UN Human Rights Council Election: China, Russia Get More Votes than UK, France

By Patrick Goodenough | November 12, 2013 | 5:53pm EST

Voting takes place in the General Assembly on Tuesday, November 12, 2013, to elect 14 members of Human Rights Council. (UN Photo/Evan Schneider)

(CNSNews.com) – Cuba’s election onto the U.N. Human Rights Council on Tuesday saw it receive more votes than two challengers in the Latin America group – both democracies – while China, Russia and Vietnam all received more votes than Britain and France.

The vote in the General Assembly was by secret ballot.

According to the U.N., the HRC is “responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe and for addressing situations of human rights violations and make recommendations on them.”

“This is a black day for human rights,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of U.N. Watch, a Geneva-based non-governmental human rights group.

“Despite the much-vaunted 2006 reform – which scrapped the discredited Human Rights Commission and created a new and supposedly improved council – today’s election of the world’s worst human rights abusers means that we are back to square one. Instead of reform, we have regression.”

Edward McMillan-Scott, a British member of the European Parliament – and one of its 14 vice-presidents, with a focus on human rights and democracy – said allowing China to become a member “calls into question the council’s credibility.”

“China's human rights record is well-documented. Numerous reports by the U.N. itself have highlighted degrading and inhumane treatment that is routine in China: forcible abortions, religious persecution, the oppression of minorities, etc.”

The State Department expressed “regret” over some of the countries elected onto the council but said the U.S. had managed to “work together and make progress” in the past with countries like China, Cuba and Russia at the HRC.

Six of the 14 countries elected to a three-year term on the HRC are designated “not free” by the Washington-based democracy watchdog Freedom House, which gives countries grades each year for political rights and civil liberties. They are China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Cuba, Vietnam and Algeria.

The other eight countries voted onto the Geneva-based council are Britain, France, Macedonia, the Maldives, Mexico, Morocco, Namibia and South Africa.

Seats in the 47-member council are distributed proportionately among the five regions recognized by the U.N., with 13 each going to African and Asian countries, eight to Latin America and the Caribbean, seven to the Western group and six to Eastern Europe.

As members’ terms are staggered, in Tuesday’s vote four seats for Asia, four for Africa, and two each for the other three groups were up for grabs.

In the Latin America contest, Cuba went up against Uruguay and Mexico for the two available seats. The result was Cuba 148, Mexico 135 and Uruguay 93.

Asia put up a closed slate, with four candidates running for four seats. All received well over the simple majority vote of 97 votes required – Vietnam (184), China (176), the Maldives (164) and Saudi Arabia (140). Jordan earlier pulled out of what would have been a competitive Asia contest, but still received 16 votes on Tuesday – presumably from democracies troubled by the lack of choice and nature of regimes on the slate.

In Africa, five countries went up for four seats, with South Africa (169), Algeria (164), Morocco (163) and Namibia (150) successful, and South Sudan (89) not.

The last two groups also offered closed slates, with France (174) and Britain (171) taking the two Western seats and Macedonia (177) and Russia (176) the two Eastern European ones.

Next year’s HRC will have 24 “free,” 12 “partly free” and 11 “not free” members.

No enforced standard for membership

Also of note in Tuesday’s election was the showing of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the bloc of Muslim-majority states that has played a significant – critics would say often unconstructive – role at the council since its creation in 2006.

From January the OIC will have 14 members in the HRC. While that is two fewer than this year the OIC retains its majority in both the Asia and Africa groups: seven of the 13 Asia seats are held by OIC members (Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Maldives, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates); and seven of the 13 Africa seats (Algeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Morocco, Sierra Leone).

The HRC is the U.N.’s peak human rights body, created in 2006 as a replacement for the largely-discredited U.N. Commission for Human Rights.

Although governments are asked to take into account candidates’ domestic human rights records at election time, the requirement is not enforced. There is no mandatory qualification for members and with voting taking place by secret ballot countries with poor records continue to win seats.

During negotiations in 2005-6 to establish the council, the U.S. argued that membership should be barred to any country that was subjected to U.N. Security Council sanctions for human rights abuses or terrorism. It had also proposed that election to the council require a two-thirds majority vote of the General Assembly. Neither proposals made it into the final text adopted in May 2006.

The prospect of rights-violating regimes joining the HRC – and then using it to protect each other – was a major reasons for the decision by the Bush administration to shun the council, a decision reversed by its successor in 2009.

“We regret that some countries elected to the Human Rights Council have failed to show their commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said after the vote.

“In creating the council, member-states pledged to take human rights records into account when voting for council membership. However, at the same time, we have been able – there are countries that were just elected – including Russia, Cuba, and China – who have previously served on the council before and we have still been able to work together and make progress. So that is what we are hopeful of with the council moving forward.”

The full HRC membership for next year is as follows: Algeria (term ends at the end of 2016), Argentina (2015), Austria (2014), Benin (2014), Botswana (2014), Brazil (2015), Britain (2016), Burkina Faso (2014), Chile (2014), China (2016), Congo (2014), Costa Rica (2014), Côte d’Ivoire (2015), Cuba (2016), Czech Republic (2014), Estonia (2015), Ethiopia (2015), France (2016), Gabon (2015), Germany (2015), India (2014), Indonesia (2014), Ireland (2015), Italy (2014),  Japan (2015), Kazakhstan (2015), Kenya (2015), Kuwait (2014), Macedonia (2016), the Maldives (2016), Mexico (2016), Montenegro (2015), Morocco (2016), Namibia (2016), Pakistan (2015), Peru (2014), Philippines (2014), Romania (2014), Russia (2016), Saudi Arabia (2016), Sierra Leone (2015), South Africa (2016), South Korea (2015), United Arab Emirates (2015), United States (2015), Venezuela (2015) and Vietnam (2016).

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