Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Latest UN Human Rights exemplar: Venezuela

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As AIJAC has repeatedly documented (see for example here, here, here and here) the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) has long had a well-deserved image problem - due in no small part to the fact numerous egregious human rights offenders are regularly elected to serve on it, where they block effective scrutiny of themselves and their non-democratic allies. It is a classic case of the foxes guarding the henhouse.

The latest episode in this sorry history is the unopposed bid by Venezuela for a seat on the 47 nation Council, despite the fact that Venezuela has a very poor record on human rights. For example a Human Right Watch World Report for 2012 states:

"The weakening of Venezuela's democratic system of checks and balances under President Hugo Chávez has contributed to a precarious human rights situation. Without judicial checks on its actions, the government has systematically undermined the right to free expression, workers' freedom of association, and the ability of human rights groups to protect rights."

Moreover, as Allon Lee noted in February, officially sponsored antisemitism against Venezuela's small and beleaguered Jewish community is part of the generally toxic atmosphere that has engulfed Venezuelan politics.

Understandably, the likelihood that Venezuela will soon join the UNHRC has outraged many, especially at a time when the UNHRC was seeking to restore its credibility. The Executive Director of UN Watch, Hillel Neuer, (who is scheduled to visit Australia later this year) pointed out:

"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."

There were also recent embarrassments. Last year, Syria planned to run for a seat on the council but due to international pressure (in light of the brutal crackdown on civilians by the Assad regime which continues today), Syria dropped its bid at the last minute. Libya was also on the UNHRC in the midst of Gaddafi regime's brutal attacks on civilians - however, a successful campaign was made to remove Libya's Gaddafi regime from the Council. These two victories for common sense made it seem like things might finally be improving.

However, if Venezuela was on the UNHRC, not only would it be a mockery for the protection of human rights, it would also likely provide leverage for the ‘authoritarian bloc' to attempt to continue to prevent scrutiny of its practices - given that President Hugo Chavez's close allies include Syrian President Assad and and Iranian President Ahmadinejad. With council term limits requiring that China, Cuba and Russia will step down from the UNHRC next year, the Venezualan bid seems an attempt to make sure the authoritirians maintain the ability to prevent the UNHRC from doing anything too inconvenient for them.

Fortunately, however, it may not be too late to prevent Chavez from winning the seat. According to UN Watch, forty members of members of parliament from four different countries are joining with human rights activists in an effort to block Venezuela's bid for a seat on the UNHRC. The international coalition is also calling for a resolution to condemn Chavez's government for what it says are gross violations of human rights.

UN Watch is also calling for the US to try to convince another Latin American country with a better human rights record to run for the Latin American seat. In an article in the Miami Herald, Neuer wrote:

"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."

Hopefully, given our commitment to the UN, Australia will also do its part to see that the travesties at the UNHRC do not continue. Any nation that wants the UN to be able to live up to its Charter ideals - especially in the area of protecting human rights - must recognise that the current situation where governments that commit ongoing gross human rights abuses against their own people routinely serve on the UNHRC and often help set its agenda, is utterly anthetical to any such hopes.

Sharyn Mittelman