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Protester in London demonstrating against China's campaign of human rights abuses against Uighur Muslims. Photo: Hasan Esen/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Several of the 15 countries elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council on Tuesday have themselves been condemned for serious human rights abuses, including China, Cuba, Pakistan, Russia and Uzbekistan.

The big picture: The intergovernmental body of 47 countries is responsible for "the promotion and protection of all human rights around the globe." The Trump administration pulled the U.S. out of the Human Rights Council in 2018, citing alleged bias against Israel and a pattern of allowing corrupt and repressive regimes to serve in its ranks.

What they're saying: “Electing these dictatorships as UN judges on human rights is like making a gang of arsonists into the fire brigade," said Hillel Neuer, executive director of the independent rights group UN Watch.

Between the lines: The 15 vacant seats were distributed between five regions, but only one region — Asia-Pacific — was contested. Most countries within regions typically reach private deals to ensure that candidates can stand unopposed, according to The Guardian.

  • "Uncompetitive UN votes like this one make a mockery of the word ‘election,'" Human Rights Watch's UN director Louis Charbonneau said in a statement.
  • "Regional slates should be competitive so states have a choice. When there’s no choice, countries should refuse to vote for unfit candidates."

Zoom in: Saudi Arabia fell short of the necessary vote threshold to be elected, almost exactly two years after the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

  • China, which is carrying out a campaign of demographic genocide against Uighur Muslims and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, earned the least number of votes of any state elected — 139, down from 180 votes when it stood for a seat in 2016.
  • 60% of the next term of UN Human Rights Council members do not meet the minimum standards of a free democracy, according to UN Watch.

Full list of newly elected countries: Bolivia, China, Cote d’Ivoire, Cuba, France, Gabon, Malawi, Mexico, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, Senegal, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and the U.K.

Go deeper: More countries join condemnation of China over Xinjiang abuses

Go deeper

China sanctions top Trump alumni one day after Uyghur genocide determination

Photo: Andrew Harnik/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

China's Foreign Ministry announced Wednesday it would sanction 28 "anti-China" U.S. politicians, including a slew of top officials from the outgoing Trump administration such as former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, former national security adviser John Bolton and former chief strategist Steve Bannon.

Between the lines, via Axios China expert Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian: Chinese government officials have traditionally decried the use of unilateral sanctions by Western countries, even though China regularly blocks foreign companies and individuals from its markets for perceived political slights.

Jan 19, 2021 - World

What Biden's top administration picks signal about his China strategy

Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

Early indicators suggest the Biden administration may continue to pursue a robust China strategy that reaches across multiple government departments and agencies.

Why it matters: Though the Trump administration's approach to China was often controversial, there is broad bipartisan agreement that China poses a major challenge to U.S. interests and values.

Jan 19, 2021 - World

Special report: Trump's U.S.-China transformation

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

President Trump began his term by launching the trade war with China he had promised on the campaign trail. By mid-2020, however, Trump was no longer the public face of China policy-making as he became increasingly consumed with domestic troubles, giving his top aides carte blanche to pursue a cascade of tough-on-China policies.

Why it matters: Trump alone did not reshape the China relationship. But his trade war shattered global norms, paving the way for administration officials to pursue policies that just a few years earlier would have been unthinkable.