In light of their poor human rights record, the trio’s expected win at the council has prompted an outcry from rights groups.

China, Russia and Saudi Arabia are expected to win seats on the United Nations Human Rights Body Council on October 13, despite the outcry from a coalition of non-governmental human rights groups. 

The council's three-year term will begin on January 1 next year after today’s elections for 15 seats in the 47-nation assembly. 

“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, an independent non-governmental human rights group based in Geneva - in a report on October 5. 

However, the election of the trio looks certain as the council requires seats to be allocated to regions, and all the regional groups have uncontested slates except for the Asia-Pacific contest. This allows the other candidate countries to be elected even if they're not qualified.

The 30-page report also said human rights records of Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Cuba, which has no opposition in Tuesday’s General Assembly election, make them “unqualified” to have seats at the council.

The groups that oppose the trio’s membership in the council point out that their election would be in contradiction with the backbone resolution of the Human Rights Council.

UN General Assembly Resolution 60/251, states that the members “have the duty to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms.” The member countries are also required to “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights” at home and abroad.”

“China and Saudi Arabia have not only committed massive rights violations at home, but they have tried to undermine the international human rights system they’re demanding to be a part of,” Louis Charbonneau, UN director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

“Uncompetitive UN votes like this one make a mockery of the word ‘election,’” Charbonneau said. “Regional slates should be competitive so states have a choice. When there’s no choice, countries should refuse to vote for unfit candidates.”


China is widely condemned for its serious human rights violations, especially for arbitrary arrests of more than one million Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and other Muslims in extrajudicial internment camps designed to erase religious and ethnic identities, according to the US State Department. China defends the high-security prison style camps, saying that it intends re-education of Muslim minorities to tackle terrorism but the camps are rather likened to concentraion camps by the US and many other countries.

There are 380 suspected facilities in the Xinjiang region - some 40% more than previous estimates, according to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. 

Reports say the women in the internment are forcefully sterilised under a government campaign to suppress birth rates of Muslims. 

Arbitrary interference with privacy, of independence in its judiciary; attacks on journalists, lawyers, dissidents, petitioners, interference with the rights to freedom of assembly and association; coercive birth limitation policy, inability of citizens to choose their government, corruption, and official repression of Tibetans are among other reasons why UN Watch finds China unfit for the council membership.

Saudi Arabia

The killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi on 2 October 2018 at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey by agents of the Saudi government, is one of the most publicised crimes of the Kingdom. But the country’s human rights record is not limited to simply unlawful killings. 

“Restrictions on freedom of the press, including arrests and intimidation of journalists; restrictions on the rights of assembly and association; restrictions on religious liberty; restrictions on political participation; corruption; violence against women, including rape and FGM; human trafficking; child labor,” are also among the human rights violations that Saudi Arabia boasts, according to UN Watch.

The Kingdom’s role in the Yemen war, which killed 100,000 Yemenis and displaced 3.6 million since 2015, is also widely criticised. Riyadh heads a coalition against the Houthi rebels in Yemen, and carried out 106 air strikes in the country only in the first week after a ceasefire was declared in April this year.


Russia has occupied Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, as well as other regions, in Sevastopol, and Donetsk and Luhansk, and has prosecuted people who criticise the occupation. Moscow also has been an ally to Syrian regime leader Bashar al Assad since 2015, providing aerial support to bomb opposition in the country. 

In 2015, Moscow imposed a ban on international monitors and aid agencies, in a move seen as stifling dissent and restricting media freedom. Prosecution of minorities, torture at detention facilities and its judiciary’s lack of independence from the executive branch, are other issues bringing the country’s human rights records down.