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Activists Decry Bid by Russia, Cuba, Saudi Arabia to Join UN Rights Body

By Lisa Schlein May 04, 2020

A watchdog group is calling on democratic nations to prevent the election of Russia, Cuba and Saudi Arabia to the 47-member U.N. Human Rights Council, saying their abysmal human rights records disqualify them from membership.

The U.N. General Assembly will elect 15 new members to the U.N. Human Rights Council in October. U.N. Watch, an independent group that monitors the United Nations, says it would be a travesty and outrage to permit Russia, Cuba and Saudi Arabia – three repressive, authoritarian regimes – to join this body.

Executive Director of U.N. Watch, Hillel Neuer, says governments that systematically deny basic freedoms to their own people are in no position to judge the human rights records of others.

"No one is saying that every member of the Human Rights Council has to be perfect. Obviously, there are no perfect countries. But to choose some of the worst governments is not a strategy and it is completely contrary to the official criteria declared at the founding of the Human Rights Council and which continues to govern the elections."

The resolution that was adopted when the Council was created in 2006 obliges members to uphold the promotion and protection of human rights. It also warns nations that commit gross human rights could be suspended. It has been applied only once against Libya in 2010 following the violent crackdown on protestors by the late dictator Muammar Gadhafi.

Neuer tells VOA the Council is a political body and for many countries, politics too often trump human rights as their guiding principle. He says more than 50 percent of Council members are not full democracies.

"Because of the membership of those countries, a large part of the work, of the proper work of the Council never gets done. So, for example, countries like China, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Turkey have never been condemned for violations of human rights."

U.N. human rights spokesman, Rupert Colville, says running for a seat on the Council is not a cost-free exercise. He tells VOA any member State with a poor human rights record will find itself scrutinized.

"There is a bit of a price to pay actually," he said. "It doesn't mean by getting on the Council you get a free ride. If anything, it is a little bit the other way around because you get more attention put on you… Their voting patterns and what they say in debates and so on will be subject to scrutiny and will be subject to criticism, you know, if they are elected as are all States."

Colville says Council members are held up against the high human rights standards set by the General Assembly. He says there are examples in the past of States who have withdrawn their candidacy for a seat on the Council after receiving a barrage of criticism.

He notes the process has a long way to run before the election is held and anything could happen before then.



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