Sadly, it’s not a joke: Cuba, China, Russia about to join U.N. Human Rights Council | Opinion

Andres Oppenheimer
·4 min read

It sounds totally insane, but the ongoing session of the United Nations General Assembly is about to elect Cuba, Russia and China to the U.N. Human Rights Council, the U.N.’s top human-rights body.

Just as crazy, the Council is expected to keep Venezuela as one of its 47 member countries, despite recent devastating findings by U.N. entities accusing President Nicolas Maduro’s dictatorship of being responsible for thousands of state-sponsored killings and the systematic torture of political prisoners.

You might not hear much about the voting for new Council member countries in the media. It’s drawing little attention amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. presidential race and other major new from around the world.

But make no mistake — it’s a big deal.

If Cuba, Russia and China win their seats, they will have a better-than-usual chance to kill future U.N. human-rights investigations. They would turn the Council into a virtual mutual protection society for some of the world’s worst dictatorships, more so than it is already.

Voting to fill 15 of the Council’s 47 seats is scheduled to take place Oct. 13 at the U.N. General Assembly. The candidates already have been chosen by the U.N.’s regional blocs, which each elect a predetermined number of candidates.

“Cuba and Russia are running unopposed, so it’s looking very likely that they will be joining the Council,” Louis Charbonneau, the Human Rights Watch advocacy group’s U.N. affairs expert, told me. “It also looks very likely that either China or Saudi Arabia, or both, will be elected for their regional bloc.”

How is this possible? Simple: Most democracies that are not potential subjects of human-rights probes spend their diplomatic energies at the United Nations to winning seats on commissions that can help them advance their economic interests. Dictatorships, on the other hand, go out of their way to win seats at the Human Rights Council, so that they can fend off probes into their own abuses.

The Trump administration, in protest, withdrew from the U.N. Human Rights Council in 2018. While the administration was right in denouncing the Council’s hypocrisy, withdrawing from the Council ended up reducing America’s influence on it, making it easier for it to elect more authoritarian regimes.

Putting Cuba, Russia, China and Saudi Arabia on the Council could make it more difficult for other U.N. human-rights bodies to continue their investigations into massive abuses by the Maduro dictatorship in Venezuela, advocates say.

On Sept. 16, a U.N. mission created last year by the Council to investigate the human-rights situation in Venezuela issued a stunning 411-page report, concluding that the Maduro regime is responsible for “arbitrary killings and the systematic use of torture” that “amount to crimes against humanity.”

Last year, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet released a report saying that Maduro’s death squads were responsible for more than 6,700 extrajudicial killings just between January 2018 and May 2019.

Asked what can be done to stop the likely election of such authoritarian regimes to Council seats, Hillel Neuer, head of the Geneva-based U.N. Watch advocacy group, told me that Cuba’s election to the Council could be thwarted if a democracy such as Costa Rica presented its candidacy before the Oct. 13 vote.

“There’s still time to do it,” Neuer said, recalling that Costa Rica jumped into the race last year in an ultimately unsuccessful effort to thwart Venezuela’s election to the Council. “But it doesn’t look like it’s happening.”

My guess is that the election of Cuba, Russia and China to the Council is a done deal. The least democracies around the world can do now is to publicly condemn the United Nations for this travesty.

It not only violates the U.N.’s own norms, which call for taking a country’s human-rights records into consideration before adding it to the Human Rights Council, it’s also an insult to everything the international body stands for.

Shame on the United Nations for this insanity. And shame on all the countries that continue to remain silent about it.

Don’t miss the “Oppenheimer Presenta” TV show at 8 p.m. E.T. Sunday on CNN en Español. Twitter: @oppenheimera