UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The United States won a seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council that former president Donald Trump denounced and quit, joining 17 other nations elected in uncontested votes Thursday that were criticized for guaranteeing spots to countries with abysmal rights records.
The 193-member U.N. General Assembly elected all 18 candidates proposed by the world organization’s five regional groups. Benin was the top vote-getter with 189 votes, followed by Gambia with 186, while the United States with 168 and Eritrea with 144 were at the bottom of the list.
“The absence of competition in this year’s Human Rights Council vote makes a mockery of the word `election,’” said Louis Charbonneau, the U.N. director for Human Rights Watch. “Electing serious rights abusers like Cameroon, Eritrea and the United Arab Emirates sends a terrible signal that U.N. member states aren’t serious about the council’s fundamental mission to protect human rights.”
He said Cameroon’s government has suppressed the opposition, crushed dissent and persecuted lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Eritrean troops have committed widespread atrocities in neighboring Ethiopia’s Tigray region and other serious rights violations, and the rights situation in the UAE “remains dire" with prominent Emirati human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor imprisoned without a mattress in near-total isolation, he said.
The Geneva-based Human Rights Council was created in 2006 to replace a commission discredited because of some members’ poor rights records. But the new council soon came to face similar criticism, including that rights abusers sought seats to protect themselves and their allies.
Under the Human Rights Council’s rules, seats are allocated to regions to ensure geographical representation.
The United States has criticized the selection of candidates with poor rights records on uncontested slates as well as the Human Rights Council’s excessive criticism of Israel. This culminated in the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the council in June 2018.
When U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced in February that the Biden administration was re-engaging with the council, he said Trump’s withdrawal “did nothing to encourage meaningful change, but instead created a vacuum of U.S. leadership, which countries with authoritarian agendas have used to their advantage.”
In a statement Thursday thanking U.N. member states for allowing the U.S. to serve on the 47-nation body, Blinken said the United States together with other countries “must push back against attempts to subvert the ideals upon which the Human Rights Council was founded.”
He said the council has an important role in “documenting atrocities in order to hold wrongdoers accountable,” but added that “it also suffers from serious flaws, including disproportionate attention on Israel and the membership of several states with egregious human rights records.”
State Department spokesman Ned Price said later that the Biden administration will “vigorously oppose the council’s disproportion attention on Israel, which includes the council’s only standing agenda item targeting a single country" and will work against the election of countries “with egregious human rights records."
The 18 countries elected for three-year terms starting Jan. 1 were Benin, Gambia, Cameroon, Somalia and Eritrea from the Africa group; India, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Qatar and UAE from the Asia group; Lithuania and Montenegro from the East European group; Paraguay, Argentina and Honduras from the Latin America and Caribbean group; and Finland, Luxembourg and the United States from the mainly Western nations group.
Associated Press writer Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.