- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 13, 2020

China, Russia, Pakistan and Cuba won seats on the U.N. Human Rights Council on Tuesday, infuriating rights groups who said the authoritarian governments did not have the standing to sit on the world body’s premier human rights agency.

Saudi Arabia, a U.S. ally which has also faced longstanding charges over the state of civil and religious liberties in the kingdom, failed to secure one of the open slots on the 47-seat Council in voting by all U.N. members.

The Trump administration, which has pulled out of the Council and had a frosty relationship with many other U.N. bodies, denounced the results, as did many private watchdog groups.

The results “only further validate the U.S. decision to withdraw and use other venues and opportunities to protect and promote universal human rights,” the State Department said in a statement.

The Trump administration withdrew from the council in 2018 after battles over its inclusion of countries with human right abuse records and perceived bias against Israel.

The U.S. delegation also was not a part of the council for three years under former President George W. Bush, though the U.S. rejoined in 2009 under President Obama.

Hillel Neuer, the executive director of the Geneva-based U.N. Watch, a frequent critic of the world body, said the verdict marks a “black day for human rights.”

“Electing these dictatorships as U.N. judges on human rights is like making a gang of arsonists into the fire brigade,” he added.

Texas Rep. Michael McCaul, the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Tuesday’s vote “highlights the Council’s illegitimacy and deals a serious blow to the global advancement of human rights.”

British Member of Parliament Lisa Nandy issued a call for her government to publicly reject China’s reelection, citing Beijing’s oppression of ethnic Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang.

London must “show that our support for the Uighur people goes beyond warm words and empty rhetoric,” she tweeted.

The election came months after 50 U.N. experts called for “decisive measures to protect fundamental freedoms in China,” pointing to a slew of human rights violations against pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong and Tibet and the treatment of the Uighurs.

Over the summer, Human Rights Watch also cited Russia’s alliance with the brutal Syrian government, a regime which the group said has “deliberately or indiscriminately killed civilians and destroyed hospitals and other protected civilian infrastructure in violation of international humanitarian law.”

Russia and Cuba were poised to receive spots on the council as the pair ran effectively unopposed in their region, while China and Saudi Arabia ran against three other regional rivals for their seats in a secret-ballot format.

The 193-member U.N. General Assembly awarded Pakistan 169 votes, Uzbekistan 164, Nepal 150, China 139 and Saudi Arabia just 90 votes.

“Pakistan re-elected to the UN Human Rights Council with an overwhelming majority today, securing 169 votes in the 193 member UN General Assembly,” tweeted Pakistani Foreign Minister Mahmood Qureshi.

Cuba’s U.N. mission also welcomed the verdict, tweeting, “Thanks to those who trust in our work to defend with their own voice, dialogue and cooperation, in favor of all rights for all people.”

The Saudi loss came as a surprise to some who have been monitoring reform plans issued by the oil-rich kingdom that included ending flogging and the death penalty for minors.

But human rights groups strongly opposed its candidacy to the council, arguing the nation has expressed little accountability for its record, including the killing of U.S.-based Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018.

“Saudi Arabia’s failure to win a seat on the Human Rights Council is a welcome reminder of the need for more competition in U.N. elections,” the Human Rights Watch’s U.N. director Louis Charbonneau said following the announcement of the election. “Had there been additional candidates, China, Cuba and Russia might have lost too.”

As part of the Human Rights Council’s rules, nations are elected to seats allocated to regions around the world in an effort to maintain geographical diversity.

Ivory Coast, Malawi, Gabon and Senegal won the African region seats. Russia and Ukraine won the two East European seats. Mexico, Cuba and Bolivia were awarded three open seats representing Latin America and the Caribbean, while Britain and France won the two seats for the Western European and others group.

“No country has a perfect human rights record. No state is immune from scrutiny of their human rights record, whether they are a member or not,” said Council spokesman Rolando Gomez.

The newly elected members will assume their seats in January.

•- This story is based in part on wire service reports.

• Lauren Toms can be reached at lmeier@washingtontimes.com.

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