The U.N. General Assembly will vote Tuesday to admit 14 countries to the 47-member Human Rights Council; among them are some candidates with poor rights records, including Afghanistan and Venezuela.
Seventeen candidate countries from five regional groups are running, but only two groups — Asia-Pacific and Latin America and Caribbean states — face a real contest. The other three groups are running “clean slates”— although countries will still need a simple majority of the secret ballots to make it onto the Geneva-based council.
Venezuela is in a contested group. It will face Chile and Costa Rica for two available seats.
“Venezuela’s vengeful assault on critics of the government makes the country unfit for membership in the U.N.’s top rights body,” Louis Charbonneau, U.N. director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “Returning this abusive government to the council would undermine the U.N.’s credibility by rewarding Venezuelan authorities with a role in judging other countries’ human rights while they brutalize their population.”
A U.N. fact-finding mission said in a September report that President Nicolas Maduro’s intelligence agency has suppressed the country’s opposition through arbitrary detentions and torture that amounted to war crimes. On Friday, the human rights council renewed the mission’s mandate for another two years.
The Maduro government has dismissed the accusations as "false and unfounded."
“U.N. member states will soon have the opportunity to close the door on Venezuela’s return to the Human Rights Council,” Charbonneau added. “With the likes of China, Eritrea and Cuba already on the council, the U.N. rights body would benefit from having one fewer member who’s a walking advertisement for torture and other abuses, and impunity.”
Another controversial candidate is Afghanistan, which has been in the headlines for the past year for the Taliban’s mistreatment of women, girls and minorities, and their broad crackdown on personal freedoms.
Countries that join the council are expected to "uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights" both at home and abroad.
While Afghanistan is de facto under Taliban control, its U.N. seat is still in the hands of the previous government, in large part because no country has officially recognized the Taliban regime. If elected, it would be the hold-over diplomats who are loyal to the previous government who would take the HRC seat.
Afghanistan will face Bangladesh, Kyrgyzstan, Maldives, South Korea and Vietnam in its regional group for four vacant seats.
Human Rights Watch is critical of Vietnam’s human rights record, saying the one-party rule of the Communist Party systematically suppresses basic civil and political rights. Government critics are often subjected to police harassment, arbitrary arrest and jail.
In the African regional bloc, Algeria, Morocco, South Africa and Sudan are competing uncontested for four seats. In the Eastern Europe group, Georgia and Romania are running a so-called clean slate, as are Belgium and Germany in the Western European and Others group.
Members serve for a period of three years and are not eligible for immediate re-election after serving two consecutive terms. The new members will start their terms on January 1, 2023.
The council has a mixed reputation. Diplomats say it has produced some important and strong reports on war crimes in places such as Syria and spotlights domestic abuses in North Korea, Iran and Myanmar, among others. But it is also frequently criticized for its focus on Israel and the inclusion among its members of several countries with poor rights records of their own such as China and Pakistan.
This year, the council took the rare action of suspending a member for its bad behavior.
On April 7, Russia became only the second state to be suspended (Moammar Gadhafi’s Libya was the first) from the HRC, when the General Assembly voted Moscow off for atrocities it has been accused of in its war in Ukraine. The Czech Republic was voted to finish the remainder of the term through December 2023.
The Human Rights Council was created in 2006 to replace the dysfunctional U.N. Human Rights Commission, which was disbanded.
Some information in this report came from Reuters.