One year after the U.N.’s top human-rights body finally removed Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s regime, the organization is quietly planning to elect Hugo Chávez, testing the Obama administration’s pledge to keep bullies off the 47-nation Human Rights Council.
Venezuela’s bid to join the world’s top human rights body appears especially absurd in wake of the recent admission by Eladio Aponte, former chief justice of the country’s highest criminal court, that verdicts in politically-sensitive cases are entirely orchestrated by government officials.
It was precisely to prevent the influence of such corrupted regimes that the Human Rights Council was created in the first place. In 2005, then U.N. chief Kofi Annan acknowledged that its predecessor was infected by a massive credibility deficit, with members joining only to shield their records of abuse, causing “politicization,” “selectivity” and “declining professionalism,” all of which “cast a shadow on the reputation of the United Nations system as a whole.” The retooled forum, declared the U.N. in 2006, would elect only those countries that “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights.”
Yet six years later, members of the new and improved council routinely include such serial human-rights violators as Cuba, China and Saudi Arabia. They and their allies enjoy impunity.
When the prosecutor, judge and jury are the perpetrators themselves, justice becomes a joke.
If Chávez is chosen, by a General Assembly vote expected in autumn, the U.N. will grant legitimacy to an ailing autocrat who systematically harasses journalists, judges, human rights activists and student leaders, a man who supports the butchers of Syria and Iran, just as he backed “brother” Gadhafi to the bitter end.
Because council term limits require China, Cuba and Russia to step off next year, the Venezuelan candidacy is a strategic move by the authoritarian bloc, designed to check the West’s ability to adopt measures for victims in Homs, Tehran and elsewhere.
In a backroom deal, the Latin American group cooked up a slate of three candidates to fill three available seats. The result: elections with no competition — a completely meaningless exercise.
Although countries are not obliged to ratify the Latins’ choice, history shows that when faced with an equal amount of candidates as seats — as when Gadhafi’s Libya ran on a fixed African ticket in 2010 — this is exactly what they will do.
Enter the United States.
In a major policy speech delivered in January before the Council on Foreign Relations, U.S. ambassador for U.N. reform Joseph Torsella declared that the administration would “forge a new coalition at the U.N. in New York, a kind of ‘credibility caucus’ to promote truly competitive elections, rigorous application of membership criteria, and other reforms aimed at keeping the worst offenders on the sidelines” — with a specific finger pointed at the Human Rights Council.
Chávez has now thrown down the gauntlet. To stop him, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton must persuade a Latin American country with a decent human rights record to run, and then lobby on its behalf.
It won’t be easy. Chávez’s anti-Western stance pleases many African, Asian and Middle Eastern states. Venezuelan offers of oil-funded aid will also go a long way.
Nevertheless, recent U.N. contests have shown that, when offered an alternative, most countries will pass on Chávez.
And the talking points of his campaign — spelled out in a Venezuelan document recently submitted to the U.N .— certainly ring hollow.
“The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela,” we are told, “is a democratic and social State that respects rights and justice.” Venezuelans live under “one of the most advanced constitutions in the world,” enjoying “the full exercise of political freedoms,” which are “unprecedented in the history of the Republic.”
Reports by independent human rights groups tell a very different story. (A variety of human rights groups circulated a response condemning Venezuela for human rights violations.)
For example, while Venezuela pledges in its U.N. submission to “increase access to the system of administration of justice,” and to hold “constructive dialogue” with U.N. experts, a recent and notorious case proves the complete opposite.
In 2009, Judge María Lourdes Afiuni had the courage to release a political prisoner and Chávez opponent whose detention had been declared arbitrary by a panel of U.N. experts.
Chávez immediately threw Judge Afiuni in jail, calling her a “bandit” on national television. She suffered abuse and damage to her health. Today she is under house arrest, only recently allowed to obtain treatment at a cancer hospital.
This is the real human rights record of today’s Venezuela.
In declaring its new policy, the U.S. emphasized that abusers of international norms should not be the public face of the U.N. Unless Secretary Clinton acts now, the face of the U.N.’s highest human rights body will soon be that of Hugo Chávez.
Hillel C. Neuer directs UN Watch, a Geneva-based human rights organization.
Speaking on behalf of UN Watch, Venezuelan exile Eligio Cedeno, a former political prisoner and prominent businessman, addressed the U.N. Human Rights Council on June 28, 2012, on behalf of UN Watch and its campaign to stop the Chavez regime from winning a seat on the council.