Member states voted to suspend Russia last year after its invasion of Ukraine
Russia was defeated in its bid to regain a seat in the United Nations' premiere human rights body by a significant majority in Tuesday's election in the General Assembly, which voted last year to suspend Moscow after its invasion of Ukraine.
Russia was competing against Albania and Bulgaria for two seats on the Geneva-based Human Rights Council representing the East European regional group.
In the secret ballot vote, Bulgaria got 160 votes, Albania received 123 votes and Russia just 83 votes.
Russia has claimed that it has support from a silent majority, and even though 83 votes came from less than half the 193 UN member nations, there is certain to be a concern, especially by Ukraine and its Western allies, that Moscow's support was that high.
"I think the Russians will be pleased that they persuaded a sizable minority of UN members to back them (which) suggests that Moscow is not a total pariah in the UN system, despite repeated Western criticism," Richard Gowan, UN director of the International Crisis Group, told The Associated Press. "That said, the US and Ukraine's allies were still able to ensure that Albania and Bulgaria swept the contest for two seats. So, Kyiv's friends still have a solid majority in the assembly."
The only other competitive race was in the Latin America and Caribbean group where Cuba, Brazil, and the Dominican Republic defeated Peru for three seats. New York-based Human Rights Watch said Cuba didn't deserve a place on the council because of systematic rights violations including harassment, arbitrary detention, and torture of dissidents but Cuba got the highest number of votes of the four countries – 146.
The other closely watched race was in the Asia group, where four countries – China, Japan, Kuwait and Indonesia – were candidates for four seats. Some rights groups also campaigned against Beijing and the size of the vote was closely watched.
Indonesia topped the ballot with 186 votes followed by Kuwait with 183 votes and Japan with 175. China was last with 154 votes.
Human Rights Watch said last week that China's rights record should disqualify it from the Human Rights Council. It pointed to last year's report by the office of the UN human rights commissioner which said China's discriminatory detention of Uyghurs and other mostly Muslim ethnic groups in the western region of Xinjiang may constitute crimes against humanity.
Two other regional races were also not competitive.
For the four African seats, Malawi got 182 votes followed by Ivory Coast with 181 and Ghana with 179. Burundi, whose rights record was also strongly criticized by Human Rights Watch, was last with 168 votes.
The two Western seats were also uncontested, and the Netherlands topped France with 169 votes compared to 153 votes.
General Assembly President Dennis Francis, who announced the results, congratulated the 15 winners, who will join the Human Rights Council on Jan. 1.
Louis Charbonneau, Human Rights Watch's UN director, said: "UN member states sent a strong signal to Russia's leadership that a government responsible for countless war crimes and crimes against humanity doesn't belong on the Human Rights Council."
"But because two regional slates lacked competition, China and Burundi will be joining the council next year alongside Cuba. Their abysmal rights records should have disqualified them," he said, adding that China's last-place finish suggests that if the Asia race was competitive it would have lost.
But the spotlight in this election was on Russia and its campaign to get back on the Human Rights Council.
Moscow's UN ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, accused the United States on Monday of leading a campaign to prevent their return to the council.