Vote against including China in UN Human Rights Council, MPs urge
Delegates gather during the opening of the 32th session of the Human Rights Council, at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Monday, June 13, 2016. (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP)
Published Wednesday, October 5, 2016 4:34PM EDT
OTTAWA -- MPs from all major parties are calling for Canada to vote against major human rights abusers in their bid for seats on the UN Human Rights Council.
The UN will vote Oct. 28 to select 14 countries for the 47-member Human Rights Council. Countries sit on the council for three years, with a crop of seats coming open every year.
China, Cuba, Russia and Saudi Arabia all currently sit on the council and are all up for another term.
The vote is secret, so it isn't clear whether Canada has voted in favour of the countries in the past. Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, said his organization is asking democracies to speak out.
"Last time we had [this round of] elections, China and Russia won 176 out of 193 votes, which means every country in the world other than 17 countries voted for them," Neuer said.
The council is ostensibly responsible for protecting human rights around the world, but critics say those countries make a joke of that goal.
Former Liberal MP Irwin Cotler, who is known around the world for his work to free political prisoners, said it makes a mockery of human rights that these countries are candidates for the human rights council. Cotler is the founder and chair of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, which helped organize the press conference on Parliament Hill Wednesday.
"They've engaged in systematic violations of human rights. Not only are they not being held to account, they are being rewarded with a seat on the Human Rights Council," Cotler said. "We are indulging a culture of impunity. We're even rewarding them for their human rights violation."
Yang Jianli, a former political prisoner in China, said a candidate needs 97 votes to get elected to the Human Rights Council.
"If every democracy says no, [the] chances for China would be zero," he said.
"I urge Canada, the great democracy, not to humiliate the great country and its people by failing this test... Openly vote a no vote on China."
Liberal MP Michael Leavitt, Conservative MP Peter Kent and New Democrat MP Murray Rankin were among the parliamentarians present to speak in favour of Canada voting against China, Cuba, Russia and Saudi Arabia for the Human Rights Council.
Leavitt said the Liberals with concerns about the vote will make them clear to Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion. Anthony Housefather, another Liberal MP, said he couldn't repeat what came up in caucus, but that it was fair to assume anything said publicly was also being argued privately.
Dion's spokeswoman said the government "stands resolutely against the imprisonment of human rights defenders, journalists, and peaceful political activists.
"Political prisoners are a violation of basic universal human rights. We will express these convictions in every forum, including the United Nations Human Rights Council," Chantal Gagnon wrote in an email.