China, Cuba, Russia elected to UN Human Rights Council

The UN General Assembly voted Tuesday to elect a new tranche of 15 Human Rights Council (HRC) members, including China, Cuba and Russia.

The trio of countries won seats over objections from critics who challenge their rights records.

Reads like an excerpt from The Onion, but unfortunately it is not. What reasons exist that would allow these kinds of countries to join the UNHRC?

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    You join a treaty not on the base of having already complied to it, but on the promise to do so in future.
    – Zsolt
    Oct 15, 2020 at 18:00
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    "Reads like an excerpt from The Onion". Right? I mean, even the only country which ever dropped an atomic bomb on civilians is there! Oct 16, 2020 at 3:04
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    @EricDuminil and the only country that started two world wars is also there. So what?! In my opinion that circus which is called UN human right (what right by the way?!) council has no standard whatsoever. Oct 16, 2020 at 3:52
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    To be fair, if all it takes to be excluded is for someone to challenge your rights record, it'd become trivial to exclude any country by launching claims that are not directly disprovable. I'm not claiming the countries in question didn't violate any rights, but I am questioning the validity of excluding countries based solely on the existence of critics and claims, as it would become easily exploitable.
    – Flater
    Oct 16, 2020 at 11:27
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    @EricDuminil Which saved an lot more civilians and soldiers alike from more drawn out, gruesome deaths. War is not pretty, no matter which way you look at it. Japan started the war, and had zero intention of ending it. Kill a few hundred thousand to save millions - sounds like exactly the correct, yet tough, human rights decision to make.
    – SnakeDoc
    Oct 16, 2020 at 22:26

6 Answers 6


If you want to have an organization that includes every country on Earth, you have to have standards that are acceptable to the lowest common denominator nations. Otherwise, they'd "take their ball and go home" and you'd have a multilateral organization that excludes lots of countries as isn't a global parliament including every country on Earth as the UN aspires to be. Absent global federalism (which the UN's founders aspired to, to some extent, but knew that they couldn't get agreement to), that's the reality.

There are regional organizations like the Council of Europe, that have selective membership which permits them to impose more strict standards on their members through binding treaties. Their strategy is to get everyone on board while they support human rights and then to prevent them from sliding off the human rights wagon later on, and to potential impose sanctions collectively on non-member human rights violators. But, this isn't an option for the UN.

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    Well said. The UN isn't the organization all-of-us-who-know-best-for-everyone would prefer, it is the organization that regroups nearly all nations on Earth (Taiwan being one exception). It's not perfect, no, but it is what we have. Oct 14, 2020 at 22:02
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    @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica - Taiwan keeps applying for membership, too. Oct 15, 2020 at 7:44
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    There's also an aspect of "no taxation without representation" - you can't require a major sovereign nation to do something that they did not voluntarily agree to, so any UNHRC decisions made without involving China and Russia can and will simply be ignored by them, so then they're just empty, useless declarations.
    – Peteris
    Oct 15, 2020 at 10:43
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    @AloneProgrammer The main purpose of the UN is to provide a place where all of the countries of the world have a safe forum to provide a diplomatic channel to talk to other countries of the world, particularly those with whom they lack embassies, and to provide a vehicle for reducing the friction in organizing collective action when the will is present to do so.
    – ohwilleke
    Oct 16, 2020 at 2:17
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    @AloneProgrammer I can't wait to hear your brilliant suggestion for a world forum. Maybe one for only countries that think like you and are perfect? What happens if you want to talk to the others? No one's claiming this here is good, but it is representative of the struggles of human rights in many places. Now you can either la-la-la and pretend everyone's great. Or you can slowly try to change them. Do I sound bitter? Well, it's maybe because decades of scoring cheap electoral points against the UN by US politicians has gotten to where the UN really doesn't listen to them overmuch. Oct 16, 2020 at 17:22

There seems to be unfortunately no mechanism to keep this from happening. This is not the first time it has happened: Libya got the chairmanship in the past, under Gaddafi. The problem is that, as farcical as this seems, how could you stop it? It's not even "the UN's fault", it's what member states vote on.

Any formal definition of not-good-for-human-rights would get vetoed by Russia and China.

To paraphrase a comment, once you start excluding countries for "bad behavior" in one domain, it can spread to other domains. For example, while the subject here is Human Rights, it stands to reason that if lack of performance on a subject triggers exclusion, then this mechanism could be used to deny US membership on any UN climate change committee.

Soft power and persuasion decide these types of things, and the West isn't particularly unified right now. Nor is it immune from criticism regarding human rights.

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    Two wolves and a sheep voting on dinner. Oct 15, 2020 at 4:49
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    Why mention climate change? I think the death sentence and torture already provide ample examples to exclude the US from the HRC. Oct 15, 2020 at 6:27
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    @knallfrosch you may want to look at China's record on capital punishment then. Their 1M Uighurs in camps may also not be totally keen on state of their rights either. My point about climate change was this: China has no credibility on human rights, correct? Well, going by that reasoning the US has no business going within 50 miles of a climate committee since it has no credibility in that domain. So, acting all huffy and puffy about disqualifying China for HR biz would leave the US high and dry on CO2 biz. Also what do you think I meant by nor immune from criticism. praise for the US? Oct 15, 2020 at 6:44
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    @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica I was just mentioning that you do not need to stray into another domain (like climate change), because the US already has no credibility on human rights. Why complicate matters by mentioning different domains when they are not needed? Oct 15, 2020 at 8:55
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    @knallfrosch You also only need to look at the fact that the US is one of the few countries in the world which refuses to sign up to the International Criminal Court due to multiple war crimes: initially in Korea, then Vietnam, and more recently of course in Iraq and Afghanistan.
    – Graham
    Oct 15, 2020 at 16:40

Because the UN is not an alliance of some developed countries. There are many underdeveloped countries, but their voices have long been ignored. People are only concerned about the "freedom criteria" of some of the louder developed countries.

This is why, whenever the US and westerns lead a condemnation coalition with some countries, China can pull another coalition with more countries.

The world at this time is colliding.

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    Please clarify why, or under what circumstances, a consistent definition and application of the "freedom criteria", (with regard to Human Rights), would not be of general international interest. It's not obvious from this answer why an organization with "United" in its name should tolerate wildly inconsistent definitions, any more than ISO would.
    – agc
    Oct 15, 2020 at 11:51
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    @agc Although consistency must certainly be one of the priorities, imo if you give it first and foremost priority, you cannot achieve anything at all in politics. In mathematics, you certainly can. In medicine - a little less, but again, yes, you can. In jurisprudence, to some lesser extent, maybe. In politics - no way, I think. Oct 16, 2020 at 8:57
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    I may misunderstand, in which case I apologize, but this has a distinct, unpleasant, undertone of "human rights are just for rich Western countries, others don't need them". I'd argue the opposite. Much of the rich West, when they do break human rights, have formal complaint procedures so impact to the victims is somewhat mitigated. "Places whose voices have long been ignored" often seem to ignore abuses entirely. Look at Nigeria's SARS Or, are you arguing that beating someone in a poor country is somehow nobler than doing it in a rich one? Oct 17, 2020 at 16:54
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    @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica Western countries have their own set of definitions of human rights. Sometimes they use this so-called human rights as a weapon to attack the country they want to attack. However, in reality, the macroscopic human rights should be equality, development, prosperity, and survival. This year, hundreds of thousands of people died in certain countries due to government inaction during the epidemic. Do these people have no human rights? On the other hand, North Korea has ensured to protect its own citizens. It's ironic.
    – cocoJ
    Oct 18, 2020 at 4:32
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    You can't tell the difference between narcissistic incompetence and systems designed for oppression? Here's a hint. Criticize Dear Leader in NK or King Fornicate-A-Lot of Thailand and you can, legally, end up in gulags for the first or 10 years of prison for the second. Next month citizens of "certain countries" can choose to vote their bum out if they are wise enough to. And in the meanwhile they can call him names all they want. And you picked NK to make your point, not even a more reasonable country like Cuba? I understood you very well, but thanks for making your position very clear Oct 19, 2020 at 17:45

In addition to the reasons listed, I think there is one of political convenience. One simply needs channels of communication to interact with these countries on human rights issues. I believe that having them out of the council makes such communication one-sided and inefficient.

A similar situation is, say, with Navalny poisoning sanctions. It would be most logical for Putin to top the list of EU travel banned persons, but obviously this would complicate political communication matters so much that it simply cannot be done.

  • It was recently said by Lavrov, that if EU don't want a dialog, then so be it. So, it definitely CAN be done. And likely that would be done - just as diplomatic answer to new sanctions Oct 16, 2020 at 8:45
  • @user2501323 What can and would be done, sorry? Oct 16, 2020 at 8:47
  • No need for sorry - I don't think, that my english is good.)) Sanctions from Russia to the EU - mirroring last EU sanctions - I thought, that you mentioned that when saying about "top the list of EU travel banned persons". Or did I mistake? Oct 16, 2020 at 8:48
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    Yes, you misunderstood me. I meant that EU cannot ban Putin from entering Europe, although logically if they ban anybody, he should be the first. Oct 16, 2020 at 8:50
  • Oh, I see at last. Rather complicated phrase for me. Oct 16, 2020 at 8:51

As many have already answered, the UN wouldn't last long as a global organisation that seeks to improve the world if they imposed strict criteria on the standards each nation should stand by. The UN wouldn't be able to get the world to agree on an embargo of North Korea for example if they were constantly berating China and Russia for their behaviour.

Another argument that can be posed is what human right standards does a nation need to meet to be allowed to be on the Human Rights Council? Can the US be there despite detention of asylum seeking minors in poor conditions and a large incarceration rate of their minority populations? Can France be there despite funnelling large amounts of wealth and weapons to oppressive dictators across West Africa? If only nations that had little to no human rights breaches were allowed than there is only about five nations in the world I can think of that have any chance of being on there.


Well, I would rather ask why suspension and expulsion procedure have not been initiated against those countries. What they are doing these days may lead to final war for the entire humanity, these are the kingdoms promoting injustice as a virtue... This just answers the question, subtly. The other countries in the UN are not ready to block Council membership for those violators due to excessive tolerance. Long story short, excessive tolerance is the key reason.

  • Welcome to Politics! Can you elaborate a bit more about what excessive tolerance looks like? If you're referring to a pattern that's more than just them being part of the council, please elaborate on that. If it's only that, I think tolerance is a symptom, not the cause.
    – JJJ
    Oct 17, 2020 at 13:52

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