GENEVA, October 5, 2020 – Ahead of next Tuesday’s UN election of 15 nations to its highest human rights body, a coalition of non-governmental human rights groups from Europe, the U.S. and Canada today called on UN member states to oppose the election of China, Cuba, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Uzbekistan, which were deemed “unqualified” due to their human rights records as well as their voting records on UN resolutions concerning human rights.
Abuses by those candidates are detailed in a new 30-page joint NGO report published today by UN Watch, Human Rights Foundation and the Raoul Wallenberg Center for Human Rights, which is being circulated to UN diplomats.
“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, an independent non-governmental human rights group based in Geneva.
As shown in the report, Cuba and Russia have no competition in their regional groups. While technically they still must obtain 97 positive votes, in practice their election is virtually certain.
The Asian regional group is the only one being contested, with five candidates vying for four available seats. “Yet because China, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are so powerful at the United Nations, it’s almost certain they will be elected as well,” said Neuer.
“It’s logically absurd and morally obscene that the UN is about to elect to its top human rights body a regime that herded 1 million Uighurs into camps, arrested, crushed and disappeared those who tried to sound the alarm about the coronavirus, and suffocated freedom in Hong Kong,” said Neuer.
“Saudi Arabia carried out a record 184 executions in 2019. Russia assassinates journalists and poisons dissidents. Cuba is a police state,” said Neuer.
Irwin Cotler, head of the Raoul Wallenberg Center for Human Rights, and former Canadian minister of justice, added: “Regrettably, when the UN itself ends up electing human rights violators to the Human Rights Council, it indulges the very of culture of impunity it is supposed to combat. The world’s democracies must join in the preservation and protection of the Council’s mandate, and not end up accomplices to its breach.”
Despite the lack of competition in almost every regional group, Neuer emphasized that there is a myth among UN diplomats that they are obliged to vote for all candidates on a clean slate. “Yet as made clear in our report, voting nations can and should refrain from electing rights abusers to the UN’s highest human rights body. We need to hear the EU’s high commissioner Josep Borrell and member states lead the call to oppose the worst abusers. So far, they have been silent.”
The report also listed Bolivia, Cote d’Ivoire, Nepal, Malawi, Mexico, Senegal and Ukraine as having “questionable” credentials, due to problematic human rights and UN voting records that should be improved.
“Sadly, all signs are that the UN will disregard its own rules and principles next Tuesday by rubber-stamping the election of China, Russia, Cuba, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia — even though these regimes systematically violate the human rights of their own citizens,” said Neuer, “and consistently frustrate UN initiatives to protect the human rights of others.”
UN Watch Call to Scrap Elections if Criteria Ignored
UN Watch is proposing a major reform to the election system. “If our own democracies continue to disregard the election criteria by voting for abusers,” said Neuer, “then we should just scrap elections altogether, and make every country a member, as is the case in the General Assembly’s human rights committee. Non-democracies could no longer hold up their UNHRC election as a shield of international legitimacy to cover up the abuses of their regime.”
“Regrettably,” said Neuer, “the EU has not said a word about hypocritical candidacies that only undermine the credibility and effectiveness of the UN human rights system. By turning a blind eye as human rights violators easily join and subvert the council, leading democracies will be complicit in the world body’s moral decline.”
“It will be an insult to their political prisoners and many other victims — and a defeat for the global cause of human rights — if the UN helps gross abusers act as champions and global judges of human rights. When the UN’s highest human rights body becomes a case of the foxes guarding the henhouse, the world’s victims suffer,” said Neuer.