NEW YORK - Japan is one of 14 countries that have been elected by secret ballot to sit on the 47-nation U.N. Human Rights Council, marking the fourth time it will join the group charged with strengthening and protecting human rights around the globe.
Japan, one of the candidates from the Asia-Pacific region’s four open seats, received 177 votes Friday, second only to China, which received 180, but followed by Iraq with 173 and Saudi Arabia with 152.
Before the election, Human Rights Watch, an organization that monitors rights in some 90 countries, expressed concerns about the records of China, Saudi Arabia and Iraq and the fact that all four were guaranteed to be elected.
“We have a deep concern about the aggressive campaign against civil society that China has launched, the most aggressive since Tiananmen, the adoption of dozens of laws and regulations that abuse those who are pushing for a more open dialogue on human rights, and their unwillingness to address legitimate concerns on ethnic minorities,” Akshaya Kumar, HRW’s deputy U.N. director, said during a news conference ahead of the vote.
Kumar also spoke about Saudi Arabia, which has been at the forefront of attacks in Yemen where she said indiscriminate Saudi-led coalition raids have been on the rise with more than 11,000 civilians having been killed or wounded since March 2015.
“It points to the problematic nature of the (Asian) slate as a whole that you have Iraq, where government and pro-government militias have been implicated in abuses, China and Saudi Arabia all contesting and all guaranteed basically to win.”
Concerns were not raised about Japan’s candidacy beyond hope for a better record in dealing with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues.
“We would hope that on issues related to LGBT that they will continue to make advancements and they (Japan) would play a constructive role on the Human Rights Council,” said Louis Charbonneau, U.N. director at Human Rights Watch.
Russia’s failure to regain its place on the council emerged as the biggest shock from the vote. Both Hungary and Croatia, which got 144 and 114 votes, respectively, surpassed Russia, which received 112.
Russia’s candidacy had generated much opposition from human rights groups because of its role in the bloody Syrian civil war, including a bombing campaign in Aleppo that HRW says has put 250,000 civilians at risk.
Despite opposition to Russia’s candidacy, it is rare for one of the five permanent Security Council members to lose any election at the United Nations.
Asia was not the only region to have an equal number of candidates and seats: the African group also had four candidates for its four available slots.
Tunisia received the highest number of votes with 189, followed by South Africa with 178, Rwanda with 176 and Egypt with 173.
Unopposed from the Western European and other states group were the United States and Britain.
Eastern Europe, which had two of its six seats up for grabs, presented three candidates, as did the Latin American and Caribbean group.
Cuba and Brazil were elected from the Latin American and Caribbean States group with Guatemala missing out.
Japan and the others will begin their three-year terms in January.