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Saudis, China, Russia Elected to UN Human Rights Council

Forbidden City
A woman rides a bus as it drives past a portrait of Chairman Mao on the outside wall of the Forbidden City in Beijing. Photographer: Larry Downing/AFP via Getty Images

China, Russia and Saudi Arabia were elected today to the United Nations Human Rights Council over protests by independent rights groups that the countries aren’t suited to serve on the world rights watchdog.

The three countries have multiple outstanding requests from independent UN monitors to visit and investigate alleged rights abuses, according to New York-based Human Rights Watch.

The UN General Assembly today filled 14 vacant seats for three-year terms on the 47-member council. China, Russia and Saudi Arabia were unopposed and will start serving on the council Jan. 1 alongside newly elected members such as the U.K., France, Cuba, Vietnam and Namibia.

China and Russia each won 176 of 192 votes, exceeding France’s 174 votes and the U.K.’s 171. Saudi Arabia received 140 votes. The minimum required was 97.

“We regret that some countries elected to the Human Rights Council have failed to show their commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters today.

The council has previously been able to “work together and make progress” during periods when Russia, China and Cuba were members and “that is what we are hopeful of with the council moving forward,” Psaki said.

The council has the power to raise awareness on human rights by adopting resolutions or mandating special investigations of individual countries on issues such as torture, freedom of expression or the right to health.

Concrete Results

Thor Halvorssen, president of the New York-based Human Rights Foundation, said seats should be given only to countries that abide by the council’s standards because members could seek to block probes into violations in their countries.

“Human-rights defenders will have their work cut out for them at the Human Rights Council next year,” Peggy Hicks, global advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, said in an e-mail. “Fortunately, no states have a veto in Geneva, so a hard-working majority can still achieve concrete results.”

Russia is listed 176th out of 196 countries surveyed in Freedom House’s 2013 global press freedom rankings. China is ranked 179th and Saudi Arabia is 182nd.

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