The UN Human Rights Council will hold an unprecedented secret ballot this week to choose its president after China and others blocked a candidate from Fiji seen as a rights champion, sources said and analysts.
“There was a deadlock,” a source close to the council told TBEN who asked not to be named. “It’s a very, very messy situation.”
The dispute could highlight the growing scramble within the top United Nations rights body from countries that intend to avoid criticizing nations for alleged violations of individual rights and focus on human rights violations. advancement of economic and social rights.
The board chair rotates annually between regions and is usually approved by consensus within each regional group.
This year, however, the Asia-Pacific Group (APG) that was to take the helm failed to agree on a candidate – or even hold a vote within the group.
That means the board, which for the first time in its 15-year history began the year without a president, will hold an unprecedented vote among the 47 members on Friday.
Sources close to the deliberations said China, Russia, Saudi Arabia and others have hesitated over the widely anticipated appointment of Fiji’s ambassador and orchestrated an opposing candidacy.
Among official objections, Fiji had applied too early, ahead of this year’s council elections, but rights groups said opposition was likely motivated by the island nation’s outspokenness of the Pacific on rights issues.
“They would say Fiji is too pro-Western,” Marc Limon, head of the Universal Rights Group think tank, told TBEN.
“But I think in reality their problem is that Fiji is pro-human rights and has taken strong positions on the council.”
A senior Chinese diplomat dismissed claims that China has opposed Fiji or urged others to do so, insisting it was a “misinterpretation of our position.”
In asking not to be named, the diplomat stressed that China could “accept one of the three candidates” right now on the ballot.
Representatives for Russia and Saudi Arabia did not respond to a request for comment.
The Asia-Pacific group was expected last month to anoint Fiji Ambassador Nazhat Shameem Khan, who served as vice president last year and has long been the race’s sole candidate.
But just days before the announcement expected on December 7, Bahrain announced the candidacy of its ambassador Yusuf Abdulkarim Bucheeri.
“We understand … that Bahrain came forward after being encouraged by states like China, Saudi Arabia and Russia,” Phil Lynk, head of the International Human Rights Service, told TBEN. man.
While the deadlock on a largely procedural stance might seem surprising, he said Fiji’s tough stance on a number of issues since joining the council in 2019 could have raised concerns that Khan was an “active” president.
The president primarily oversees board meetings, but is also responsible for appointing independent experts who investigate alleged violations of countries’ rights and can determine how difficult it is to crack down on cases of state intimidation against those who cooperate with the organization.
Concerns about a strong board chairman may also have been heightened before a year the United States is expected to return, following the retirement of outgoing President Donald Trump in 2018, analysts said.
Ken Roth, head of Human Rights Watch, said the objection to Fiji was “a transparent effort to cripple the Human Rights Council.”
“They prefer someone like Bahrain, who is in fact a puppet of the Saudis, and who has little interest in promoting human rights, because Bahrain itself is a serious abuser,” he said. he told TBEN.
Bahraini representatives did not respond to a request for comment.
Fiji and Bahrain faced opposition from several countries, so an appeal was made for a third candidate and Uzbekistan joined in the fray.
None of them have since managed to garner consensus support, forcing Friday’s unprecedented vote in the full council.
The Chinese diplomat expressed his frustration at the situation, adding that his country had urged all parties to “show flexibility”.
“This is the first time that a regional group has not been able to come to an agreement on a single candidate to propose to the Human Rights Council,” the diplomat said.
“It’s very sad.”
After all the back and forth, observers said Fiji is expected to vote on Friday.
“Looking at the membership trend, Fiji is likely to win,” the source close to the council said.
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