United Nations: Venezuela won a contested election for a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council on Thursday despite a campaign by over 50 organisations and many countries opposed to Nicolas Maduro's government and its rights record.
There was scattered applause in the General Assembly chamber when its president announced the results of the voting for two Latin American seats. Brazil topped the ballot with 153 votes followed by Venezuela with 105 votes and late entry Costa Rica with 96 votes.
The 193-member world body elected 14 members to the 47-member Human Rights Council for three-year terms starting 1 January. Under its rules, seats are allocated to regions to ensure geographical representation.
In other contested races, Iraq lost out in the Asian group contest for four seats to Japan, South Korea, Indonesia and the Marshall Islands, and Moldova lost in the Eastern Europe group race for two seats to Armenia and Poland.
Africa had four countries on the ballot "Benin, Libya, Mauritania and Sudan " for four seats. But when General Assembly President Tijjani Muhammad-Bande announced the results the winners were Namibia, Libya, Mauritania and Sudan, with Benin getting just one vote.
There was no competition for the two Western group seats and Germany and the Netherlands were overwhelmingly elected.
The Geneva-based Human Rights Council can spotlight abuses and has special monitors watching certain countries and issues. It also periodically reviews human rights in every UN member country.
Created in 2006 to replace a commission discredited because of some members' sorry rights records, the new council soon came to face similar criticism.
The United States left the council partly because it saw the group as a forum for hypocrisy about human rights, though also because Washington says the council is anti-Israel.
Venezuela's Attorney General Tarek William Saab called the vote "an important achievement" for his country.
Israel's UN Ambassador Danny Danon said in a statement immediately after Thursday's results were announced that: "The Human Rights Council continues to abandon human rights and is now in the business of protecting dictators and war crimes."
"In Venezuela, a dictator starves his people, and in Libya there are camps that torture African migrants," Danon said.
Before the vote, Human Rights Watch said there was "no possible excuse to vote for Venezuela" after Costa Rica entered the race in early October.
Louis Charbonneau, UN director at Human Rights Watch, said, "A vote for Venezuela is a vote for the torture, murder, and impunity that have become trademarks of President Nicolas Maduro's government."
"It's a slap in the face to the millions who have fled the country, many facing dire humanitarian conditions, and the countless victims who never made it out," he said.
Venezuelan officials regularly reject any criticism of the country's human rights record. When the UN's high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet, chronicled cases of torture, sexual abuse and extrajudicial killings in the country, Deputy Foreign Minister William Castillo said her report "does not reflect the reality in our country." He called it a "biased vision" of Venezuela and demanded it be "corrected."