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Russia Fails to Win Back Seat on Human Rights Council After UN Vote

Russia has been defeated in its attempt to regain a seat in the UN’s top human rights body by a significant majority at the general assembly, which voted last year to suspend Moscow after its invasion of Ukraine.

Russia was competing against Albania and Bulgaria for two seats on the Geneva-based human rights council representing the East European regional group.

In the secret ballot vote, Bulgaria received 160 votes, Albania 123 and Russia just 83.

Russia has claimed that it has support from a silent majority, and even though 83 votes represent less than half the 193 UN member nations, there is certain to be concern, especially from Ukraine and its western allies, that Moscow’s support was that high.

The only other competitive race was in the Latin America and Caribbean group where Cuba, Brazil and the Dominican Republic defeated Peru for three seats. New York-based Human Rights Watch said Cuba did not deserve a place on the council because of systematic rights violations including harassment, arbitrary detention and torture of dissidents, but Cuba got the highest number of votes of the four countries – 146.

The other closely watched race was in the Asia group where four countries – China, Japan, Kuwait and Indonesia – were candidates for four seats. Some rights groups also campaigned against Beijing and the size of the vote was closely watched.

Indonesia topped the ballot with 186 votes followed by Kuwait with 183 and Japan with 175. China was last but still received 164 votes.

Human Rights Watch said last week that China’s record should disqualify it from the human rights council. It pointed to last year’s report by the office of the UN human rights commissioner which said China’s discriminatory detention of Uyghurs and other mostly Muslim ethnic groups in the western region of Xinjiang may constitute crimes against humanity.

Two other regional races were also not competitive.

For the four African seats, Malawi got 182 votes, followed by Ivory Coast with 181 and Ghana with 179. Burundi, whose rights record was also strongly criticised by Human Rights Watch, was last with 168 votes.

The two western seats were also uncontested, and the Netherlands beat France with 169 votes compared to 153 votes.

But the spotlight in this election was on Russia and its campaign to get back on the human rights council.

Moscow’s UN ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, accused the US on Monday of leading a campaign to prevent its return to the council.

“The main phobia of our American colleagues today is electing Russia to the human rights council,” Nebenzia told a security council meeting called by Ukraine on last week’s strike by a Russian missile on a Ukrainian soldier’s wake in a small village that killed 52 people.

At Monday’s council meeting, Albania’s UN ambassador Ferit Hoxha also urged those who care about human rights and “the credibility of the human rights council and its work” to oppose a country that kills innocent people, destroys civilian infrastructure, ports and grain silos “and then takes pride in doing so”.

The US deputy ambassador, Robert Wood, told the security council that Russia’s re-election to the human rights council “while it openly continues to commit war crimes and other atrocities would be an ugly stain that would undermine the credibility of the institution and the United Nations”.

In April 2022, less than two months after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the general assembly voted 93-24 with 58 abstentions on a US-initiated resolution to suspend Russia from the human rights council over allegations that its soldiers in Ukraine engaged in violations that the US and Ukraine called war crimes.

Source : The Guardian