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China, Russia and Cuba to police human rights abuses

Photo: AFP

China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Cuba and Algeria won seats on the UN Human Rights Council on Tuesday, in a vote that has left human rights activists incredulous. The governments of all six of the countries are accused of ongoing rights abuses.


A secret ballot vote at the UN General Assembly in New York on Tuesday saw six highly controversial additions to the body’s human rights watchdog.

China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Cuba and Algeria were all awarded three-year terms on the 47-member Human Rights Council (UNHRC), which is tasked with policing human rights abuses around the world and monitoring “problem countries”.

Rights campaigners say that welcoming the six countries – which they deem “problem countries” – will dismay victims of human rights abuses and wholly discredit the council.

“This is a black day for human rights,” Hillel Neuer, Executive Director of Geneva-based monitor UN Watch, told FRANCE 24 by video link from Jerusalem. “The world’s worst human rights abusers have been given the status of world judges on human rights.”

Neuer, whose organisation is a frequent critic of UN rights practices, listed the most prominent examples of human rights abuses of the countries mentioned, citing the imprisonment of Pussy Riot members Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (who has recently gone missing) in Russia; the imprisonment in China of dissidents Liu Jiabao and Wang Bingzhang, and the persecution in Cuba of rapper El Critico, who has recently staged a month-long hunger strike in protest against charges brought against him. Neuer also accused Saudi Arabia of “lashing and punishing” rape victims.

“It’s absurd,” Neuer said. “For victims of human rights around the world who look to the UN for protection, it’s a very sad day.”

One of those is Oleg Kozlovsky, a Russian civil rights activist and FRANCE 24 Observer who has been arrested in Moscow numerous times for protesting against alleged torture practices carried out by the Russian government. Kozlovsky says he is concerned that the move will allow the government more clout in dealing with rights campaigners like himself.

“This development will give the Kremlin another advantage in repelling any criticism of Russia’s human rights situation,” he told FRANCE 24. “It means international pressure, however small it is already, will probably get even smaller.”

UN investigators unwelcome

Seats on the council are allotted by region and all 193 members of the General Assembly can vote. The UK, France, the Maldives, Macedonia, Mexico, Morocco, Namibia and South Africa were also awarded three-year terms on Tuesday.

Saudi Arabia and Jordan appeared to have traded places on the Security Council and Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on Tuesday when the Saudis officially rejected a seat on the Security Council and the Jordanians dropped out of the race for a seat on the UNHRC. The Security Council seat will now likely be offered to Jordan, while the UNHRC seat goes unopposed, meaning Saudi Arabia, as the only other regional candidate, will get it.

Human Rights Watch, another critic of UN rights practices, noted on Tuesday that five of the new members – China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam and Algeria – have refused to allow UN investigators to visit the countries in order to investigate alleged abuses.

China, Russia and Algeria have 10 or more unfulfilled requests for visits by UN experts, some of them dating back to 2000, global advocacy director of the New York-based group, Peggy Hicks, told AP. Saudi Arabia and Vietnam each have seven outstanding requests, she said.

“Countries that haven't allowed UN experts appointed by the council to visit have a lot of explaining to do,'' she said. “It's like hiring someone, then not allowing them to enter the office.”

Across the street from the entrance to the UN headquarters in New York on Tuesday, pro-Tibetan activists hung a huge banner reading “China fails human rights”.

‘Return to the past’

The UNHRC was set up in 2006 to replace the widely-discredited Human Rights Commission, which was repeatedly criticised as toothless and hypocritical; in its final years it was led by Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya.

Tuesday’s vote, Neuer said, signified the nail in the coffin for the “new and improved council,” and a return to the “ignominious past of the commission”.

Current members include Argentina, Indonesia, Brazil, Germany, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, and the US.

US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power released a statement on Tuesday alluding to the election of the six controversial members. “Fourteen countries were elected to the Human Rights Council today, including some that commit significant violations of the rights the Council is designed to advance and protect, she said, without mentioning any names. “Today's election in the General Assembly is a reminder that the Council's important work remains unfinished.”

The countries who lost out on Tuesday were Uruguay (beaten by Cuba and Mexico for seats in the Latin America and Caribbean group); and South Sudan, which failed to garner enough votes to win one of the four African seats.

(With wires)

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