U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo led a chorus of criticism against the United Nations, after countries with poor human rights records were elected to the U.N. Human Rights Council on Oct. 13.
“The UN General Assembly once again elected countries with abhorrent human rights records, including China, Russia, and Cuba,” Pompeo said in an Oct. 13 statement. “These elections only further validate the U.S. decision to withdraw and use other venues and opportunities to protect and promote universal human rights.”
The United States withdrew from the Human Rights Council in June 2018, before its term expired in 2019, over a lack of reforms within the U.N. body.
Elections for the 47-seat Human Rights Council were held at the U.N. headquarters in New York City on Oct. 13 to fill 15 vacant seats distributed among five regional groups: African States, Asia-Pacific States, Eastern European States, Latin American and Caribbean States, and Western European and other States.
The only competition took place among the Asia-Pacific States, where five countries were competing for four vacant spots. The other regional groups each had the same number of candidates as the number of vacant seats. For example, France and the United Kingdom filled the two vacant seats in the regional group of Western Europe and other States.
Pakistan and Uzbekistan each secured 169 votes, followed by Nepal with 150 votes and China 139, according to a U.N. press briefing. Saudi Arabia was fifth with 90 votes.
Other countries that filled the 15 vacant seats included Russia, Bolivia, and Cuba.
All 193 member states of the United Nations can vote in each regional group by secret ballot. Winning countries will begin their three-year term on Jan. 1, 2021.
China saw its support at the U.N. drop considerably, compared to the last time it won a seat on the panel in 2016, when it received 180 votes.
Pompeo noted that the United States has sought other avenues to promote human rights, such as a virtual side event during the 75th U.N. General Assembly in September, as well as a landmark event on religious freedom hosted by President Donald Trump last year.
Following the U.S.-hosted virtual event on Sept. 23, morer than 50 countries signed a joint statement recognizing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), noting that “certain principles are so fundamental as to apply to all human beings, everywhere, at all times.”
The UDHR, proclaimed by the U.N. General Assembly in 1948, is a milestone document that stipulates that fundamental human rights should be universally protected.
“The United States’ commitment to human rights consists of far more than just words. Through the State Department’s action, we have punished human rights abusers in Xinjiang, Myanmar [Burma], Iran, and elsewhere,” Pompeo stated.
The U.S. government has sanctioned six Chinese officials and one Chinese Communist Party entity over human rights abuses against Uyghur Muslims in China’s far-western region of Xinjiang, where an estimated one million Uyghurs are being detained in internment camps.
In U.S. think tank Freedom House’s latest annual assessment of world countries’ level of political rights and civil liberties, China was rated “not free,” with a score of 10 out of 100.
China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian, at a daily briefing on Oct. 14, called Pompeo’s comments “very ridiculous.” He said the United States should “stop spreading political virus,” and not use “human rights as an excuse to interfere in other countries’ domestic affairs.”
Several U.S. lawmakers have since taken to Twitter to voice their opposition to the election results, including Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).
“#China, #Russia, and #Cuba being elected to the @UN_HRC is a joke when you consider the egregious human rights violations they commit,” Rubio wrote.
The senator added: “This system is broken and it’s a tragedy with the number of urgent human rights challenges globally.”
Nikki Haley, former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., posted on Twitter: “UN Human Rights Council is a total farce not worthy of its name or the United States giving it any credibility.”
Hillel Neuer, executive director of Geneva-based NGO UN Watch, called Tuesday “a black day for human rights,” in a tweet.
In a separate tweet, Neuer pointed out that based on Freedom House’s ratings, 51 percent of the Human Rights Council member states were rated “partly free” or “not free,” meaning they “fail to meet the minimal standards of a free democracy.”
That percentage will increase to 60 percent beginning on Jan. 1, 2021, when countries including China take their seats.