Russia pushed out while Egypt wins a seat on UN human rights council despite violations

Toqa Ezzidin
7 Min Read

Egypt won a seat on the United Nations human rights council on Friday for the period from 2017 to 2020, after it received 173 votes during the general assembly.

Following a secret ballot conducted in the Geneva-based council which is responsible for promoting human rights around the globe, Egypt managed to secure a seat along with 13 other newly-elected members. The 47 members in the United Nations human rights council are responsible for enhancing the promotion of human rights principles, observing human rights violations, and making recommendations.

The Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement early on Saturday, saying that the number of votes Egypt received was among the highest, as it received 173 votes, while the United States (US) received 175 votes, the UK 173, and Japan 177.

Spokesperson for the ministry Ahmed Abou Zaid said that Egypt’s presence in the United Nations human rights council, along with its membership in the UN security council and its membership in the African Union Peace and Security Council, reflects the trust of other countries on the international level, its pioneering role in promoting peace and security in Africa, and its respect to the UN declaration on the international level.

Abou Zaid further added that Egypt’s membership in the council is confirmation of the international endorsement of its political path which is taking steady steps towards building a modern civilian state that promotes human rights principles and the sovereignty of law and democracy, while being undeterred by the tough circumstances in the region.

The spokesperson also said that Egypt praises all the states that voted in its favour, stressing that Egypt will work with its fellow members to develop the international human rights organisation and make it inclusive and not only restricted to civil and political rights, but also to social and economic rights.

Abou Zaid concluded his statement by saying that Egypt’s membership will be a turning point in its efforts to put an end to the mounting humanitarian struggle that resulted from unrest in the Middle East and Africa.

Blind eyes turned to Egypt and Saudi Arabia’s violations

Egypt and Saudi Arabia, both elected as members in the United Nations human rights council on Friday, are continuously subjected to condemnations over human rights violations; however, both saw a smooth victory in winning seats on the council.


Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused Saudi Arabia of arbitrary arrests of peaceful dissidents and convicting them. Also, dozens of human rights defenders and political activists are serving long-term prison sentences. In January, the kingdom executed 47 people in one day over charges related to terrorism, including Shi’a cleric Nimr Al-Nimr.

On the international day against death sentences, UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon said that in many countries, besides its inefficiency, the alleged war against terrorism leads to severe violations of human rights.

Saudi Arabia is also severely criticised over its war crimes in Yemen, in the war against the Houthi rebels. It unlawfully bombed civilians in its nine-nation military-led coalition. According to the United Nations, since Saudi Arabia started its military operations in Yemen in May 2015, about 4,000 Yemeni civilians have died as a result.

Egypt has not escaped the flow of accusations regarding human rights violations either. According to HRW, Egypt has effectively banned protests and has sentenced hundreds to death following unfair mass trials. Egypt is also accused of killing an unknown number of civilians while attempting to combat terrorism in the Sinai peninsula.

Besides its crackdown on dissent, several prisoners are reported to have been tortured in prison, which is compounded by the unlawful detention of prisoners—exceeding two years in remand which violates Egypt’s penal code. HRW has also documented several cases of enforced disappearance in Egypt.

Amid these repeated accusations that Egypt receives from national and international rights organisations, government officials still insist that Egypt adheres to the principles of human rights and diminishes any documented, obvious, and undeniable violation as an “individual case”.

Tables turn against Russia over war crimes in Syria

During the voting session, Russia lost its seat in the United Nations human rights council as a result of the war crimes it committed in Syria. Diplomats and human rights organisations described Russia’s exit from the UNHRC as “historic”, according to Russia Today news outlet.

UN envoy Vitaly Churkin told reporters, following the vote removing Russia from the council, that it was competing with very good countries: Croatia and Hungary; however, Churkin added, they are not exposed to “the winds of international diplomacy” while Russia is very exposed.

He said: “Next time, we will stand our ground and get back in.”

Russia has received condemnation over its airstrikes in Aleppo, Syria, which have reportedly resulted in the death of thousands of civilians. Earlier this month, Russia’s draft resolution on a peaceful solution in Syria in the security council failed to be adopted, after it was vetoed. The draft resolution tackled similar key points to the French resolution (though the Russian one did not include halting airstrikes and aerial bombardments over Syria), but this also failed to be adopted as it was vetoed as well.

Egypt was chosen from among the African group and Saudi Arabia from among the Asian group in the voting. The countries are eligible to run for two consecutive three-year terms.

Other countries that were elected on Friday were the US, the United Kingdom, Japan, Brazil, Croatia, China, Cuba, and South Africa.


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