Condemnation as China, Russia and Cuba win seats on UN's Human Rights Council

Credit: AP

China, Russia and Cuba winning seats on the UN's Human Rights Council is "like letting a gang of arsonists into the fire brigade", a campaigner has said as the three countries come under fire from activist groups over their "abysmal human rights records".

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia, one of the world's most repressive regimes, did not gain a seat.

In secret-ballot voting in the 193-member U.N. General Assembly on that race, Pakistan received 169 votes, Uzbekistan 164, Nepal 150, China 139 and Saudi Arabia just 90 votes.

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has previously accused China of "gross human rights abuses" in relation to its treatment of Uighur Muslims

ITV News has run a series of special report on the Uighur population of China:

Despite reform plans announced by Saudi Arabia, Human Rights Watch and others strongly opposed its candidacy.

Campaigners pointed out that the Middle East nation continues to target human rights defenders, dissidents and women’s rights activists and has demonstrated little accountability for past abuses.

The killing of Washington Post columnist and Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul two years ago, was given as one such example.

Jamal Khashoggi Khashoggi was murdered and dismembered after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018. Credit: AP

"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," Human Rights Watch’s UN Director, Louis Charbonneau, said after the results were announced.

But Mr Charbonneau described China, Cuba and Russia as "undeserving countries" but said: "By being on the council, these abusers will be directly in the spotlight."

Last week, a coalition of human rights groups from Europe, the United States and Canada called on UN member states to oppose the election of China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Cuba, Pakistan and Uzbekistan, saying their human rights records make 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.

The Geneva-based rights organisation published a 30-page joint report with the Human Rights Foundation and the Raoul Wallenberg Center for Human Rights evaluating candidates for council seats.

Winners Bolivia, Ivory Coast, Nepal, Malawi, Mexico, Senegal and Ukraine were all listed as having "questionable" credentials due to problematic human rights and UN voting records that need improvement.

It gave "qualified" ratings only to the United Kingdom and France.

Human Rights Watch pointed to an unprecedented call by 50 UN experts on June 26 for "decisive measures to protect fundamental freedoms in China".

They warned about its mass rights violations in Hong Kong and Tibet and against ethnic Uighurs in the Chinese province of Xinjiang as well as attacks on rights defenders, journalists, lawyers and government critics.

Their call was echoed by over 400 civil society groups from more than 60 countries.

ITV News spoke to a Uighur doctor about her experiences in China:

Of the four winners of seats in the Asia-Pacific group, China got the lowest vote.

The rights group also pointed to Russia’s military operations with the Syrian government and noted Russia’s veto of UN Security Council resolutions on Syria, including blocking Damascus’ referral to the International Criminal Court.

Human Rights Council spokesperson Rolando Gomez said when the newly elected members take their seats in January, 119 of the 193 UN member States will have served on the council, reflecting its diversity and giving the council "legitimacy when speaking out on human rights violations in all countries".

He added: "No country has a perfect human rights record … (and) no state is immune from scrutiny of their human rights record, whether they are a member or not.

Delegates are seen prior to the vote at the United Nations Human Rights. Credit: AP

"If a State thinks they can conceal the human rights violations they may have committed, or escape criticism by sitting on the Human Rights Council, they are greatly mistaken."

How did China, Russia and Cuba gain the seats?

Under the Human Rights Council’s rules, seats are allocated to regions to ensure geographical representation.

Except for the Asia-Pacific contest, the election of 15 members to the 47-member Human Rights Council was all but decided in advance because all the other regional groups had uncontested slates.

Four countries won four Africa seats: Ivory Coast, Malawi, Gabon and Senegal.

Russia and Ukraine won the two East European seats.

In the Latin American and Caribbean group, Mexico, Cuba and Bolivia won the three open seats.

And Britain and France won the two seats for the Western European and others group.