Last week Human Rights Watch, along with 36 other organizations, issued a statement arguing that Venezuela did not deserve to be re-elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC/Council), based on Venezuela’s troubling record on human rights in its own country and on the Council. Venezuela, an avowed defender of national sovereignty over human rights, has been on the Council for the past three years and, unfortunately, was just re-elected this week for a new three-year term, along with Ecuador and Panama.
In voting for the members of the Human Rights Council, the UN General Assembly is asked to consider “the States’ contribution to the promotion and protection of human rights, as well as their voluntary pledges and commitments in this regard.” Latin America and the Caribbean are entitled to eight seats out of a total of 47 seats on the Council, and of those eight, three seats were up for election this week. This week Venezuela was re-elected and Ecuador and Panama were elected to new terms on the Council. But the regional allocation of seats to the Council should not blind UN member states to the human rights records of the governments that are voting on.
When it comes to protecting and speaking out in defense of human rights around the world, Venezuela has one of the worst voting records on the Council. It has consistently voted to protect the sovereignty of governments, thus sanctioning the right of governments to treat citizens without regard to international notions of human rights or popular sovereignty.
With the exception of resolutions regarding Israel and Palestine, Venezuela has voted to reject every territory-specific human rights resolution brought to the UNHRC in the past three years. These have included multiple resolutions on Syria, Belarus, Ukraine, Iran, North Korea, and Sri Lanka, all places in which there have been well-documented cases of egregious human rights abuses, including allegations of genocide (Sri Lanka), the use of chemical weapons on civilian populations (Syria), and the existence gulags and labor camps (North Korea). In many of those cases, finding no options in their own countries, citizens have called on the international community to step up and protect them from the abuses of their own government. Those citizens have found a deaf ear in Venezuela.
The most recent example of Venezuela’s lack of regard for popular sovereignty was Venezuela’s no vote this past September, in the 30th session of the Council in Geneva on a resolution condemning human rights abuses in Syria committed by the government and insurgents, including massacres, arbitrary detention, sexual abuse, forced recruitment, and the targeting of civilians by the government as a “matter of policy”. The resolution did little more than express concern about alleged torture from both sides and call for an investigation into possible chemical weapon use. Yet, even in this case, Venezuela voted no.
Venezuela has not been alone in rejecting the right of citizens to seek protection from their governments. China, Russia and Cuba have consistently voted with Venezuela. This group of countries has been in the forefront of a global movement to redefine norms and to limit the ability of the international community to protect well-established rights. Their call for greater respect for national sovereignty would defend rogue, abusive governments regardless of their ideology, left or right—socialist or fascist—and set back international norms and human rights for decades
Global Americans firmly agrees with Human Rights Watch and the 36 other organizations that Venezuela is not a champion of human rights, internally or internationally, and does not belong on the UNHRC. Allowing it to opine and vote on matters of human rights is a regression to practices and theories of national sovereignty that the modern world left behind more than a half century ago. Sadly, the UN General Assembly did not see fit to enforce the UN’s own recommendations on the standards for members of its UNHRC.