Saudi Arabia: Fails in the bid for a seat in UNHRC

China, Russia, and Cuba win seats. Consequently, analysts question whether the council should elect human rights violators for UNHRC.

Saudi Arabia failed to become a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) for the next term, starting on January 1, 2021. However, the council elected China, Russia, and Cuba on Tuesday in a vote that caused an outcry among human rights defenders.

The race for four spots in UNHRC

Russia and Cuba ran unopposed in the UN General Assembly election. Saudi Arabia and China vied for membership in a five-nation race for four spots with Pakistan, Uzbekistan, and Nepal.

Pakistan receives 169 votes, Uzbekistan 164, and Nepal 150. In comparison, China gets 139 and Saudi Arabia 90 votes, respectively. This ends Riyadh’s bid to be a member again of the UN’s top human rights body.

The council elected 15 countries to the 47-nation board on Tuesday.

A need for reform

Human Rights Watch describes China and Saudi Arabia as two of the world’s most abusive governments. The New York-based group also singles out numerous war crimes in the Syrian war. Consequently, they said that this makes Russia a highly problematic candidate.

Experts say that several elected countries have questionable rights records. This action indeed calls for serious reform in the current entry system to UNHRC.

Kevin Jon Heller is a professor of international law at the University of Copenhagen. Regarding the issue, he said, “Of course it is regrettable that the council can elect countries with such terrible human rights records. But that is the nature of the UN’s messy bureaucracy.”

“There is simply no way to avoid the kinds of backroom deals that result in outcomes like this. There is simply no evidence that countries take human rights records into account when they vote,” Heller added.

All about the UNHRC membership criteria

The Resolution 60/251 creates the council. It says that members are elected directly by secret ballot by the majority of the UN General Assembly. Also, membership is equally divided in a geographical manner.

The resolution further states that nations elected to the council must uphold the highest standards in promoting and protecting human rights. Members sit for three years for a maximum of two terms and are not eligible for immediate re-election.

Membership in the UNHCR divides into five geopolitical regional groups. These are African Group, Asia and the Pacific Group, Eastern European Group, Latin America and the Caribbean Group, and Western European and Others Group.

However, African and Asia-Pacific states have 13 seats on the council each. Whereas Eastern Europe receives six seats, Latin America has eight, and Western Europe has seven.

Image courtesy of Dana.S/Shutterstock

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