By Michelle Nichols
UNITEDNATIONS (Reuters) – Venezuela was elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council on Thursday with 105 votes and a round of applause, despite fierce lobbying against it by the United States and rights groups, and the late entry of Costa Rica as competition.
In a secret ballot by the 193-member U.N. General Assembly, Costa Rica garnered 96 votes despite only entering the race this month, when President Carlos Alvarado Quesada declared “the Venezuelan regime is not the suitable candidate.”
Along with Brazil, the three countries were competing for two seats on the 47-member Human Rights Council starting Jan. 1. Brazil was re-elected for a second three-year term with 153 votes. Members can only serve two consecutive terms.
“Venezuela’s undeserved and narrow election to the U.N. Human Rights Council is a slap in the face to the country’s countless victims who have been tortured and murdered by government forces,” said Philippe Bolopion, Human Rights Watch deputy director for global advocacy.
The United States has for months been trying to oust Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who has overseen an economic collapse and is accused of corruption, human rights violations and rigging a 2018 presidential election.
“We will have to measure the impact of this victory in the coming days, but we think it is historic given that we were up against a ferocious campaign,” Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said on Venezuelan state television after the U.N. vote.
Washington backs Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, who invoked Venezuela’s constitution in January to assume an interim presidency. More than 50 countries have recognized Guaido as the rightful leader of OPEC-member Venezuela.
Maduro calls Guaido a U.S. puppet seeking to oust him in a coup. In August, the United States froze assets of the Venezuelan government and banned any transactions with them.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence called on the United Nations in April to revoke the U.N. credentials of Maduro’s government, but Washington has taken no further action to push the measure and diplomats said it is unlikely to get the support needed in the General Assembly.
The United States withdrew from the Geneva-based council in 2018 – half-way through a three-year term – over what it called chronic bias against Israel and a lack of reform.
The Human Rights Council, created by the General Assembly in 2006, is responsible for strengthening promotion and protection of human rights. It can mandate independent inquiries into specific situations.
The council agreed last month to set up an international fact-finding mission to document violations in Venezuela, including torture and thousands of summary executions.
U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said in a July report that Venezuelan security forces were sending death squads to kill young men, staging scenes to make it look like the victims resisted arrest.
The Maduro government has called the U.N. report a “selective and openly partial vision” of the situation.
The U.N. General Assembly elected a total 14 Human Rights Council members on Thursday from five regional blocs. Germany, the Netherlands, Libya, Mauritania, Namibia and Sudan were elected uncontested but still needed to win a majority vote.
Armenia, Poland, Indonesia, Marshall Islands, South Korea and Japan beat competition in their regional blocs to win seats – Japan for a second term. Iraq and Moldova were unsuccessful.
(Additional reporting by Vivian Sequera in Caracas; Editing by Bill Berkrot)