On 12 November 2013, China was elected as a member of the UN Human Rights Council. The Human Rights Council (HRC) was created in 2006 and replaced the former UN Commission on Human Rights; it is the UN’s top human rights body and is made up of 47 Member States, elected by the UN General Assembly. The HRC has the mandate to strengthen the promotion and the protection of human rights worldwide as well as to address situations of human rights violations. One of its most important mechanisms is the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), which assesses the compliance to human rights norms and standards by all UN Member States.
For the past months, there has been a great concern in the international community regarding China’s candidature to become part of the HRC. The UN Resolution 60/251 which created the HRC establishes in its article 8 that “when electing members of the Council, Member States shall take into account the contribution of candidates to the promotion and the protection of human rights and their voluntary pledges and commitments made thereto”. China has succeeded to win a seat at the Council, despite its poor human rights record and the calls from many civil society organisations to exclude China from becoming a member.
Nevertheless, China’s membership to the Council does not prevent the government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) from being held accountable for human rights violations. The UN Resolution 60/251 also states that “the General Assembly, by a two-thirds majority of the members present and voting, may suspend the rights of membership in the Council of a member of the Council that commits gross and systematic violations of human rights” (art.8).
The election of China as a member of the HRC also implies that from now onwards China will have to take concrete, credible steps and real commitments to fully guarantee the protection and promotion of human rights according to international law. The elected Member States to the Council “shall uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights, shall fully cooperate with the Council and be reviewed under the universal periodic review mechanism during the term of their membership” (art.9).
As the HRC begins afresh with its newly elected members, the credibility and the effectiveness of this body will greatly depend on complying with its mandate to the maximum of its possibilities, and therefore it should not turn a blind eye to its members’ human rights records, but to implement effective accountability mechanisms to safeguard its mission as the global promoter of human rights.
“China’s election to the HRC has made our resolve stronger than ever to protect and promote human rights in Tibet. By electing China to the HRC, we hope the UN member states seek to engage China and make its government more accountable to long-standing human rights issues in Tibet. China’s membership to the HRC should be linked to its serious commitment to uphold and protect human rights, and in case it fails to do so, it should eventually be expelled from the Council,” said Tsering Tsomo, executive director of TCHRD.