While covered by major news organizations, the significance and lasting implications of Venezuela winning a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council last month cannot be overstated. The Council is responsible for “the promotion and protection of all human rights around the globe” by shining a spotlight on violations. On the 17 October 2019, the U.N. General Assembly voted to add Venezuela to the Human Rights Council. Taken into consideration President Nicolás Maduro’s notorious human rights record and stringent opposition from activists, the result was a shock. Venezuela won one of two open seats in the Latin America and Caribbean region. Regardless of Costa Rica’s last-minute efforts to deny their neighbouring country a three-year term, Venezuela won with the support of China, Russia, Cuba and other allies of a total of 105 votes. Venezuela has been in a state of economic collapse in recent years. Corruption and mismanagement are widespread, medicine is scarce, hunger is ubiquitous with food shortages and power outages are becoming the norm.
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreazza hailed the results as “a victory”. In contrast, there was strong condemnation by activists. Philippe Bolopoin, deputy director for global advocacy at Human Rights Watch, noted the addition of Venezuela to the Council was “a slap in the face to the country’s countless victims”. In addition, Freedom House, an independent watchdog organization, commented the organization is “deeply disappointed” by “a decision that rewards egregious human rights violators and legitimizes abuses of power”. Venezuela is rated as Not Free in “Freedom in the World 2019”.
Venezuela’s seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council is a considerable propaganda win for President Maduro. Being part of the Council panel allows President Maduro to derail investigations into his own alleged abuses. Additionally, the inclusion of Venezuela in the Council is a political strategy. The win allows President Maduro to proclaim his government still has support, his powers are extended to Switzerland and that a government under his leadership is recognized by a majority of the world. On the same day the result was announced, opposition leader Juan Guaidó accused the Maduro controlled police special forces unit FAES for killing his former councilman, Edmundo Rada. Rada was found dead in a Caracas slum after being shot twice in the neck and set on fire. The irony is not lost. As Guaidó commented, “on the same day that the U.N. permits a dictatorship like Maduro’s to occupy a seat bathed in blood, the regime produces a human rights violation”.
The controversial result highlights fundamental flaws with the U.N. organization. Officially, U.N. rules dictate Council members are countries that “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights”. In three reports published this year, Michelle Bachelet, the U.N. High Commissioner, chronicled cases of arbitrary detentions, torture, extrajudicial killings and sexual abuse in Venezuela. With the baseline criteria to be a member and the detailed documentation of Maduro’s violations, the acceptance of Venezuela to the Council defies reason. The U.N. is guilty of hypocrisy. Moreover, the U.N. Human Rights Council was established in 2006 as a replacement to the U.N. Human Rights Commission. The Commission was discredited for permitting countries with poor human rights records to be members. Needless to say, the Council is facing similar criticisms. The U.N. must consider amending the Council membership criteria to restore a level of respect and honour the organization once enjoyed.
“The U.N. was not created to take mankind to heaven, but to save humanity from hell”. The values behind the words of former Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld must remain at the forefront. The inclusion of a Venezuela under the rule of President Maduro to the U.N. Human Rights Council is a U.N. disgrace. The U.N. continues to lose credibility, political currency and power. In turn, President Maduro stands to benefit from domestic and international recognition as the rightful leader of Venezuela.