Venezuela Wins a UN Human Rights Council Seat Despite Criticism


(Bloomberg) -- Venezuela’s government has faced accusations of widespread torture, extrajudicial killings and economic malpractice as the country with the world’s largest oil reserves struggles to import basic food and medicine. That didn’t stop it from winning a seat on the UN Human Rights Council.

The United Nations General Assembly on Thursday elected 14 new members to the 47-nation council. Seats are allotted according to regional groups, and Venezuela garnered 105 votes to win one of the two slots for Latin America despite fierce opposition from human rights groups and intense lobbying from the U.S., which pulled out of the council last year. It finished behind Brazil’s 153 votes and knocked out Costa Rica, which had 96.

“Today’s election of the former Maduro regime in Venezuela to the UN Human Rights Council is an embarrassment to the United Nations and a tragedy for the people of Venezuela,” U.S. Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft said. “I am personally aggrieved that 105 countries voted in favor of this affront to human life and dignity. It provides ironclad proof that the Human Rights Council is broken and reinforces why the United States withdrew.”

Venezuela’s election to a body supposed to promote and protect human rights worldwide also gives U.S. critics of the UN yet another reason to accuse the world body of bias and dysfunction. President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the rights council in 2018, saying it has an anti-Israel bias.

The council has a long history of including members with checkered records on the very issue it’s supposed to help oversee. Current members include Egypt, the Democratic Republic of Congo and China, which has been criticized by the U.S. for a campaign of detaining Muslim Uighurs in the western province of Xinjiang.

“The Human Rights Council is the United Nations’ greatest failure,” former U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley wrote in the Miami Herald last week. “Instead of protecting human rights, it has long protected the tyrants, dictators and strongmen who abuse them.” Haley said she was grateful for Costa Rica’s late entry to the race.

Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza called the decision a victory for “peaceful diplomacy” and a defeat for the U.S. efforts to undermine Mauro.

“It’s a victory that will have to be measured over the course of the days but that today we dare to describe as historic,” he said in a news conference broadcast on state television. “Because we are fighting a fierce campaign by the United States government and its satellite countries and governments, a campaign to prevent Venezuela from being chosen today.”

As recently as July, the UN called on Maduro’s government to take “immediate, concrete measures to halt and remedy the grave violations” of economic, social and civil rights. Maduro’s government -- which has blamed its economic problems on the U.S. -- has used social programs in a discriminatory manner based on political grounds as a tool for social control, the UN report said. At the same time, security forces often resort to torture or inhuman treatment, including electric shocks, suffocation, beatings and sexual violence to extract confessions, it added.

“A vote for Venezuela is a vote for the torture, murder, and impunity that have become trademarks of President Nicolas Maduro’s government,” Louis Charbonneau, UN director at Human Rights Watch, said before the vote. “It’s a slap in the face to the millions who have fled the country, many facing dire humanitarian conditions, and the countless victims who never made it out.”

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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