The UN General Assembly elected China to the Human Rights Council (UNHRC) Tuesday, despite the country holding about one million Uighur Muslims in detention camps. The General Assembly also elected Cuba, Russia, Uzbekistan and Pakistan, all of which were also accused of human rights violations.
UNHRC membership is limited to 47 countries, and council members serve for three-year terms. The majority members of the General Assembly elect member states directly and individually by secret ballot. These elections occur annually, as there are a certain number of seats up for election every year. To become a member, a country needs a minimum of 97 votes.
China was supported by 139 of the 191 nations that voted, and it was one of 16 nations that sought the 15 available seats. China and Saudi Arabia were against Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Nepal for four available Asia-Pacific seats. Saudi Arabia was also expected to secure a seat on the council, but it received only 90 of the minimum 97 required votes.
This election garnered criticism from a variety of sources, including Human Rights Watch (HRW), former US Ambassador Nikki Haley and the US. Geneva-based non-governmental organization UN Watch criticized the candidacy of China, Russia, Cuba, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Prior to the vote, HRW stated that China, Saudi Arabia and Russia should not be elected on the council because they have a “long history of massive rights violations.”
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo criticized the election of countries with “abhorrent human rights records,” stating, “These elections only further validate the US decision to withdraw and use other venues and opportunities to protect and promote universal human rights.” The US left the Human Rights Council in June 2018.