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In 2005, when former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan announced the replacement of the Human Rights Commission, he said that the “politicization of its sessions and the selectivity of its work” had “cast a shadow on the reputation of the United Nations system as a whole.”  It didn’t help that human rights abusers like Iran and Syria had been members.  A new Human Rights Council was supposed to “offer a fresh start.”

Yet the latest iteration of the UN body has fallen into the same trap.  Currently the Human Rights Council boasts the membership of Cuba, Russia, China, and Saudi Arabia.  Last week the organization held its annual election and selected new members such as Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, Pakistan and Venezuela.

According to Thor Halvorssen, President of the New York based Human Rights Foundation, “The UN Human Rights Council has become perhaps the most effective tool for dictators to divert attention away from their own abuses. With some of the world’s most egregious rights violators newly elected, we need to ask, how much credibility does the Council have left?”

Venezuela is one of the worst offenders in the Western Hemisphere.  Freedom House rates Venezuela as only partly free.  According to Human Rights Watch, Venezuela is using criminal prosecution to go after critics of the government.  Freedom of speech is in decline, and the judiciary has effectively been coopted.

A club where delegations from Venezuela and Cuba lecture the world on human rights can’t be taken seriously and violates the terms of regional charters like the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man as well as the Human Rights Council’s own founding, which called for members to “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights.”

Unfortunately, the United States’ own re-election to the council this year is unlikely to change things.

Organizations like the UN Human Rights Council are meant to represent oppressed peoples, not to be a propaganda office for the world’s despots.  It must start taking human rights seriously if it is to gain respect and become a credible interlocutor for those who too often are voiceless in the face of tyranny.

This post was written by Joel D. Hirst, a Human Freedom Fellow at the George W. Bush Institute.  Find him on Twitter: @joelhirst