Afghanistan, South Korea and Venezuela lost their bids Tuesday to serve three-year terms on the U.N. Human Rights Council.
With nearly all the 193-member states voting in the General Assembly, Algeria, Bangladesh, Belgium, Chile, Costa Rica, Georgia, Germany, Kyrgyzstan, Maldives, Morocco, Romania, South Africa, Sudan, and Vietnam were voted onto the 47-member Geneva-based rights body.
Seats are allocated through regional groups. Africa, Eastern Europe, Western Europe and other groups all ran uncontested slates of candidates. But all winners still needed to achieve at least a 97-vote majority.
Among the contested seats, Chile and Costa Rica easily ended Venezuela’s re-election bid (states can serve two consecutive terms). Chile won 144 votes, while Costa Rica took 134. Venezuela only received 88 votes.
“The General Assembly rightly closed the door on Venezuela’s attempt to remain on the U.N. Human Rights Council,” said Louis Charbonneau, U.N. director at Human Rights Watch.
A September report by the U.N. human rights office details repression by Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro’s military and intelligence agencies, committing what the investigators say include grave crimes and human rights violations, including acts of torture and sexual violence.
“A government facing these kinds of allegations has no business sitting on the U.N.’s top rights body,” Charbonneau added. “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.”
The Maduro government has dismissed the accusations as "false and unfounded."
Afghanistan also lost its bid to join the council, receiving just 12 votes.
The Taliban’s mistreatment of women, girls and minorities, and their broad crackdown on personal freedoms has led to international condemnation.
While the country is under de facto 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 leadership.
Afghanistan is part of the Asia-Pacific group, as is South Korea. There were four vacant seats and six candidates.
South Korea lost its re-election bid, winning 123 votes, putting it behind other candidates that received more votes in its group, including Vietnam, which received 145 votes.
“Electing abusive governments like Vietnam to the council only undermines its credibility,” HRW’s Charbonneau said.
The rights group says Vietnam’s one-party rule of the Communist Party systematically suppresses basic civil and political rights. Government critics are also often subjected to police harassment, arbitrary arrest and jail.
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.
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, Eritrea 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.