In a ‘stunning rebuke’, UN Human Rights Council rejects Saudi membership bid

File photo of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman taken in  December 2019.  Saudi Arabia on Oct. 12, 2020 failed in its bid to become a member of the UN Human Rights Council.
File photo of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman taken in December 2019. Saudi Arabia on Oct. 12, 2020 failed in its bid to become a member of the UN Human Rights Council. AFP – BANDAR AL-JALOUD
5 min

Saudi Arabia failed in its bid to become a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council on Tuesday as China and Russia were elected to three-year terms.

Human rights groups hailed the snub to Saudi Arabia, which deals a blow to the kingdom’s attempts to improve its image in the international community.

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“The #HRC elections today delivered a stunning rebuke to #SaudiArabia under Mohammed bin Salman,” tweeted Bruno Stagno, a deputy executive director at Human Rights Watch, referring to the country’s crown prince.

“Only country not elected, shunned by a majority of the UN. The kingdom reaped what it deserves for its serious violations of human rights and war crimes abroad,” he added.

Fifteen positions were up for grabs on the 47-seat body that has been criticised by rights organisations and the US for electing countries accused of human rights violations.

However, only four of the 15 spots were contested, all in Asia-Pacific.

In secret-ballot voting in the 193-member UN General Assembly on the race, Pakistan received 169 votes, Uzbekistan 164, Nepal 150, China 139 and Saudi Arabia just 90 votes. In 2016, the Saudis won a seat with 152 votes.

China‘s 139 votes was a dramatic fall from the 180 votes it received when it was last elected in 2016.

“Shows more states are disturbed by China’s abysmal rights record,” tweeted Louis Charbonneau, UN director at Human Rights Watch.

Last week, a coalition of human rights groups from Europe, the US and Canada called on UN member states to oppose the election of China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Cuba, Pakistan and Uzbekistan, saying their human rights records make them “unqualified”.

“Electing these dictatorships as UN judges on human rights is like making a gang of arsonists into the fire brigade,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch.

‘A global pariah’

Saudi Arabia’s fall from grace came two years after the the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, which sparked an international cry for human rights accountability in the oil-rich Gulf nation.

“Unless Saudi Arabia undertakes dramatic reforms to release political prisoners, end its disastrous war in Yemen and allow its citizens meaningful political participation, it will remain a global pariah,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Democracy for the Arab World Now, which was founded by Khashoggi.

Pompeo slams vote

The controversial UN voting system sees countries strike bargains to agree on who will stand, often unopposed.

President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the council in 2018.

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“Today the UN General Assembly once again elected countries with abhorrent human rights records,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.

He slammed the body’s membership rules, saying they “allow the election of the world’s worst human rights abusers to seats on the council”.

The Geneva-based Human Rights Council can spotlight abuses and has special monitors watching certain countries and issues. It also periodically reviews human rights in every UN member country.

Created in 2006 to replace a commission discredited because of some members’ poor rights records, the new council soon came to face similar criticism, including that rights abusers sought seats to protect themselves and their allies.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and AP)

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