 votes, Côte d’Ivoire (181), Ghana (179) and Malawi (182).
Among the four members elected for Asia-Pacific States were China, which received 154 votes; Indonesia (186); Japan (175); and Kuwait (183).
In the group of Eastern European States, Albania secured a seat with 123 votes and Bulgaria was elected with 160 votes. The Russian Federation received 83 votes and was not elected.
In the Latin American and Caribbean States group, the three vacant seats were filled by Brazil with 144 votes, Cuba (146), and Dominican Republic (137). Peru obtained 108 votes and was not elected.
The two seats of Western Europe and Other States were taken by France, which received 153 votes, and the Netherlands, which was elected with 169 votes.
The 15 elected members will serve for three years, starting on 1 January 2024 until December 2026: https://www.un.org/en/ga/78/meetings/elections/hrc.shtml
Charbonneau of Human Rights Watch said China was last in the Asia group.
“That suggests that if there had been competition in the Asian slate, China would have lost. And that’s what should have happened. It highlights the vital importance of competitive slates in UN elections.”
Meanwhile, in accordance with paragraph 7 of General Assembly resolution 60/251, the Council shall consist of 47 Member States, elected directly and individually by secret ballot by the majority of the members of the General Assembly.
The membership of the 47 countries is based on “equitable geographical distribution”, and the seats are distributed as follows among regional groups:
Group of African States (13)
Group of Asia-Pacific States (13)
Group of Eastern European States (6)
Group of Latin American and Caribbean States (8)
Group of Western European and other States (7)
The members of the Council shall serve for three years and shall not be eligible for immediate re-election after two consecutive terms.
A delegate casts the country’s vote during the Human Rights Council elections. 10 October 2023. UN Photo/Loey Felipe
This article was produced as a part of the joint media project between The Non-profit International Press Syndicate Group and Soka Gakkai International in Consultative Status with ECOSOC on 11 October 2023.
IDN is the flagship agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate.