UNITED NATIONS (AP) ” The oil-rich African nation of Equatorial Guinea won overwhelming support from the U.N. General Assembly for a coveted two-year seat on the Security Council Friday despite opposition from human rights groups ” along with Ivory Coast, Kuwait, Peru and Poland.
The 193-member assembly also voted overwhelmingly Friday for the Netherlands to join the council for one year starting Jan. 1.
In an unusual but not unprecedented agreement, the Netherlands and Italy ended a battle for a council seat last year by deciding to split the two-year term with Italy on the U.N.’s most powerful body. Italy is serving on the council this year and the Netherlands had to be officially elected to serve in 2018.
Winning a seat on the Security Council is a pinnacle of achievement for many countries because it gives them a strong voice in matters dealing with international peace and security ranging from conflicts in Syria and South Sudan to the nuclear threat posed by North Korea and attacks by extremist groups such as the Islamic State.
The 15-member council includes five permanent members with veto power ” the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France ” and 10 non-permanent members elected for two-year terms. Seats are allocated by region, and regional groups nominate candidates. Five countries are elected every year by secret ballot.
Usually there is at least one contested race but this year there were none. In the secret ballot, Poland received 190 votes, Ivory Coast 189 votes, Kuwait 188 votes, Peru 186 votes, Equatorial Guinea 185 votes and Netherlands 184 votes.
The candidate that drew the greatest attention was tiny Equatorial Guinea, the only Spanish-speaking country in Africa that was seeking a seat on the Security Council for the first time.
Human Rights Watch says “corruption, poverty, and repression” continue to plague the country which has been ruled by President Teodoro Obiang Nguema since 1979. The country’s vast oil reserves “fund lavish lifestyles for the small elite surrounding the president, while a large proportion of the population continues to live in poverty,” the rights group says.
Transparency International helped bring a corruption case in France against the president’s son, Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, who is a vice president of the country, which is expected to go to trial soon.
Equatorial Guinea’s candidacy was endorsed by the African Union and in its campaign for a council seat it called itself “a model of peace, stability and rapid economic development” that has achieved “significant milestones in literacy, health care services, education and general infrastructure development.”
The government listed high-level conferences it has hosted and contributions it has made including $30 million to the Trust Fund for Food Security in Africa.
As a council member, Equatorial Guinea said “it will devote all possible efforts and resources to support the work of the United Nations, working for sustainable peace and development for all U.N. members throughout the world.”
Louis Charbonneau, the U.N. representative for Human Rights Watch, said Equatorial Guinea “has harassed human rights defenders and civil groups, often with arbitrary detentions.”
“As the Security Council increasingly mainstreams the promotion of human rights, we hope Equatorial Guinea won’t push back or undermine that,” he said.
Charbonneau also urged U.N. member states to make Security Council elections more competitive so the General Assembly is able “to choose whether or not they trust a country like Equatorial Guinea with the maintenance of international peace and security.”