Venezuela, long accused of abuses, wins seat on U.N. human rights body

Venezuela’s government — long accused of torture and persecuting its political rivals, and shunned by more than 50 nations — beat out Costa Rica to win a seat on the United Nation’s Human Rights Council on Thursday in a contentious vote.

The U.N.’s premier human rights body said Brazil and Venezuela were among the 14 new members to win seats for the 2020 session.

Washington and others were hoping to sideline the South American country amid a larger push to isolate the Nicolás Maduro regime.

“We can call this vote historic because we were confronting a fierce campaign by the United States and its satellite governments,” Venezuela Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said in a statement.

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Brazil won 153 votes and Venezuela received 105 out of 193 possible ballots. Costa Rica, which had announced its candidacy less than a month ago as part of an effort to block Venezuela, garnered 96 votes.

The Trump administration was quick to condemn the vote, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issuing a statement en route back to Washington from crisis negotiations with Turkey.

“It is sadly no surprise that Maduro shamelessly sought a seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council in an effort to block any limit to his repressive control of the Venezuelan people,” Pompeo said. “What is truly tragic, however, is that other nations voted to give Maduro’s representative for Venezuela a seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council.”

Hours earlier, the new U.S. ambassador to the U.N. also characterized Venezuela’s addition to the council as “unconscionable” in a statement to reporters. “I won’t stand for it,” Ambassador Kelly Craft charged.

But the administration has limited options to thwart or protest the move, limited further by the Trump administration’s dual decisions to defund and withdraw membership from the council.

The ability of countries such as Venezuela to join the council only justifies those actions, Pompeo asserted.

“The Human Rights Council ought to be a protector and defender of human rights of people the world over. It should be speaking out about the daily abuses of the former Maduro regime, and others like it. Instead, the council has become an exercise in shameless hypocrisy — with some of the world’s most serious offenders sitting on the council itself.”

Earlier this week, Louis Charbonneau, the U.N. director at Human Rights Watch, said Costa Rica’s candidacy meant there was “no possible excuse” for the international community to support Venezuela in the competition to fill one of the two vacant seats reserved for Latin America and the Caribbean.

“A vote for Venezuela is a vote for the torture, murder, and impunity that have become trademarks of President Nicolás Maduro’s government,” he wrote. “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.”

Shortly after the vote, Venezuela announced it had released 24 people, some detained since 2014, that the opposition considers political prisoners.

The United States and more than 50 other nations recognize the head of Venezuela’s opposition-controlled congress, Juan Guaidó, as the country’s legitimate leader and say Maduro must step down.

Amid the deep political and economic crisis, more than 4 million people have fled the country in recent years.

While Maduro has been largely ostracized by the world’s financial markets, Thursday’s vote shows that he and his allies still have sway in the international community.

Venezuela has been accused of numerous human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings, jailing political opponents and torturing military officials.

In September, the United Nations said it would be sending a fact-finding mission to Venezuela to continue investigating the allegations, which the regime has always denied.

In a statement, the Colombian government called the election “deplorable.”

“Venezuela’s election is a direct affront to the [U.N. human rights body] and casts doubts on the organization’s legitimacy, as the Maduro regime does not meet the requirements or have the moral authority to be part of the [body],” Colombia’s Foreign Ministry said.

Jim Wyss covers Latin America for the Miami Herald and was part of the team that won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for its work on the “Panama Papers.” He and his Herald colleagues were also named Pulitzer finalists in 2019 for the series “Dirty Gold, Clean Cash.” He joined the Herald in 2005.
Michael Wilner joined McClatchy as its White House correspondent in 2019. He previously served as Washington bureau chief for The Jerusalem Post, where he led coverage of the Iran nuclear talks, the Syrian refugee crisis and the 2016 US presidential campaign. Wilner holds degrees from Claremont McKenna College and Columbia University and is a native of New York City.