UNITED NATIONS (PA) – The United States won a seat on the UN Human Rights Council that former President Donald Trump denounced and resigned, joining 17 other nations elected in uncontested votes Thursday that resulted in been criticized for having guaranteed places to countries with abysmal rights records.
The United Nations General Assembly, composed of 193 members, elected the 18 candidates proposed by the five regional groups of the world organization. Benin was the first voter with 189 votes, followed by The Gambia with 186, while the United States with 168 and Eritrea with 144 were at the bottom of the list.
“The lack of competition in this year’s Human Rights Council vote makes a mockery of the word ‘election’,” said Louis Charbonneau, UN director for Human Rights Watch. “The election of serious human rights abusers like Cameroon, Eritrea and the United Arab Emirates sends a terrible signal that UN member states do not take seriously the Council’s core mission of protecting human rights . “
He said the Cameroonian government has cracked down on opposition, crushed dissent and persecuted lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Eritrean troops have committed widespread atrocities in Ethiopia’s neighboring Tigray region and other serious rights violations, and rights situation in UAE “remains dire” with prominent Emirati human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor jailed without a mattress in near total isolation, he said.
The Geneva-based Human Rights Council was created in 2006 to replace a committee discredited because of the poor rights record of some members. But the new council was quickly faced with similar criticism, including that rights abusers were seeking seats to protect themselves and their allies.
Under the rules of the Human Rights Council, seats are allocated to regions to ensure geographical representation.
The United States has criticized the selection of candidates with poor rights records from undisputed lists as well as the Human Rights Council’s excessive criticism of Israel. This culminated in the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the board in June 2018.
When US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced in February that the Biden administration was reconnecting with the council, he said Trump’s withdrawal “did nothing to encourage meaningful change, but rather created a vacuum of American leadership, which countries with authoritarian agendas have used to their advantage.
In a statement Thursday thanking UN member states for allowing the United States to sit on the body made up of 47 countries, Blinken said the United States, as well as other countries, ” must repel attempts to overthrow the ideals on which the Human Rights Council was founded ”.
He said the council had an important role to play in “documenting atrocities in order to hold evildoers accountable,” but added that “it also suffers from serious flaws, including disproportionate attention to Israel and membership of several states with blatant human rights records ”.
The 18 countries elected to three-year terms starting January 1 were Benin, Gambia, Cameroon, Somalia and Eritrea from the Africa group; India, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates from the Asia group; Lithuania and Montenegro from the Eastern European group; Paraguay, Argentina and Honduras from the Latin America and Caribbean group; and Finland, Luxembourg and the United States of the group of predominantly Western nations.