Advocacy groups have strongly criticized the UN's election of Venezuela as a global representative for human rights. A humanitarian emergency has led millions of Venezuelans to flee their country.
Venezuela won a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council on Thursday, sparking outcry from member countries and rights groups who called the decision an "embarrassment" because of Venezuela's mass violations of human rights.
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza hailed the win as "a victory," saying it would use its new position to promote peace. However, some Latin American countries, the United States and Israel, as well as over 50 organizations that oppose Nicolas Maduro's government, slammed the decision.
Brazil and Venezuela won the two Latin American seats on the council, with Brazil topping the ballot with 153 votes and Venezuela with 105, beating Costa Rica.
Philippe Bolopion, a deputy director Human Rights Watch (HRW), said Venezuela's nomination to the council was "undeserved" and called it a "slap in the face to the country's countless victims who've been tortured and murdered by government forces," adding that millions of Venezuelans fled the country because of a "humanitarian emergency."
Millions of Venezuelans have left the country in what rights activists call a 'humanitarian emergency'
US Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft called the election "a tragedy for the people of Venezuela" and said it was "utterly appalling" that the country with "one of the world's worst human-rights abusers" should be granted a seat on a council that is meant to defend human rights.
US President Donald Trump's administration has recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela's interim president — as have dozens of other nations, including Germany.
Craft added that Venezuela's win "provides ironclad proof that the Human Rights Council is broken and reinforces why the United States withdrew." The US left the council in part because it viewed the body hypocritical in terms of its human rights dealings and because it considers the council to be anti-Israel.
Right after the decision, Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon said, "The Human Rights Council continues to abandon human rights and is now in the business of protecting dictators and war crimes."
Venezuelan officials have continuously rebuked criticisms of the country's human rights record.
Guaido, the head of Venezuela's opposition-controlled congress, seeks to oust Maduro with backing from the US and more than 50 other nations
Read more: Opinion: A new Cold War in Venezuela?
Rights group criticizes other candidates
The 193-member UN General Assembly elected 14 new members to its 47-member Human Rights Council for three-year terms starting January 1, 2020. Seats are allocated to regions to safeguard geographical representation.
Before the vote, HRW had also criticized several other countries put forth for membership on the council. In an attack against Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, the advocacy group criticized the leader for giving "a green light to criminal networks destroying the Amazon rainforest."
The rights group also called out Indonesia for encouraging "religious intolerance" and Mauritania for using laws on criminal defamation, while urging Sudan to take "concrete steps toward accountability and reforms."
mvb/sms (AP, Reuters, AFP)