National Security

United Nations Elects Dictators, Repressive Regimes to Rights Council

Ecuador, Venezuela join other governments on council that oppress their own people and stifle independent media

U.N. General Assembly
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon addresses representatives from member nations during an informal meeting of the world body's General Assembly at the U.N. headquarters in New York / AP

The United Nations General Assembly has again elected repressive dictatorships and authoritarian regimes to its human rights council, eliciting rebukes from rights groups.

Eighteen countries were selected on Wednesday to serve three-year terms on the council that begins in January. The Human Rights Foundation expressed concerns about several of the elected states, including Burundi, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Kyrgyzstan, Togo, the United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela.

"It is an outrage that the U.N. entrusted the world’s human rights protection to some of the worst dictatorships and authoritarian regimes," said Thor Halvorssen, president of the foundation, in a statement. "A mere nine years after its foundation, the council today shows the same symptoms of hypocrisy and double standards displayed by the discredited Human Rights Commission that preceded it."

Created in 2006, the council is "responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe and for addressing situations of human rights violations and making recommendations on them," according to the U.N.

However, the foundation released a joint report with other rights groups that highlighted rampant abuses by the elected countries’ governments, including the repression of political opponents and civil society, censorship of independent media, and corruption in state institutions.

Ecuador has become "one of Latin America’s most authoritarian countries," the report said, as a result of President Rafael Correa’s efforts to "scrap term limits" and to "expand state control of the media." New state media agencies have issued fines, sanctions, and forced corrections against independent news outlets and quashed investigative articles.

"The government removed Intag, Indefension, a documentary critical of Correa’s government that was produced in 2012 and posted to YouTube in 2013," the report said.

Additionally, "journalist Manuela Picq was arbitrarily and violently arrested in August 2015 after taking part in protests against President Correa’s government."

Nicolas Maduro, the successor to Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, has instituted similar forms of repression in his country. Prominent political opponents are routinely subjected to "persecution and arbitrary imprisonment," such as Leopoldo Lopez, a pro-democracy activist who was recently sentenced to nearly 14 years in jail.

The U.S. Department of State renewed its call on Tuesday for Lopez’s release.

"One of the prosecutors in Mr. Leopoldo Lopez’s case stated recently that he was pressured to pursue the case based on illegitimate charges and false evidence," said spokesman John Kirby. "If true, these statements highlight the lack of judicial independence and adherence to due process of law in Venezuela."

The foundation noted in its report that in Venezuela, "police and military forces frequently use brutal and disproportionate force to suppress activists."

"More than 3,000 protesters, primarily university students, were detained during the pro-democracy demonstrations that took place between February and December 2014," the report said. "About 100 of them remain in prison, while the rest have been released on parole and banned from any political activism."

Critics say that allowing authoritarian regimes to join the human rights council grants legitimacy to leaders who oppress their own people. Authoritarian governments often use their council seats to reject criticism of allies that commit abuses.

For example, both Ecuador and Venezuela have voted against resolutions at the U.N. that condemned rights violations in Syria, Iran, and North Korea.

"Ideally, the world’s democracies must use their U.N. seats responsibly and raise their voices against the authoritarian states who employ the council’s bully pulpits to silence their human rights victims and distract attention," Halvorssen said.

The United States will not be a member during the next session of the council because it has already served two consecutive terms.

Other notorious right abusers will continue to serve on the council, including China, Cuba, and Russia.

Rights groups have been sharply critical of the Chinese government’s crackdown on activists and minorities, as well as the secretive manner in which Beijing submitted information on its alleged torture practices to the U.N. Authorities are reported to have harassed and detained activists who urged that more data be released.

Nearly 700 Chinese individuals were found guilty of using torture methods against citizens in recent years, according to some government figures that have been made public.

"The UN Human Rights Council should hold the Chinese government accountable for failing to consult with civil society for the preparation for treaty body reviews, and its failures to cooperate with such reviews by making requested information available," the group Chinese Human Rights Defenders said.