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November 12, 2013

Rights Groups Upset with UN Council Election Results

by Margaret Besheer

Russia, China, Cuba and Saudi Arabia were among 14 countries elected Tuesday to the U.N. Human Rights Council, a result that is upsetting rights advocates.  

The 47-member Geneva-based body is responsible for the promotion and protection of human rights around the world.

The council has often been the target of criticism for its focus on Israel and its election of some members who are accused of having spotty human rights records.

On Tuesday, the U.N. General Assembly elected 14 new members by secret ballot for three-year terms starting in January.  Several candidates ran unopposed, with their candidacy settled ahead of time within their regional group.

Human Rights Watch Global Advocacy Director Peggy Hicks expressed doubts about the rights records of several of the winners.

“This year a number of some of the worst abusers have returned to the council,
unfortunately, including China, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Cuba," she said. "And what that means, I think, is that the human rights defenders on the council are really going to have their work cut out for them and will have to redouble their efforts to achieve real results in the coming year.”

Advocacy group U.N. Watch said in a statement that the election of these countries deals a “severe blow” to the Human Rights Council’s credibility and sends the message that “politics trumps human rights.”

Asked about how some controversial candidates might affect the work of the body, British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said members should uphold the values of the council’s work.

“Clearly we expect all those who are elected to the Human Rights Council to abide by the commitments they make, abide by the general ethos and principles of the Human Rights Council," he said. "So whoever gets onto the council, we expect them very much to stick to those commitments and we will hold them to it.”

Other new council members are Algeria, Britain, China, France, the Maldives, Mexico, Morocco, Namibia, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and Vietnam.  South Sudan and Uruguay were the only two countries running for contested seats that lost their bids.