World

Venezuela wins seat on UN Human Rights Council despite opposition

Venezuela won a contested election for a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council on Thursday despite a campaign by over 50 organizations and many countries opposed to Nicolas Maduro's government and its rights record.

Council, which U.S. left, has faced criticism for some members' track records

Venezuelan attorney-general Tarek William Saab called his country's election to the United Nations Human Rights Council 'an important achievement' amid widespread opposition. (Johnny Carvajal/Reuters)

Venezuela won a contested election for a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council on Thursday despite a campaign by over 50 organizations and many countries opposed to Nicolas Maduro's government and its rights record.

There was scattered applause in the General Assembly chamber when its president announced the results of the voting for two Latin American seats.

Brazil topped the ballot with 153 votes followed by Venezuela with 105 votes and late entry Costa Rica with 96.

The 193-member world body elected 14 members to the 47-member Human Rights Council for three-year terms starting Jan. 1. Under its rules, seats are allocated to regions to ensure geographical representation.

In other contested races, Iraq lost out in the Asian group contest for four seats to Japan, South Korea, Indonesia and the Marshall Islands, and Moldova lost in the Eastern Europe group race for two seats to Armenia and Poland.

Africa had four countries on the ballot — Benin, Libya, Mauritania and Sudan — for four seats. But when General Assembly President Tijjani Muhammad-Bande announced the results the winners were Namibia, Libya, Mauritania and Sudan, with Benin getting just one vote.

There was no competition for the two Western group seats and Germany and the Netherlands were overwhelmingly elected.

The Geneva-based Human Rights Council can spotlight abuses and has special monitors watching certain countries and issues. It also periodically reviews human rights in every UN member country.

Created in 2006 to replace a commission discredited because of some members' sorry rights records, the new council soon came to face similar criticism.

The Raoul Wallenberg Center for Human Rights, led by former Canadian justice minister Irwin Cotler, released a statement last week urging the council to reject Venezuela, Indonesia, Iraq, Libya, Mauritania and Sudan, given their human rights records.

Cotler, though, expected Venezuela to get approval.

The United States left the council partly because it saw the group as a forum for hypocrisy about human rights, though also because Washington says the council is anti-Israel.

Venezuela's attorney-general Tarek William Saab called the vote "an important achievement" for his country.

'No possible excuse'

Israel's UN Ambassador Danny Danon said in a statement immediately after Thursday's results were announced that the council "continues to abandon human rights and is now in the business of protecting dictators and war crimes."

"In Venezuela, a dictator starves his people, and in Libya there are camps that torture African migrants," Danon said.

Before the vote, Human Rights Watch said there was "no possible excuse to vote for Venezuela" after Costa Rica entered the race in early October.

A protester throws a petrol bomb while clashing with security forces during a rally against President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, in May 2017. (Marco Bello/Reuters)

Louis Charbonneau, UN director at Human Rights Watch, said: "A vote for Venezuela is a vote for the torture, murder, and impunity that have become trademarks of President Nicolas Maduro's government."

"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," he said.

Venezuelan officials regularly reject any criticism of the country's human rights record. When the UN's high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet, chronicled cases of torture, sexual abuse and extrajudicial killings in the country, deputy foreign minister William Castillo said her report "does not reflect the reality in our country." He called it a "biased vision" of Venezuela and demanded it be "corrected."

'Serial rights abusers'

Philipe Bolopion, deputy director of global advocacy for Human Rights Watch, said the UN council should continue to scrutinize the Maduro government's "abuses," even with Venezuela at the table, and hold those responsible to account.

"The UN General Assembly should recognize that electing serial rights abusers like Venezuela betrays the fundamental principles it set out when it created the Human Rights Council," he said.

Before the vote, Human Rights Watch also criticized Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro for embracing "rhetoric hostile to human rights norms" and for giving "a green light to criminal networks destroying the Amazon rainforest."

It criticized Poland for systematically eroding "the independence and effective functioning of its judiciary," Indonesia for rising "religious intolerance" and Mauritania for using laws on criminal defamation, spreading "false information and blasphemy to prosecute human rights activists, bloggers and political dissidents."

And it urged Sudan's new transitional government to "set an example on human rights promotion by taking concrete steps toward accountability and reforms."

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.