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Venezuela wins seat on UN rights council

Thursday, October 17, 2019

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UNITED NATIONS, United States (AFP) — Venezuela won a seat Thursday on the UN Human Rights Council despite criticism from advocacy groups and fellow Latin American countries that its own rights record is appalling.

To applause in the chamber, Venezuela got the nod in a vote by the UN General Assembly to choose 14 new members for the 47-member body based in Geneva.

The council works to promote and protect human rights around the world. Its members are elected for staggered three-year terms on a regional group basis.

Two of eight seats allotted for Latin America were up for grabs Thursday and Brazil took one after winning the most votes.

Earlier this month, Costa Rica jumped into the running with the specific goal of denying Venezuela a seat, but it lost out on Thursday. In the end, Brazil got 153 votes, Venezuela 105 and Costa Rica, 96.

The leftist government of President Nicolas Maduro has jailed opposition leaders and is accused of using torture and arbitrary arrests as it struggles to hold on to power amid a collapsing economy.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, reported in July that over the previous year and half there had been nearly 7,000 extrajudicial executions and that security forces were responsible for most of those deaths.

More than 50 countries have switched their recognition to national assembly speaker Juan Guaido as the country's legitimate acting president.

But Maduro still has strong support at the UN, from Russia and China in particular.

In Caracas, Attorney General Tarek William Saab hailed the vote as a "major achievement" and announced the release of 24 detained opposition figures.

But Human Rights Watch condemned Thursday's vote as a slap in the face to the people of Venezuela and the international community.

"It is discouraging to see a cynical candidacy mar the credibility of the UN Human Rights Council," said Philippe Bolopion of HRW, which had campaigned against the Venezuelan bid along with some 50 other international and Venezuelan NGOs.

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

Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado said as his country announced its candidacy two weeks ago that Venezuela was "not an adequate candidate" due to serious human rights violations.

"It would be inadmissible for those who have committed human rights violations and crimes against humanity to sit on the council," added Luis Almagro, secretary-general of the Organization of American States.

Late last month the council created a group of experts to investigate human rights violations in Venezuela since 2014. The Caracas government called this a hostile act.

"There is certainly no precedent for Latin American countries to challenge one of their neighbours for a seat on a multilateral body in such a direct provocative way," Christopher Sabatini, who teaches international and public policy at Columbia University, said in the run-up to the vote on Thursday.


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