Fiji, the favourite of Western nations, won the presidency of the United Nations Human Rights Council on Friday, beating Bahrain and Uzbekistan in a ballot that resolved a tense deadlock over the selection.
The vote was called after an impasse that meant the council, the only intergovernmental global body to promote and protect human rights, began meetings this week leaderless for the first time in its 15-year history.
The presidency rotates geographically with each region typically making a selection by consensus but members of the Asia-Pacific group could not agree, forcing the first-ever ballot in the council.
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The UN council is the only intergovernmental global body to promote and protect human rights. Photo: Reuters alt=The UN council is the only intergovernmental global body to promote and protect human rights. Photo: Reuters
Fiji's Nazahat Shameen Khan, a British-educated former high court judge, won with 29 votes versus 14 for Bahrain and four for Uzbekistan, vice-president Ali Ibn Abi Talib Abdelrahman Mahmoud told a nearly empty UN chamber where delegates voted one-by-one due to Covid-19 measures.
The deadlock over the presidency came at the start of a year that is widely expected to see the United States rejoin after quitting the forum in 2018, and with a review of the council's activities expected to begin.
Observers and diplomats saw Fiji's rivals as being backed by Russia, China and Saudi Arabia although a Chinese diplomat said he would be happy for any candidate to win. Officials from Russia and Saudi Arabia did not respond to requests for comment.
China's ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Chen Xu, congratulated Fiji in a tweet on Friday and pledged support.
The 47-member council does not make legally binding decisions but it can authorise probes into alleged rights violations by mandating international fact-finding missions.
Marc Limon of the Universal Rights Group think tank, welcomed Khan's selection.
"It is important for the council to have a country like Fiji that has a positive record on human rights and a good story to tell," he said, alluding to the collapse of the former UN rights body after Muammar Gaddafi's Libya led it.
A diplomat said he expected debates to be more intense this year, given that Russia and China return to the council after periods off it.
"I expect a lot of heated debates and the potential for acrimony," he said, saying China's actions in Hong Kong and Xinjiang could be flashpoints.
This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP's Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2021 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.
Copyright (c) 2021. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.