Critics Mobilize Opposition to China’s Bid to Serve on UN’s Top Human Rights Body

Critics of China’s human rights record tried to score a symbolic victory on Tuesday in the vote for 15 members to the 47-member UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

Opponents, including approximately 80 NGOs such as Human Rights Watch and Reporters Without Borders, argued that reported human rights abuses in China’s far western region of Xinjiang and the suppression of press freedoms disqualify the country from holding a seat on the UN’s top human rights body.

The group did not expect to deny Beijing another three-year term on the Council, especially as the seat was uncontested; however, it hoped to show that support for Beijing was softening by persuading some member states to “vote blank” rather than vote for China. Beijing ultimately received enough votes – 154 out of 193.


Keeping your friends in your corner

Observers suggest that UNHRC elections have become something of a battleground between democracies and authoritarian states and their competing visions on human rights. They also note that after six consecutive terms, China has succeeded in defending its interests within the UNHRC.

For example, in October 2022, after the UN issued a damning report on possible crimes against humanity in Xinjiang, a resolution for a debate about the issue was narrowly defeated by a margin of three votes.


But small signs of wavering support

There are signals, however few and faint, that support for China’s role on the UNHRC has its limits. While most African states largely remain in China’s corner, the NGOs campaigning against China claimed they had made some headway in persuading Bolivia not to support Beijing’s bid. Voting for the UNRC is done by secret ballot, so it is not possible to know where the opposition came from. But China’s critics, looking for a silver lining, noted that on Tuesday, Beijing received fewer votes than it did in 2016 (180) before revelations about Xinjiang surfaced.