NEW YORK (October 8, 2020) – Ahead of Tuesday’s United Nations (UN) election of 15 states to its highest human rights body, a coalition of non-governmental human rights groups from Europe, the United States, and Canada has called on democratic UN member states to oppose the election of authoritarian regimes to serve on the UN Human Rights Council from 2021-2023. Notoriously, this year’s candidates include the dictatorships of China, Cuba, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Uzbekistan.
Though these states are among the world’s worst human rights abusers, if elected, their representatives will have the power to oversee the most important international human rights mechanisms, including Universal Periodic Reviews and the appointment of independent investigators like Special Rapporteurs.
Ahead of the vote, the Human Rights Foundation (HRF), UN Watch, and the Raoul Wallenberg Center for Human Rights (RWCHR), published a 30-page joint report evaluating their candidacies and detailing the poor human rights records of these states.
“The troubling fact that totalitarian regimes like Saudi Arabia, China, and Cuba are even eligible to stand for election to the Council represents a rebuke and indictment to the very existence of this ‘human rights’ body,” said HRF president Thor Halvorssen.
“Years ago, the world’s democracies called for the abolition of the infamous UN Human Rights Commission after it elected Muammar Gadaffi to chair it. Democracies should, once again, give careful consideration to potentially withdrawing from the Council to stop providing it with any further legitimacy.”
According to the UN, member states are required to elect states to the Council by considering “the candidates’ contribution to the promotion and protection of human rights.” Candidates must have demonstrated that they would “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights” and “fully cooperate with the Council.” Guided by these criteria, the report analyzes each candidate’s record of human rights protection at home and its record of human rights promotion at the UN.
Despite these criteria, the outcomes of the election to the Council are largely predetermined, as a majority of the candidates run unopposed. For instance, Cuba and Russia have no electoral competition in their regional groups. While technically they still must obtain 97 positive votes, in practice, their election is virtually certain.
Despite the lack of competition in almost every regional group, it’s a myth among UN diplomats that they are obliged to vote for all candidates on a clean slate.
“As made clear in our report, voting nations can and should refrain from electing rights abusers to the UN’s highest human rights body,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch. “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.”
“It’s an outrage that regimes that systematically violate the human rights of the citizens they’re supposed to protect are being rewarded with the opportunity to become the world’s guardians and judges of human rights,” Halvorssen said. “It is unspeakable, unthinkable, and profoundly frustrating to human rights defenders everywhere.”
Read the joint report on this year’s candidates for the UNHRC here.
The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies.
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