Venezuela gets re-elected to UN Human Rights Council despite slamming opposition leaders in jail

In spite of media censorship, political prisoners, shady trials and a stubborn refusal to let international human rights monitors into the country, Venezuela has won a seat at the UN’s Human Rights Council.

Venezuelan officials described their country’s re-election into the international group as a “perfect victory” for the socialist government, and a sign that the country is making progress on human rights.

“Today at the UN, the people of the world recognize Venezuela’s commitment with Human Rights,” Rafael Ramirez, Venezuela’s ambassador to the U.N. tweeted after the vote.

Ramirez, who is currently being investigated by U.S. officials for multi-million dollar corruption schemes that took place during his tenure as the director of Venezuela’s national oil company, added that Venezuela had defeated the “lies” spread by its enemies.

Venezuela’s election into the 47 nation council comes as the country faces widespread criticism for sentencing opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez to a 14-year prison term.

The case made headlines this week as one of the prosecutors who pressed charges against Lopez fled to Florida and claimed the trial was a sham. He said high level Venezuelan officials ordered him to fabricate evidence against the opposition leader.

Last week, an international coalition of Human Rights groups said that Venezuela’s record should “preclude” the South American country from serving in the council.

In a statement posted by Human Rights Watch, the 36-member coalition said that Venezuela “seriously violated international standards” during a crackdown against anti-government protests in 2014. The group also noted that during the past three years, Venezuela has voted against a series of UN resolutions that denounced human rights violations in Syria, Iran, North Korea, Sri Lanka, and Belarus.

Venezuela was elected into the council with 131 votes from UN member nations.

But Inti Rodriguez, a spokesman for Venezuelan human rights group PROVEA, argued that Venezuela’s election shouldn’t be seen as a sign that the country’s human rights situation has improved.

“This is a UN body that responds to political interests, in which member nations vote for each other,” Rodriguez said in a phone interview. “The UN’s specialized agencies and independent bodies are not going to stop denouncing human rights violations because of this vote.”

Rodriguez said that over the past two years, UN agencies and commissions have filed more than 40 complaints regarding human rights violations in Venezuela, including a report on torture in that country’s prisons.

In September, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, ordered Venezuela to reinstate the broadcasting license of a private TV station that was critical of the government, and was shut down by Venezuelan authorities in 2007.

To get a seat in the human rights council, Venezuela only had to compete this year against Ecuador, Panama, and the Bahamas with three seats going out to the four-country pool. Venezuela got less votes than Panama or Ecuador, but managed to defeat the Bahamas, an island nation with no significant natural resources, and little diplomatic clout.

“Venezuela’s vote tally this year, was lower than three years ago,” Rodriguez said. “It’s a sign that its political leadership is declining.”

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