Getting unanimous U.N. Security Council agreement to act against rogue nations and rights abusers may have become even more difficult Thursday with the election of Chad and Saudi Arabia to seats on the influential 15-member panel, human rights advocates said.
Chad made the United Nation's "list of shame" again this year over allegations of conscription and deployment of child soldiers, and Saudi Arabia is a recurring target of criticism by rights champions for denying women the right to vote, drive or travel without permission of male relatives.
All five of the open Security Council regional seats were uncontested, leaving the 193-nation organization no choice but to rubber-stamp the sole contenders. Although the Security Council is the United Nation's only real tool for enforcing global order and encouraging adherence to its values, its internal divisions of late -- primarily over what to do about the 2 1/2-year-old civil war in Syria -- may have discouraged member states from seeking to join the conflicted panel.
Also elected to two-year terms as nonpermanent members were Nigeria, Lithuania and Chile. Human rights activists expressed some concern about Nigeria's credentials, given reported law enforcement abuses and the country's failure to protect civilians from Boko Haram extremists. But they reserved their harshest criticism for Chad and Saudi Arabia.
"Saudi Arabia and Chad have abysmal records on human rights," said Hillel Neuer, executive director of Geneva-based U.N. Watch, founded 20 years ago to monitor United Nations compliance with the principles of its charter. "Repressive regimes crave this undue and false legitimacy."
The Security Council is called on to shape international law, authorize peacekeeping missions and impose sanctions on member nations accused of rights abuses, war crimes, terrorism and crimes against humanity, Neuer noted.
Anyone concerned about the situation in Sudan's western region of Darfur has to be worried about Saudi Arabia's "despicable record of repeatedly praising and shielding Sudan," whose president, Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir, has been indicted by the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes, Neuer pointed out.
Chad denies that it recruits and deploys underage soldiers but has routinely been accused of involving children in combat throughout the restive Sahel region, said Richard Gowan, associate director of New York University's Center on International Cooperation. He also noted that Chad depends on permanent Security Council member and former colonial ruler France for aid and can be expected "to be in France's pocket in most U.N. debates."
Human Rights Watch has long criticized Saudi Arabia for its repression of women and adherents of religions other than Islam, but being in the spotlight at the United Nations could encourage the kingdom to clean up its human rights record, said Philippe Bolopion, the rights group's United Nations director.
"If these moves are part of an effort to gain greater international recognition, we believe that getting their own house in order in terms of women's rights and letting human rights activists operate freely in the country would go a long way to that end," said Bolopion.
The Security Council's five permanent members -- the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France -- have deadlocked over moves to curb the bloodshed in Syria, with Russia and China vetoing motions of censure and proposed sanctions on the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Nonpermanent members do not have veto power. But some observers fear that the addition of Chad, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia, all with stakes in ongoing conflicts in Africa and the Middle East, will inflict deeper divisions among the 15 nations on the council.
The five countries elected Thursday assume their posts Jan. 1, replacing Azerbaijan, Guatemala, Morocco, Pakistan and Togo in half of the 10 nonpermanent positions. The other five are held by Argentina, Australia, Luxembourg, Rwanda and South Korea through the end of 2014.