Russia and China have been elected to the UN human rights council, despite opposition from activists and organisations who say the countries’ governments are among the worst human rights offenders.
But in a severe blow to the country’s efforts to improve its image in the wake of the admitted killing of the Saudi citizen and reporter Jamal Khashoggi, Saudi Arabia failed in its attempt to win a place in the 47-seat body.
Pakistan and Cuba were also elected in the secret ballot on Tuesday conducted at the UN headquarters in New York to fill 15 vacant seats. France and the UK were elected unopposed to represent Europe.
China and Saudi Arabia were in a five-way race with Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Nepal for four seats in the Asian region. China attracted 139 votes, down from the last time it stood for a seat in 2016 when it gained 180.
Saudi Arabia, the current chair of the G20, came fifth with just 90 votes, beaten by Nepal with 150.
Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), the organisation founded by Jamal Khashoggi, said: “It is telling just how badly crown prince Mohammed bin Salman has damaged his country’s global standing for Saudi to lose its election to the UN human rights council while China and Russia managed to win seats.”
“Despite the hundreds of millions of dollars he has spent on public relations stunts to cover his grotesque abuses, the international community just isn’t buying it.”
The Saudi’s defeat followed intensive last-minute lobbying from human rights organisations which warned that the body’s credibility would be at stake if Saudi Arabia, Russia and China were all elected given their recent histories.
The Russian state has in recent weeks been accused of using a military grade nerve agent to poison opposition leader Alexander Navalny.
Saudi Arabia has admitted that government officials dismembered Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul two years ago.
China stands accused of sending hundreds of thousands of Uighur Muslims into state re-education camps in Xinjiang province.
Before the vote, Louis Charbonneau, the UN director at Human Rights Watch, said: “Uncompetitive UN votes like this one make a mockery of the word ‘election’. Regional slates should be competitive so states have a choice. When there’s no choice, countries should refuse to vote for unfit candidates.”
In its statement Saudi Arabia admits it places “legal restrictions on freedom of opinion and expression in order to protect public order, national security, public morals and health, and the rights or reputation of others.”
It makes no mention of the female activists in jail for campaigning for the right to drive, or other Saudi members of the royal family held without access to their family or lawyers.
The Russian statement claimed “the promotion and protection of human rights is an absolute priority of the foreign policy of the Russian Federation”.
China in its statement placed heavy emphasis on economic emancipation, but said it “guarantees the freedom of all ethnic groups to use and develop their own spoken and written languages”.
The statement added: “There is always room for improving human rights. There is no universally applicable model, and human rights can advance only in the context of national conditions and people’s needs.” (Source: The Guardian)