UNITED NATIONS -- Venezuela, South Korea and Afghanistan lost contested races for seats on the top U.N. human rights body in Tuesday by the General Assembly, which faced criticism for electing countries like Vietnam and Sudan, which have been accused of having abysmal human rights records.
The 193-member assembly voted by secret ballot to fill 14 seats on the 47-member Human Rights Council. Seats are allocated to regions to ensure geographical representation, a rule that has regularly led to many regions putting forward uncontested slates — as Africa, Eastern Europe and Western nations did this year.
Human rights groups have long criticized this practice, saying it denies U.N. member nations any choice of countries on the council and virtually guarantees seats for some countries with poor rights records.
In this year’s election, the most hotly watched race was in the Latin America and Caribbean regional group, where Chile, Costa Rica and Venezuela were vying for two seats. The result saw Chile get 144 votes, Costa Rica 134 and Venezuela 88.
Venezuela narrowly won a seat on the Human Rights Council in 2019. Louis Charbonneau, U.N. director for Human Rights Watch, welcomed Tuesday's result, saying the General Assembly “rightly closed the door” on Venezuela's attempt to remain on the council.
“U.N. investigators have found evidence that (President Nicolas) Maduro and other officials may have been responsible for crimes against humanity against their own people,” Charbonneau said.
“A government facing these kinds of allegations has no business sitting on the U.N.’s top rights body. Now U.N. member states should seek ways to hold accountable those Venezuelan officials responsible for grave human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings and torture,” he said.
The other closely watched race was in the Asia-Pacific region, where Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Kyrgyzstan, Maldives, South Korea and Vietnam contested four seats. Bangladesh received 160 votes, Maldives 154, Vietnam 145 and Kyrgyzstan 126 and were declared the winners, beating South Korea with 123 votes and Afghanistan with 12 votes.
Charbonneau said that “electing abusive governments like Vietnam to the council only undermines its credibility.”
The Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect, which campaigns against mass atrocity crimes, said: “The election of Sudan — a state that is currently implicated in excessive and lethal force against peaceful protesters and that has a history of perpetrating atrocities — undermines the credibility" of the Human Rights Council.
In the uncontested regions, the assembly elected Africa’s slate of Algeria, Morocco, South Africa and Sudan, Eastern Europe’s candidates of Georgia and Romania, and the Western nations’ candidates of Belgium and Germany.
General Assembly President Csaba Kőrösi announced the results, read the names of the 14 winners and said the newly elected countries will take their seats Jan. 1 and serve until Dec. 31, 2025. Diplomats in the assembly chamber then burst into applause.
The Human Rights Council was created in 2006 to replace a commission discredited because of some members’ poor rights records. But the new council soon came to face similar criticism, including that rights abusers sought seats to protect themselves and their allies.
On April 7, the General Assembly approved a U.S.-initiated resolution to suspend Russia from the Human Rights Council because of the rights violations it committed in invading and taking control of parts of Ukraine.
The vote, 93-24 with 58 abstentions, was significantly lower than on two resolutions the assembly adopted in March demanding an immediate cease-fire in Ukraine, withdrawal of all Russian troops and protection for civilians.
The assembly voted overwhelmingly on May 10 for the Czech Republic to replace Russia on the council.