Pakistan received 169 votes, Uzbekistan 164, Nepal 150, China 139 and Saudi Arabia 90 votes – ending Riyadh’s candidacy to be again a member of the highest human rights body of ONU.
Fifteen countries were elected to the Council of 47 Nations on Tuesday.
Human Rights Watch described China and Saudi Arabia as “two of the most abusive governments in the world.” The New York-based group has also identified numerous war crimes in the Syrian war as making Russia a very problematic candidate.
Experts say that with a number of countries with questionable election rights records, the current CHR entry system is in serious need of reform.
Kevin Jon Heller, professor of international law at the University of Copenhagen, said: “Of course it is unfortunate that countries with such dire human rights records can be elected to the council. But that’s the nature of the messy UN bureaucracy.
“There’s just no way to avoid the kinds of backroom deals that lead to results like this. There is simply no evidence that countries take their human rights records into account when voting. ”
Tuesday’s vote showed how Saudi Arabia’s international reputation has been damaged in recent years.
Critics have long denounced Riyadh’s human rights record. In recent years, authorities have rallied hundreds of suspected political opponents, detained more than a dozen women’s rights activists, and continued mass executions of prisoners. Public demonstrations, political parties and unions are prohibited in the kingdom.
Agnes Callamard, the UN special rapporteur for extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, investigated the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents in Turkey in 2018. She said that “credible evidence” connects Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to the murder and says he should be investigated.
According to resolution 60/251, which established the council, members are elected directly by secret ballot by a majority of the United Nations General Assembly. Members must be evenly distributed geographically.
The resolution further declares that nations elected to the council must uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights. Members serve for three years for a maximum of two terms and are not eligible for immediate re-election.
UNHCR members are divided between five regional groups: Africa, Asia-Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean, Western Europe and Eastern Europe. The African and Asia-Pacific states each have 13 seats on the council, Latin America has eight, Western Europe seven, and Eastern Europe six.
Some analysts say it is high time the UN changed regional quotas.
Sangeeta Shah, associate professor at the University of Nottingham, told Al Jazeera: “If you want a global institution with global membership, you have to revisit the idea that there should be quotas for each region.”
According to Shah, the problem is “uncompetitive elections”. For example, the Eastern European group had two seats available, but only two countries were nominated to fill those positions, meaning there was no competition for the positions.
Callamard noted that reaching a deal was likely part of the voting process.
“If few countries are elected or if there are behind-the-scenes agreements to limit the number of countries per group, then there is not much else to do,” the expert said. ‘UN at Al Jazeera.
Shah said countries should be encouraged to make themselves available for positions in UN bodies such as the HRC.
But electing nations with questionable human rights records has its advantages, Heller says.
“There is a silver lining in the fact that repressive countries are elected to the council – their position as supposed guardians of human rights makes it much more difficult for them to hide their own human rights violations” , did he declare.
“A board member can hardly refuse to participate in a universal periodic review [UPR] of his file. This is in stark contrast to the United States, which no longer participates in the council. ”
Shah said the US withdrawal from the UNHRC due to its “bias against Israel” in 2018 had not affected the legitimacy of the organization.
“It still works and is effective,” she noted. “The HRC is still effective and some of the mechanisms of the council – such as the special procedures mandate which focuses on specific human rights issues – are doing impressive work.
Callamard, however, is of the opinion that the election of states such as China and Russia “damages the reputation of the CHR, its position within the international human rights committee and beyond” .
“What it will do is strengthen the views of those who reject multilateralism, the UN and the global project,” she said.