vote was called after an impasse that meant the Council, the
only intergovernmental global body to promote and protect human
rights worldwide, began meetings this week leaderless for the
first time in its 15-year history.
The presidency rotates geographically with each region typically
making a selection by consensus but members of the Asia Pacific
group could not agree, forcing the first-ever secret ballot in
Fiji's Nazahat Shameen Khan, a British-educated former High
Court judge, won with 29 votes versus 14 for Bahrain and 4 for
Uzbekistan, Vice-President Ali Ibn Abi Talib Abdelrahman Mahmoud
told a nearly-empty U.N. chamber where delegates voted
one-by-one due to COVID-19 measures.
The deadlock over the presidency came at the start of a year
that is widely expected to see the United States rejoin after
quitting the forum in 2018, and with a review of the Council's
activities expected to begin.
Observers and diplomats saw Fiji's rivals as being backed by
Russia, China and Saudi Arabia although a Chinese diplomat said
he would be happy for any of the three candidates to win.
Officials from Russia and Saudi Arabia did not respond to
requests for comment.
Multiple meetings to resolve the deadlock were unsuccessful amid
strong lobbying ahead of the vote, diplomats said. The 47-member
Council does not make legally binding decisions but it can
authorise probes into alleged rights violations by mandating
international fact-finding missions.
Marc Limon of the Universal Rights Group think-tank, welcomed
"It is important for the Council to have a country like Fiji
that has a positive record on human rights and a good story to
tell," he said, alluding to the collapse of the former U.N.
rights body after Muammar Gaddafi's Libya led it.
A diplomat said he expected the intensity of debates to increase
this year, given that Russia and China return to the Council
after periods off it.
"I expect a lot of heated debates and the potential for
acrimony," he said, saying China's actions in Hong Kong and
Xinjiang could be flashpoints.
(Reporting by Emma Farge; Editing by Frances Kerry)
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