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The UN Human Rights Council takes step backwards

Thanks to a membership that has included some of the world’s most brutal regimes, the UN Human Rights Council has too often been better at promoting cynicism than at protecting human rights. But there have recently been modest signs of change. Last year, the council unanimously suspended Libya’s membership in response to Moammar Khadafy’s violent crackdown. Syria withdrew its bid for a seat on the council under pressure from human-rights advocates. And with the forthcoming departure of Cuba, Saudi Arabia, and Russia on Dec. 31, three more repressive governments will no longer have a vote.

Unfortunately, other authoritarian regimes are taking their place.

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When the UN General Assembly on Monday filled 18 seats on the council, its own rules required it to choose countries that could be counted on to “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights.” But as human-rights organizations have been at pains to point out, at least one-third of the new members — Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Gabon, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela — fail to meet the criteria.

Particularly troubling is the election of Venezuela, where human rights have been taking a beating under the authoritarian rule of Hugo Chávez. According to Human Rights Watch, the Venezuelan judiciary no longer functions as an independent branch of government. Members of the Supreme Court have publicly pledged their loyalty to Chávez’s political agenda. Meanwhile, the National Assembly has expanded laws criminalizing “disrespect” for high state officials and empowering the government to suspend TV and radio stations when it deems it “convenient for the interests of the nation” to do so.

With one of the most disturbing human-rights records in the Western Hemisphere, Venezuela should never have been named to the council. The Obama administration, which is committed to working from within to improve the Human Rights Council, will have to be vigilant.

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