China re-joined the UN Human Rights Council in November 2013 in a “clean slate” election, with four states for four seats. While its presence clearly undermines the overall credibility of the Council, this does present an opportunity to hold other UN member states responsible for ensuring China is held more strongly to account for its human rights record.
On 12 November 2013, despite strong opposition from global civil society – including 1 million people who signed an Avaaz petition, and an on-the-ground lobby team of Tibetan activists and supporters co-led by TJC, the UN member states allowed China to walk back onto the Human Rights Council with a healthy vote count. China’s re-election was almost inevitable, given it was a “clean-slate” election, with four states for four seats in the Asia region, however, it is a blow to the credibility of the Human Rights Council, which also elected Saudi Arabia and Vietnam in the same pool as China.
When electing members of the Human Rights Council, UN member states are supposed to take into account the contribution of candidates to “the promotion and protection of human rights”, in accordance with General Assembly resolution A/RES/60/251. The Tibet lobby coalition, of which TJC was a part, raised this in repeatedly in meetings with UN member states at the UN in New York. The final vote result – although not a huge shock – raises real concerns about the utility of both the Council, and its current voting system.
Looking ahead, China’s presence on the Human Rights Council makes its human rights record of global concern and the Tibet movement can maximise this by: monitoring China’s movements on the Council; urging UN Member states to fulfil their responsibility of engaging and monitoring China on its own human rights record; and holding China accountable for human rights violations committed whilst a Council member. The situation in Tibet can be seen as a litmus test for China’s human rights record, and we will be urging UN member states to use it as such in their human rights dialogues with the latest member of the Human Rights Council.