BOGOTA, Colombia—International human rights watchdogs and members of Venezuela’s political opposition are expressing indignation that Venezuela, widely denounced for committing grave human rights abuses, won a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council last week.
Venezuela took one of two Latin American seats in the 47-member council, alongside Brazil, on Oct. 17.
As Venezuela has fallen into economic and political turmoil under Nicolas Maduro, human rights abuses have soared, according to international NGOs.
More than 4 million have fled the country because of widespread shortages of food and medicine, rolling blackouts, and indiscriminate violence.
To maintain order and crush political dissent as Maduro continues a drawn-out political battle with Juan Guaidó, the head of congress who is recognized by more than 50 countries as the nation’s legitimate leader, Maduro’s regime is accused of the most brutal of human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings.
A report released in June by the United Nations’ chief human rights official, Michelle Bachelet, concluded that the state was responsible for a “pattern of torture,” as well as disappearances and sexual violence.
Police and security forces have killed almost 18,000 people in Venezuela in instances of alleged “resistance to authority” since 2016, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW). The advocacy group says special security forces are violently repressing political opposition in poor neighborhoods.
José Miguel Vivanco, director of HRW’s Americas division, said that appointing Venezuela rather than Costa Rica is an “an insult to a body whose members are supposed to uphold the highest human rights standards.”
HRW was among many human rights groups that were left shocked and enraged by Venezuela winning the seat.
“We are astonished. It is appalling that a state violating human rights, whose systematic exclusion policy has generated a complex humanitarian emergency, is elected to the U.N.’s Human Rights Council,” said Rodolfo Montes de Oca, a lawyer at PROVEA, a leading Venezuelan rights group.
Some members of Guaidó’s opposition weren’t taken aback by the news, however, because of a number of past controversial appointments to the council.
“We are not surprised. This is not the first time that this has happened,” said Manuela Bolivar, a member of Venezuela’s congress. “But this is a serious warning: the U.N. needs a selection protocol.”
Previous controversial appointments to the council include China, Cuba, Russia, and Saudi Arabia.
Venezuela begins a three-year term in January, along with 13 other newly appointed members of the 47-member body.
The appointment is a blow to the legitimacy of the international body, but also to the ongoing attempts by Juan Guaidó’s opposition to remove Maduro from power, said Sergio Guzmán, director of Colombia Risk Analysis.
“Venezuela’s victory suggests that the diplomatic efforts intent on cutting off Maduro are not having their intended effects,” Guzmán said. “The U.N. Human Rights Council is largely symbolic, so this doesn’t move the needle, but it gives Maduro greater gravitas at a time he desperately needs international recognition.”
Guaidó invoked the constitution to declare himself interim president on Jan. 23, in place of Maduro, who is widely deemed to have won his presidential term fraudulently. Amid a wave of international support for the fresh-faced lawmaker—including from the United States—Maduro clings to power.