Saudi Arabia and China Vying for Seats on Human Rights Council Despite Public Outcry

Saudi Arabia and China Vying for Seats on Human Rights Council Despite Public Outcry

The UN’s Human Rights Council is holding the 17th session in Geneva from October 21 to November 1. Eastern and Western representatives, united in outrage over the contenders, are scrutinizing two of the countries being screened for opening seats: Saudi Arabia and China.

Just hours before the assembly began, Tibetan activists protested in front of the building with a banner reading: “China fails human rights in Tibet – U.N. stand up for Tibet.” Since the People’s Republic of China incorporated Tibet in 1950, the Dalai Lama and government now live in exile in Dharamshala, India. Buddhists still try to escape China and reach refuge in Dharamshala, a journey through knee-deep Himalayan snow.

Speaking on the floor, Uzra Zeya, acting assistant secretary in the U.S. State Department’s bureau of democracy, human rights and labor, said “we’re concerned that China suppresses freedoms of assembly, association, religion and expression, harasses, detains and punishes activists, targets rights defenders’ family members and friends and implements policies that undermine the human rights of ethnic minorities.”

While the U.S. reps plays offense against China, it must also face the release this week of reports from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch organizations which questioned the legality of some U.S. drone strikes and said it had identified 33 incidents “that appear to have resulted in civilian casualties.” The Obama administration was scrutinized for “violating international law with top-secret targeted-killing operations that claimed the lives of dozens in Yemen and Pakistan.”

Amnesty alluded to a possible worldwide dilemma where “the U.S. drone policy sets a dangerous precedent that other states may seek to exploit to avoid responsibility for their own unlawful killings.”

Outlined on the UN Human Rights Council website for the Universal Periodic Review, is their mission to “remind States of their responsibility to fully respect and implement all human rights and fundamental freedoms” and then “provide the opportunity for each State to declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situations in their countries and to fulfill their human rights obligations.”

When the U.S. was under review in 2010, the Council made recommendations that covered social and economic rights including racial discrimination, rights to health and food, social protection and adequate housing needs. Now, the drone issue will have to be addressed.

Human Rights Watch also targeted Saudi Arabia, which is also up for a seat. Their deputy Middle East director, Joe Stork, condemned the kingdom for its “extraordinarily high levels of repression and its failure to carry out its promises to the Human Rights Council.”

Hillel Neuer, from UN Watch, a non-governmental organization based in Geneva whose mandate is to monitor the performance of the United Nations, charged that “making Saudi Arabia a world judge on women’s rights and religious freedom would be like naming a pyromaniac as the town fire chief.”
Even though the UN’s Universal Periodic Review, “has great potential to promote and protect human rights in the darkest corners of the world,” according to Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General, identifying those nations without dark corners is a difficult task.

According to the 2012 Death Sentences and Executions report issued by Amnesty International, the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran and China are the highest offenders, where China has more executions than the rest of the world combined.
While Westerners and Easterners are united in opposing current nominees, they also are jointly guilty of human rights abuses. The candidates will bid to replace current members including, Pakistan, Venezuela and Kazakhstan, all of which have dark histories of rights violations.

Written By: Cayce Manesiotis

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