How To Avoid Global Consequence: A Guide By Russia, China, And Saudi Arabia
By: Isabella Gattuso
Russia and China are not exactly known for being champions of human rights. And yet, somehow, they have managed to secure seats on the United Nations 47-member Human Rights Council for the next 3 years.
Russia and China’s stances on human rights over the past few years have been fraught with controversy. In China, over 1 million Uighur Muslims have been detained since 2016 in “re-education camps'', where testimonies from former detainees have revealed the abusive nature of the camps. Detainees have been forced to eat pork, sterilized, and tortured. Last July, the UN has both condemned the camps for “its disturbing reports of large-scale arbitrary detentions”, while only four days later praised the camps as a human rights success story by preventing “terrorism, separatism, and religious extremism”.
Russia is no better than China in the human rights department. Their responses to protesters have consistently been bans, repressive laws, and harassment and prosecution of said protesters. There is a refusal to acknowledge the abundance of torture within their prisons. Citizens’ rights to speak independently or support certain NGOs have been taken away. And that’s only to name a few.
This spells disaster for the victims of human rights abuses in their countries. By joining the council, the UN is essentially powerless to stop the human rights abuses from happening by one of their own members. According to the executive director of the NGO UN Watch, Hillel Neuer, “regimes that systematically violate the human rights of their own citizens, and that repeatedly oppose U.N. initiatives to protect the human rights of others, cannot be the world’s guardians and judges of human rights.”
The counterintuitive nature of these countries being elected to the human rights council elicits the memory of Libya acting as head of the UN Human Rights Council almost a decade ago. Muammar Al-Gaddafi was accused of prominent human rights abuses like shooting a variety of artillery at fleeing citizens and the torture of dissenters in 2011. However, prior to this, the Human Rights Council had given him a leadership position and had created an award in Al-Gaddafi’s name for human rights.
After allegations of his offenses had gotten out, the council unanimously voted to throw out Libya for its human rights abuses and resolved to bomb Al-Gaddafi to stop his abuses. However, years after this resolution and the death of Gaddafi, human rights abuses are still prevalent in Libya. There has still been no justice for the victims of the campaign, and due to the power vacuum left by bombing Al-Gaddafi’s regime, competing groups have begun to spar and have continued the chain of human rights abuses.
It is unlikely the UN would condemn the actions of its own members. First and foremost, one criticism of the current UN forum is that they single out Israel but avoid other nations’ oppressive behaviors. This is relatively true, at least in the cases of Russia and China. China has already received positive recognition for their camps, and Russia has not stopped its oppressive behaviors. As well as that, giving attention to the shortcomings of another country and reprimanding someone on their own committee would not be very diplomatic, nor would it look very good when they as they exposed the shortcomings of their own council. It is safe to say that by being on the council at all, Russia and China will receive a fair amount of immunity from the council, at least for the time being.
Currently, the presence of Russia and China on the council will ultimately weaken the status of the UN. As an organization dedicated to fighting human rights abuses but allowing their own members to continue with their prominent displays of apathy to the injustices happening in their own countries, they undermine the stability of the Council. Most likely, their role on the council will either lead people to recognize the failures of the council to address culpable nations; or nations guilty of human rights issues will recognize the hypocrisy of another country telling them to stop doing something when they are doing the exact same thing. Or worse, both.
China and Russia’s role in the Human Rights Council is no doubt a shocking outcome but should be easily avoidable with more regulation. Russia had only won the election for the seat because they had run unopposed, while China had won with only 139 votes (down from 180 votes in previous years). Most seats won this year were based on geopolitics, allowing every corner of the world to have a chance to be represented, but allowing many contentious countries to run unopposed.
If the UN had imposed regulation so that countries who allegedly partake in human rights abuses would be barred from running until there were confirmations that a country had or had not committed oppressive behaviors, they would be able to avoid accusations of hypocrisy and negligence. No country is innocent, but there comes a point where it’s much preferable to have no representative from one region of the world rather than one who has established camps, torture, and suppression of independent voices speaking against the same actions they commit themselves.
*All arguments made and viewpoints expressed within Youth In Politics and its nominal entities do not necessarily reflect the views of the writers or the organization as a whole.
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