The Geneva-based monitoring NGO UN Watch described the situation as the equivalent of allowing five convicted arsonists to join the fire brigade.

The UN has 15 three-year term vacancies on the 47-strong council, with the seats grouped into five regions. Due to secretive backroom deals, the only regional group in which seats are being contested is in Asiaand the Pacific, where five candidates are vying for four available seats. A candidate can only be defeated if fewer than 97 countries positively vote for them in the secret ballot at the UN general assembly in New York.

At a briefing organised by UN Watch, Yang Jianli, the president of Citizen Power Initiatives for China and a former political prisoner, said: “China was involved in the annihilation of political freedom in Hong Kong. By any standards China has grossly abused the UN human rights founding principles. If this were an election for a UN human rights abusers council, it would be more than proper to vote for China, since it leads the world in violating human rights.”