China Elected to U.N. Human Rights Council

China Elected to U.N. Human Rights Council

China has secured a three-year term on the United Nations Human Rights Council with over 90% of the General Assembly vote. From the AP’s Peter James Spielmann:

China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Cuba and Algeria won seats Tuesday on the U.N. Human Rights Council, riling independent human rights groups who said their election undermined the rights watchdog’s credibility.

The General Assembly elected 14 new members to the 47-seat Geneva-based council, which can shine a spotlight on rights abuses by adopting resolutions — when it chooses to do so. It also has dozens of special monitors watching problem countries and major issues ranging from executions to drone strikes

[…] Human Rights Watch noted that five of the new council members — China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam and Algeria — have refused to let U.N. investigators visit to check alleged abuses. China, Russia and Algeria have 10 or more unfulfilled requests for visits by U.N. experts, some dating back to 2000, the group said. Saudi Arabia and Vietnam each have seven outstanding requests, they said. [Source]

HRW’s Peggy Hicks described this as “like hiring someone, then not allowing them to enter the office.” Spielmann also quoted U.N. Watch’s Hillel Neuer comparing Saudi Arabia’s election to “a town making a pyromaniac into chief of the fire department,” while activist Yang Jianli wrote at The Washington Post early this month that China’s “would be like picking the fox to guard the henhouse — while it was still wiping feathers off its mouth.” Shanghaiist’s Erik Crouch added, among other similes, “a village making an obsessive-compulsive into chief of doing things only once.”

Xinhua, meanwhile, reported the Chinese delegation’s response to the announcement:

“The Chinese government attaches great importance to the promotion and protection of human rights. It has made remarkable achievements and has vigorously developed international cooperation in the field of human rights,” said Wang Min, China’s deputy permanent representative to the UN, after the election.

He stressed that China is fully qualified to be elected as a member of the UN Human Rights Council. China’s election to the UN Human Rights Council Tuesday also serves as the international community’s acknowledgment of China’s significant achievements in the field of human rights. [Source]

China’s quadrennial U.N. human rights review last month suggests that this acknowledgement is not without reservation. The AP’s John Heilprin highlighted some of the less glowing comments, some from the Chinese delegation itself:

The review, led by Poland, Sierra Leone and the United Emirates, called for better treatment of women, disabled people, and ethnic minorities; a reduction and eventual abolition of the death penalty; and the release of everyone detained for political reasons.

Some of the criticism focused on China’s unfulfilled promise to ratify an international human rights treaty known as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). China signed the treaty in 1998 but its parliament has never ratified it. As part of a U.N. International Bill of Human Rights, the ICCPR requires nations to uphold basic individual rights such as freedom of religion, assembly and speech.

[…] “Unbalanced, uncoordinated and unsustainable development remains an acute problem,” Wu [Hailong, head of the Chinese delegation] told the Geneva-based Council.

He said social programs lag “in parts of the ethnic minority regions” and there was insufficient human rights “awareness” among law enforcement personnel. [Source]

While many critics targeted the election of particular states, The Economist’s Erasmus blog questioned the basic value of the Human Rights Council itself:

There are lots of global issues, from climate change to drug-trafficking, which need to be discussed in all-inclusive global institutions in the hope of finding practical solutions. And if the Human Rights Council were purely a talking shop, in which countries held vigorous discussions about which human rights were fundamental and how they should be observed, then that too might serve some useful purpose; holding one’s corner in a public argument does not have to compromise anyone’s integrity. But the Human Rights Council aims to do more than that; it aspires, in the name of its members, to smoke out, shame and hold to account violators of basic rights.

Given that more governments (including some Western ones) violate human rights than respect them, I’m not sure that global, inter-governmental bodies in this field can serve any purpose. It may still be useful for groups of governments (like the Council of Europe) to band together to agree to observe certain standards. But for an organisation to work credibly for human rights at a global level, with no geopolitical or cultural bias, it needs to be as independent as possible from all govermments, and hence from all violators. [Source]


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