Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro salutes after a press conference in Caracas on September 30, 2019.
New York City CNN  — 

It’s like a defendant on trial getting to sit on the jury too.

Venezuela has become the latest accused human rights abuser to win a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council. It defeated Costa Rica 105 to 96 in a secret ballot vote inside the UN General Assembly.

In Caracas, Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza called it a “historic decision,” declaring the election a victory despite “a fierce and brutal campaign led by the United States and its subordinated allied countries.”

However, the election was controversial, with human rights groups reacting fiercely and US Ambassador Kelly Craft describing it as “an embarrassment to the United Nations and a tragedy for the people of Venezuela.”

In July, an in-depth report presented by UN Human Rights High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet blamed the government of embattled president Nicolas Maduro for allowing disease to re-emerge and using public food aid for political purposes. It also presented evidence of human rights violations including torture and extrajudicial killings by Venezuelan security forces. Maduro has rejected the report as inaccurate and one-sided.

Libya and Sudan, two other countries accused of human rights violations, won uncontested seats on the council. The newly elected countries serve three-year terms.

The UN Human Rights Council

The UN’s 47-nation human rights group gets to point the finger at countries for their human rights violations. Its seats are reserved for different regions around the world, and countries from those regions must compete to occupy them every three years.

Venezuela had originally run unopposed for a seat in the Latin American and Caribbean States group – until Costa Rica, citing Venezuela’s poor human rights record, jumped into the contest.

The election of Venezuela could add even more ammunition to critics of the United Nations, who doubt the global organization’s relevance.

And Human Rights Watch, deputy director for global advocacy, Philippe Bolopion said that Venezuela’s election “betrays the fundamental principles (the UN) set out when it created the Human Rights Council.”

Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, a non-government watchdog based in Geneva, compared it to “making a pyromaniac into the town fire chief,”

The human rights council has previously been accused of only singling out Israel or other countries without political clout. In 2018, the United States withdrew from the council in protest of what it described as an anti-Israel stance and a lack of reform.

On Thursday, US Ambassador Craft said the Venezuela’s ascent to the council “provides ironclad proof that the Human Rights Council is broken and reinforces why the United States withdrew.”

Nevertheless, cheers followed the announcement of Venezuela’s victory in the Assembly Hall. The vote marked an international jab at the United States, which had lobbied against Venezuela, as did numerous international human rights organizations.

US Vice President Mike Pence once promised that the US would lead an effort to remove the Maduro’s governments’ credentials to represent Venezuela at the UN. No such bid has taken place – and Thursday’s vote suggests it would have failed.

Jorge Luis Perez Valery contributed to this report.