Russia failed Tuesday in its bid to reclaim its seat on the controversial U.N. Human Rights Council after it was suspended by the General Assembly in April 2022 following its invasion of Ukraine.
“U.N. member states sent a strong signal to Russia’s leadership that a government responsible for countless war crimes and crimes against humanity doesn’t belong on the Human Rights Council,” said Louis Charbonneau, Human Rights Watch’s U.N. Director.
In a secret ballot vote, Albania, Bulgaria and Russia competed for two available seats designated for their Eastern Europe regional group. A majority of 97 votes was needed, Moscow achieved 83, while Bulgaria received 160 and Albania 123.
Ahead of the vote, rights advocates had warned that in addition to atrocities carried out in Ukraine, the Kremlin has tightened its restrictions on domestic rights and freedoms since the invasion and did not deserve to return to the Human Rights Council.
The General Assembly had 15 seats in total to fill for three-year terms on the 47-member Geneva-based rights body.
China, which is currently a member, won a second term running on what is known as a “clean slate” — an equal number of candidates for available seats.
In their Asian regional group, China, Japan, Kuwait and Indonesia sought to fill four available seats. The lack of real competition significantly raised the odds of their achieving the simple majority of votes needed. However, China, came last in the field, with 154 votes. Indonesia achieved 186, Kuwait 183 and Japan 175.
“China came in last place in the Asia group. That suggests that if there had been competition in the Asian slate, China would have lost,” Charbonneau said. “And that’s what should have happened. It highlights the vital importance of competitive slates in U.N. elections.”
Countries elected to the HRC are expected to “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights” both at home and abroad. Rights advocates warn that countries with poor rights records use their position on the council as a cover for their abuses.
China’s human rights violations are well known. At home, Beijing arbitrarily arrests and detains government critics and human rights defenders and has detained as many as one million ethnic Uyghur Muslims in “reeducation camps” in its Xinjiang province. It has also cracked down on freedoms in Hong Kong and Tibet.
In the Latin America and Caribbean group, Brazil, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Peru competed for three available seats. Rights abuser Cuba won the largest majority, with 146 votes. Brazil received 144 and Dominican Republic 137. Peru failed in its bid, achieving the lowest majority, 108.
In the African group, another clean slate saw four candidates for four seats, with Burundi, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Malawi all succeeding in their bids. France and The Netherlands also achieved the majorities needed to fill two available seats in the Western Europe and Others group.
HRW’s Charbonneau said because of the lack of competition on several slates, China, Burundi and Cuba would now be on the council.
“Their abysmal rights records should have disqualified them,” he said. “Other Human Rights Council members should work to counter the anti-human rights agenda of this trio of abusers and their allies as member countries have done successfully in the past.”
Winners will begin their three-year terms in January 2024.