Bids for seats on U.N. rights body irks groups

AP

China, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam are among the nations running unopposed for seats on the Human Rights Council, the U.N.’s highest rights watchdog body, a prospect that has upset independent human rights groups.

The General Assembly on Tuesday was set to elect 14 new members to the 47-seat Geneva-based council, which can shine a spotlight of publicity and censure 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.

New York-based Human Rights Watch pointed out that five of the candidates — China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam and Algeria — have refused to let independent U.N. human rights monitors visit to investigate alleged abuses.

“Countries that haven’t allowed U.N. experts appointed by the council to visit have a lot of explaining to do,” said Peggy Hicks, global advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “It’s like hiring someone, then not allowing them to enter the office.”

Seats on the council are allotted to regions, and countries from those regions select candidates for those seats. Sometimes the elections are contested and sometimes not. All 193 members of the General Assembly could cast votes Tuesday.

The Asian group has unopposed candidates for its four seats: China, the Maldives, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam.

Saudi Arabia had been expected to run into trouble in the General Assembly vote after it won and then a day later rejected a seat on the Security Council for 2014-2015, an unprecedented move. The kingdom was apparently piqued over policy differences with the United States.

Until last week, Jordan had also been a candidate for the Asian group. But then it dropped out of the race, clearing the way for Saudi Arabia to win unopposed.

“Jordan’s departure from the Asia slate is a significant blow, as the absence of competition means that states such as Saudi Arabia can be elected to the council without real scrutiny of their records,” Hicks said.

“States like China and Vietnam should face questions regarding endemic human rights violations and detained activists, and be pressed to commit to tangible progress when seeking election to the council. Without competition, the lofty goal set in the resolution that established the Human Rights Council that members will uphold the ‘highest standards’ in human rights is reduced to unenforceable rhetoric,” she said.