Russia has failed in its bid to return to the United Nations top human rights body 18 months after it was suspended in the wake of its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
In a secret ballot of the General Assembly’s 193 members, Bulgaria emerged with 160 votes and Albania 123, giving each country a three-year term on the Human Rights Council starting from January 1.
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Russia was third with 83 votes.
“UN member states sent a strong signal to Russia’s leadership that a government responsible for countless war crimes and crimes against humanity doesn’t belong there,” said Louis Charbonneau, UN director at Human Rights Watch.
Russia was removed from the council in April 2022 in a diplomatic push led by the United States. The election for the coming term had been viewed as a test of Moscow’s diplomatic support amid fierce Western-led criticism over its brutal assault on its neighbour.
Speaking ahead of the vote, Albanian Ambassador Ferit Hoxha said the UN General Assembly faced “an important choice” to “demonstrate that it is not ready to take an arsonist for a firefighter”.
The UN vote took place just days after a Russian missile attack on the Ukrainian village of Hroza killed more than 50 people.
“Russia can still boast that it got support from nearly half the UN’s members today,” noted Richard Gowan of the non-profit Crisis Group.
“This does offer some support to Russia’s claim that its diplomatic isolation is gradually decreasing as many states are tiring of arguments over Ukraine.”
But, he added, “Ukraine’s friends are still the most powerful force in the General Assembly”.
The International Criminal Court has also issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russia’s Children’s Rights Commissioner Maria Lvova-Belova over the alleged illegal deportation of hundreds of Ukrainian children, a war crime. The Kremlin has rejected the accusations and the court’s jurisdiction.
China was also among the winners of Tuesday’s vote, even after more than 80 non-profit groups called on states to oppose Beijing’s re-election given its record on human rights.
In August last year, the UN’s then human rights chief Michelle Bachelet found potential crimes against humanity in the far western region of Xinjiang four years after a ground-breaking UN report said 1 million mostly Muslim Uighur people were being held in secret camps Beijing later described as vocational skills training centres.
Bachelet had been pushing for years for Beijing to allow her access to the region and was finally allowed into China on a tightly choreographed visit in May 2022.
“Crimes against humanity and genocide apparently [are] not disqualifying actions for UN’s top human rights body,” the Uyghur Human Rights Project wrote on X, previously known as Twitter.
Savita Pawnday, the executive director of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, also noted the poor human rights records of some of the countries elected to the Human Rights Council.
“Today’s election of Burundi and China undermines the Council’s credibility,” she wrote on X. “Burundi and China along with other perpetrators of likely atrocities, including Cameroon, Eritrea, UAE and Sudan have no place on @UN_HRC.”
The Human Rights Council’s 47 members are allocated by region.
China was one of four countries vying for the four open seats in the Asian group, alongside Japan, Indonesia and Kuwait. Indonesia led the voting with 186 votes, while China was fourth with 154.
Cuba, which also faced criticism over its bid for a second term given its human rights record, retained its seat with 146 votes, the highest number in the Latin America and Caribbean region.