‘Utterly appalling’: UN Human Rights Council selects Venezuela, Libya, Sudan, Mauritania

Special to WorldTribune.com

By John J. Metzler

UNITED NATIONS — You can’t make this up. Venezuela, a state marred by widespread human rights abuses, one whose government has created humanitarian violations and then callously blocked international humanitarian aid, has won a contested seat on the UN’s Human Rights Council in a three-way race for two seats.

Nicolas Maduro’s Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, a regime which has turned Venezuela’s former prosperity and democracy into a sleazy socialist quagmire will join the 47-member Geneva-based Council.

UN Human Rights Council meeting room of thein Geneva. / Ludovic Courtes / CC by-SA 3.0

No matter that Venezuela has been censured just months ago in a searing indictment by the very same Council for a litany of human and civil rights abuses.

Hillel Neuer of the Geneva-based UN Watch rights monitor, called the election of the Maduro regime, “absurd, immoral and offensive.”

The contest involved the full 193-member General Assembly. In a three-way race for two seats for Latin America, Brazil handily won reelection (153 votes) but Costa Rica at 96 votes was edged out by Venezuela with 105 votes. Costa Rica, a country with genuine human rights credentials, though a late contender for the election, was supported by the USA and most of Latin America.

Venezuela mobilized the Non-Aligned Movement, Russia and China to win the coveted place.

Amb. Kelly Craft, the new U.S. envoy to the UN remarked, “That one of the world’s worst human-rights abusers would be granted a seat on a body that is supposed to defend human rights is utterly appalling.”

Philippe Bolopion of Human Rights Watch commented, “Venezuela’s undeserved and narrow election to the UN Human Rights Council is a slap the face to the country’s countless victims who’ve been tortured and murdered by government forces, as well as the millions who have fled largely because of a humanitarian emergency the government unleashed.”

Human Rights Council seats are focused on geographic regional representation; in many cases the seats were filled uncontested.

Let’s look beyond Latin America and see the other new Council members.


Four countries were selected unopposed; Libya, Mauritania, Namibia and Sudan.

The best one can say about Libya is that it remains a chaotic maze of various militias and armed factions. The country serves as a conduit for human smuggling and inhumane treatment of transiting migrants. Sudan, had been ruled by an indicted war criminal Omar Al Bashir (remember Darfur?) until earlier this year when the military toppled the regime.

Even with any slow change for the better, it’s appallingly preposterous that the Khartoum government should sit in judgement on human rights. The human rights monitor Freedom House rates Sudan’s political and human rights as 7 out of 100.

Mauritania stands in a class by itself. Here’s a retrograde regime at its worst who rates among the world’s Least Free states according to Freedom House. Mauritania’s dismal numbers reflect the country’s perpetuation of human slavery. Though the scourge of slavery has been officially abolished, some 500,000 people remain in bondage. UN Watch dubs Mauritania “Slavery’s Last Stronghold.” Namibia to its credit has largely preserved political rights and press freedoms and ranks well in human rights rankings.


Here five countries were competing for four seats. Indonesia, Iraq, Japan, the Marshall Islands and Republic of Korea ran for the seats; only Iraq failed to gain a place.

Indonesia clearly faces some human right hurdles though Freedom House rates them 62 out of 100. Japan ranks 96 one of the highest in the world, and South Korea stands at 83. The Marshall Islands ranks at 93.

Eastern Europe

Armenia, Moldova and Poland were in the running and Moldova lost in the ballot. Armenia ranks fairly poorly at 51 out of 100 though Poland stands at 84.

Western Europe

Another non-competitive election saw both Germany and the Netherlands winning the two seats reserved for their region. Both countries adhere to high human rights standards; the Netherlands 99 and Germany at 94.

All states are elected to three-year terms starting in January.

UN Watch’s Hillel Neuer later tweeted, “Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro devastated his country, starved his own people and crushed pro-democracy dissidents. Four million have fled. Electing his regime to the U.N. human rights council was obscene.”

The U.S. withdrew from the Council in 2018 precisely over this rank political hypocrisy.

The election of Venezuela and Mauritania to the Human Rights Council reflects shameful choices. The enduring danger remains that it allows a remarkable level of legitimacy to regimes whose record on political and human rights presents a mockery of those very rights.

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014). [See pre-2011 Archives]