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Rights groups criticise China, Cuba, Russia, Saudi seats on UN Human Rights Council

China, Cuba, Russia and Saudi Arabia have been listed among 14 new members of the UN Human Rights Council despite concerns over their human rights records. Rights groups have contested the appointments.

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New UN Human Rights members elected

The 193-nation UN General Assembly appointed 14 new members to the 47-seat Human Rights Council on Tuesday in its annual election.

China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Algeria and Cuba were among those who won three-year seats on the Geneva-based council. They were joined by Britain, France, Mexico, the Maldives, Morocco, Namibia, South Africa and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

In a statement issued after the vote US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power expressed concern over a number of the new appointments.

The new members include "some that commit significant violations of the rights the council is designed to advance and protect," Power said. She did not specify the nations to which she was referring.

"Today's election in the General Assembly is a reminder that the Council's important work remains unfinished," she added.

Rights groups voice concern

Peggy Hicks of Human Rights Watch was more specific in her criticism. She noted that five of the new council members - China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam and Algeria - have refused to let UN experts visit to investigate alleged human rights abuses.

China, Russia and Algeria have 10 or more unfulfilled requests for visits by UN investigators, some of which date back to 2000, Hicks said. Saudi Arabia and Vietnam each have seven outstanding requests she added.

"Countries that haven't allowed UN experts appointed by the council to visit have a lot of explaining to do," said Hicks, global advocacy director of the New York-based non-government group.

"With the return of China, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Cuba, human rights defenders will have their work cut out for them at the Human Rights Council next year."

"Fortunately, no states have a veto in Geneva so a hard-working majority can still achieve concrete results," Hicks added.

Meanwhile Geneva-based UN Watch, an advocacy group that monitors the United Nations, listed Britain, France, Macedonia and Mexico as the only candidates qualified to be members of the council on the basis of their human rights records.

One third of the UN Human Rights Council's membership is appointed by region annually. This year competition in their respective regional groups meant South Sudan and Uruguay were denied seats. The other regions had uncontested ballots.

The newly elected countries will hold seats on the council from 2014 to 2016.

Iran and Syria had been planning to run for seats but pulled out over criticism of their rights records.

Saudi Arabia runs uncontested

Until last week, Jordan had also been a candidate for the Human Rights Council, but stepped aside in order to allow Saudi Arabia to run uncontested.

Jordan is vying to become a member of the UN Security Council in place of Saudi Arabia, which rejected its seat for 2014-2015 in an unprecedented move last month.

Saudi envoy to the United Nations Abdullah al-Mouallimi wrote to UN leader Ban Ki-moon to officially confirm the move on Tuesday. The kingdom said it was protesting the 15-nation body's inaction over the Syrian conflict, the Middle East peace process and Iran.

A new UN General Assembly election will have to take place to allow Jordan to replace Saudi Arabia on the Security Council. Jordan is said to be wary of taking up the two-year seat due to its sensitive position on the frontier of the Syrian civil war.

ccp/ch (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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