(CNSNews.com) – Despite the public appeals of human rights advocates and behind-the-scenes lobbying, U.N. member-states on Thursday elected Venezuela onto the world’s body’s Human Rights Council, handing the socialist Maduro regime more votes than Costa Rica, a stable liberal democracy.
Until the small Central American country declared its candidacy just weeks ago, Venezuela had been virtually assured a seat on the Geneva-based HRC, since it was one of two candidates running for two seats earmarked for the Latin America and the Caribbean group.
But Costa Rica’s candidacy, while turning the “closed slate” election into a competitive race – with three countries running for two vacant seats – failed to win over sufficient member-states.
Voting by secret ballot in New York, 105 members of the U.N. General Assembly threw their support behind the Maduro regime. Costa Rica received 96 votes. (Brazil, the region’s third candidate, won 153 votes.)
Amid a deep political and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, the U.S. and 54 other countries no longer recognize Nicolás Maduro’s regime as the legitimate government. They support the head of the National Assembly, Juan Guaido, as interim president in accordance with the constitution, pending new elections.
But Maduro retains strong support in the bloc of developing nations known as the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), whose 120 members comprise a majority in the General Assembly.
NAM earlier this year formally backed the Maduro regime’s HRC candidacy – unsurprisingly, since Venezuela holds the bloc’s rotating presidency.
In other controversial developments on Thursday, Mauritania, Sudan and Libya were also handed seats on the HRC. Again, their success came as little surprise, since their African group put up a “clean slate” for the four Africa seats in play. (Namibia took the fourth.)
What was striking was the size of the vote the three North African countries received – 175 votes for Sudan, 172 for Mauritania, and 168 for Libya – despite having poor records on human rights.
The General Assembly has 193 members, but only 187 took part in the vote for the African group. That means only 12 countries did not support Sudan’s candidacy, only 15 withheld their support for Mauritania, and only 19 found themselves unable to vote for Libya.
Freedom House, the Washington-based democracy watchdog, annually assesses countries’ records on political rights and civil liberties, and accordingly grades them “free,” “not free” or “partly free.”
Venezuela, Mauritania, Sudan and Libya are all ranked “not free” this year, and Sudan moreover is one of ten countries given the worst scores.
‘Leading democracies are complicit’
The Geneva-based NGO U.N. Watch, which had led a campaign calling for the abusive regimes not to win seats on the HRC, slammed the outcome.
Executive director Hillel Neuer called the election of the Maduro regime onto the U.N.’s highest human rights body “absurd, immoral and offensive.”
“Sadly, today the U.N. General Assembly disregarded its own rules by electing regimes that violate the human rights of their own citizens, and which consistently vote the wrong way on U.N. initiatives to protect the human rights of others,” he said.
Although the vote is by secret ballot, simple arithmetic indicates that at least 16 members of the European Union either voted for Sudan, or abstained (as opposed to withholding their votes, which countries are entitled to do.)
Similarly, at least 13 E.U. members either voted for Mauritania or abstained, and at least nine EU states either voted for Libya or abstained.
“Not one E.U. member-state spoke out against the election of dictatorships,” Neuer said. “By turning a blind eye as even more human rights violators join and subvert the council, leading democracies are complicit in the world body’s moral decline.”
U.N. Watch on Thursday announced the launch of “the Global Campaign to Expel Maduro from the UNHRC.”
Neuer recalled a similar campaign was launched after Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi won a seat on the HRC in 2010.
“People laughed at us,” he tweeted. “Then the madman went to war with E.U. states who suddenly embraced our campaign & expelled him.”
The HRC was established in 2006 to replace the widely-discredited, 60-year-old U.N. Commission on Human Rights.
After failing to have meaningful reforms inserted into its founding resolution, the George W. Bush administration shunned it from 2006-2009. The Obama administration embraced the council and ran for a seat, acknowledging its flaws but arguing it could best secure improvements from within.
Those efforts failed, but the Obama administration remained a supporter. The Trump administration last year withdrew from the HRC, citing the poor quality of its membership and an inbuilt bias against Israel (the only country, out of 193, to be targeted by a permanent agenda item.)
The HRC, which has 47 seats, has had no fewer than eight, and as many as 14 “not free” members in any one year since its establishment.
This year it has 14 “not free” members (29.8 percent of the total).
After Thursday’s election, and with some member-states stepping down next year due to term limits – after two consecutive terms a country is obliged to stand down for at least one year – just over one-quarter of the members (12) in next year’s HRC will be “not free.”