Mass Graves Don’t Keep Congolese Off UN Rights Council

MANHATTAN (CN) — U.S. and British diplomats rebuked the United Nations on Monday for including the Congo to its Human Rights Council despite the recent discovery there of mass graves.

One of 15 countries admitted to the 47-member U.N. body this morning, Congo had run unopposed among the African states but still required a majority of votes to obtain a seat.

The United States, the United Kingdom and advocacy groups like the Washington-based Human Rights Watch called upon member nations to reject Congo’s candidacy, citing widespread reports that its president Joseph Kabila has used repression and violence to hold onto power after his two-term limit expired on Dec. 19, 2016.

U.S. Permanent Representative Nikki Haley called the vote — conducted by secret ballot by the 193-member General Assembly this morning — evidence that the U.N. body “lacks credibility.”

“The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), a country infamous for political suppression, violence against women and children, arbitrary arrest and detention, and unlawful killings and disappearances, has been elected to serve on what is supposed to be the world’s preeminent human rights body,” Haley said in a statement.

Focusing on the need for reform, Haley’s comments made no mention of America’s recent departure from the U.N.’s cultural organization, UNESCO, over an alleged bias against Israel, or of its threats to withdrawal from the rights council.

“The HRC cannot endure many more blows to its credibility before it is rendered absolutely meaningless,” Haley said. 

Her statement echoed that of Human Rights Watch’s UN director Louis Charbonneau, who warned before the vote that the Congo’s election would “undermine the founding principles and credibility” of the U.N. body.

“It would also be a serious affront to the countless victims of government abuses and to the work of courageous Congolese activists,” Charbonneau said in a statement.

UK Permanent Representative Matthew Rycroft also expressed his disappointment with the vote.

“Political repression, civilian attacks, mass graves,” Rycroft tweeted this afternoon. “What happened in #DRC last [year] makes their election to @UN_HRC entirely disappointing.

Britain’s permanent mission to the United Nations estimated that 87 mass graves have been discovered in Congo between June and August this year, amid 1,329 reports of human rights violations trickling out of the country.

Those number appear to be drawn from the U.N.’s own report from July, estimating that more than 3,000 people have been killed, nearly 1.3 million displaced, and roughly 30,000 have fled to neighboring Angola, which joins Congo on the council.

The other member states voted onto the council this morning are Mexico, Senagal, Nigeria, Chile, Spain, Australia, Pakistan, Ukraine, Slovakia, Nepal, Qatar and Peru. Their three-year terms on the Geneva-based body will begin on Jan. 1, 2018.

While Congo’s inclusion this year aroused considerable outcry, it was not the only source of controversy.

The U.K. Independent noted that Australia’s vote, which was also uncontested, fell at a time that the nation’s policies regarding asylum and treatment of its indigenous population have drawn international scrutiny. Indigenous people in Australia are 14 times more likely to be incarcerated than non-indigenous people, the paper reported.

Spain’s ascension to the council follows the nation’s violent repression of a referendum on Catalonian independence.

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