Rights groups condemned the "pre-cooked" arrangements by most continental groups at the 193-member UN General Assembly which gave council seats to countries whose records have been widely questioned.
The United States, Germany and Ireland won the only open election among western nations.
All the other regional groups nominated "clean slate" groups of countries with no competitive voting.
Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Gabon, Kenya and Sierra Leone will join for Africa; Japan, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, South Korea and United Arab Emirates for Asia; Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela for Latin America and the Caribbean; and Estonia and Montenegro for Eastern Europe.
Venezuela got 154 votes, more than the United States, 131, or Germany, 127.
"To call the vote in the General Assembly an 'election' gives this process way too much credit," said Peggy Hicks, a Human Rights Watch specialist. "Until there is real competition for seats in the Human Rights Council, its membership standards will remain more rhetoric than reality."
Peter Wittig, Germany's UN ambassador, said the open competition by the western nations should be "an example for other regional groups."
Some observers had said the United States risked not getting a place as it had entered the contest so late.
"We thank the countries that voted for us in what was a highly competitive race among several qualified western candidates that are all strong champions of human rights," said US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a statement.
"We pledge to continue to work closely with the international community to address urgent and serious human rights concerns worldwide and to strengthen the council," Clinton added.
"While much hard work remains to be done, especially ending the council's disproportionate and biased focus on Israel, we look forward to cooperating with other council members to continue to address human rights concerns and to ensure that the Council fully realizes its promise."