China Elected to United Nations Human Rights Council

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Originally published by New York Times on November 14, 2013

China has won a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council for three years starting in January 2014, one of 14 countries chosen to join the 47-member council on Tuesday, the United Nations said. It was selected in a “single, secret ballot” by 176 of 193 nations in the organization’s General Assembly, according to a press release.

Other countries voted onto the council, which has the remit to strengthen and protect human rights around the world, include Saudi Arabia, Russia, Cuba, France and Britain.

“The Chinese government attaches great importance to the promotion and protection of human rights,” Wang Min, China’s deputy permanent representative to the United Nations, said after the vote, according to Xinhua, the state-run news agency.

Mr. Wang thanked all the countries that voted for China, and said that China would “continue to participate actively and intensively in activities of U.N. Human Rights Council, playing a constructive role in the council, promoting dialogue and cooperation and opposing pressure and confrontation so as to contribute more to a sound development in the cause of international human rights,” Xinhua reported.

China’s election came after a group of independent U.N. rights experts last month expressed “serious concern” at reports that Chinese human rights advocates have suffered reprisals for seeking to participate in a recent assessment of China’s human rights record at the United Nations.

“Activists have been reportedly threatened, arrested or banned from taking part in demonstrations or stopped from leaving China in the run-up to this month’s second review of its human rights record by the U.N. Human Rights Council through its universal periodic review mechanism,” according to a report on the website of United Nations Human Rights, part of the Office of the Commissioner of Human Rights, in October.

Criticizing China’s actions in the report were Margaret Sekaggya, the special rapporteur on human rights defenders; Frank La Rue, the special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, and Maina Kai, the special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.

U.N. Watch, a monitoring group, said that nearly half, or 47 percent, of the members of the new council “fail to meet the minimal standards of a free democracy.

In early November, Chinese Human Rights Defenders, a non-governmental organization, said it was “deeply concerned” about the safety of rights advocates who had tried to take part in the human rights review. Three of them — Chen Jianfang, Cao Shunli and Zhou Weilin — were barred from traveling to Geneva for a training session on United Nations human rights mechanisms, the group said. The Chinese police have arrested or detained all three, the group said.

In late October, more than 200 Chinese had signed a petition opposing China’s inclusion in the council, according to Human Rights in China, a United States-based organization. Between June and October, a group of about two dozen people staged quiet demonstrations outside the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing asking to be allowed to participate in the review. Their request was not granted and they have since dispersed.

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