How Can a Criminal Regime be elected Member of The United Nations Human Rights Council?

A condensed and edited version in Norwegian was published in the Norwegian newspaper VG, on the 14th of October 2019.  

by Sonia Zapata- The Norwegian Venezuelan Justice Alliance

In a few days, the UN Member states will elect new members to the U.N Human Rights Council, the world’s largest multilateral Human Rights body. Believe or not, Maduro’s Venezuelan Regime is a candidate.

Human Rights violation in Venezuela

Nobody can deny today that serious human rights violations are taking place in Venezuela.

Various respected international Human Rights Organizations and multilateral bodies such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Human Rights Foundation, the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights and the Organization of American States have been publicly denouncing human rights violations in Venezuela for many years.

A Report issued by the UN High Commissioner of Human rights (Michelle Bachelet) in July this year documented, amongst others, at least 6,000 killings from security operations (only since January 2018) in addition to arbitrary detentions, political persecution and other abuses. A similar comprehensive report was issued by the prior High Commissioner of Human Rights (Zeid Raad Al Hussein) in 2018 exposing most of the same Human rights violations.

In addition, to Human rights violations, there are today numerous claims against the Venezuelan Regime at the International Criminal Court for such crimes. One of the oldest claims, filed by the well-known Venezuelan ONG Foro Penal dates as far back as 2004. In February 2018, the Prosecutor of the Court formally announced the start of preliminary examinations which should lead to the opening of investigation of crimes against humanity committed by Venezuelan officials.

Beyond what is written in some of these lengthy Reports, we have seen plenty of news and watched videos of some of the atrocities committed by the Venezuelan repressive forces including water tanks running over protesters, officials shooting directly at their heads and chests with pellets and tear gas bombs, death squads taking away innocent students in motor bikes; women being beaten-up and many more horrific scenes.

Earlier this year, we also saw how in spite of the humanitarian emergency affecting millions of Venezuelans, dictator Maduro willingly and purportedly blocked the entrance to Venezuelan Territory of trucks coming from Colombia full of much-needed donated food and medicines.

Against all this background, it is difficult to believe that a Regime that can inflict so much suffering on its own people and that is recognized by the world as a cruel dictatorship, can qualify, let alone, be elected, to become member of the world’s largest Human Right multilateral organization, the U.N Human Right Council (UNHRC).
The thought becomes even more absurd if one considers the Resolution issued last week by the Council itself where it was decided to “ dispatch urgently an independent international fact-finding mission… to investigate extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detentions and torture and other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment, since 2014…”

One can hardly reconcile the fact that a state that has been the object of such measure may soon sit at the very same Council that ordered it. So, how is this possible? What is wrong with the system?

About the UNHRC and how it is elected
The Human Rights Council, created in 2006 (by Resolution 60/251) to replace the former UN Human Rights Commission, is an inter-governmental body within the United Nations system responsible for “strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe and for addressing situations of human rights violations and make recommendations on them”.

The Council is made of 47 Member States. The members are elected by the majority of members of the General Assembly of the United Nations through direct and secret ballot. A number of seats is allocated to the different Regions as follows: Africa: 13 seats, Asia-Pacific: 13 seats; Latin American and Caribbean States: 8 seats; Western European and other States: 7 seats and Eastern European States: 6 seats.

Countries are nominated by their regional groups. Once elected, members serve for a period of three years and are not eligible for immediate re-election after serving two consecutive terms.

As for qualifications to be elected, Resolution 60/251 simply states that, when electing members of the Council, states shall take into account the candidate States’ “contribution to the promotion and protection of human rights, as well as their voluntary pledges and commitments in this regard”.
Other than that principled statement, there is not a specific list of requirements.

A Geneva-based NGO called ISHR, which has, as one of its goals, enhancing transparency of the UNHRC election process prepares scorecards for this purpose.
The scorecards should help member of the UN General Assembly to make the right choice based on selected specific criteria such as cooperation of a candidate state with the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms, its support for civil society, prevention of reprisals, existence of a National Human Rights Institution and treaties ratification and cooperation. Notably, as an example, of the 15 indicators used by ISHR for the coming election, Venezuela failed to meet 14 (!)

The absence of enforced eligibility requirements results in countries with a terrible Human Rights record such as China, Saudi Arabia, Cuba, Sudan and Venezuela itself (which was a member for 2 consecutive periods) seating in the Council for years.

The above has unfortunately eroded the credibility of the Human Rights Council which is a pity because the Council was created precisely because its predecessor (the UN Human Rights Commission) had also lost credibility.

In addition to the lack of specific qualification requirements, the fact that votes are secret allows states to elect non-qualifying countries without fear of being criticized. UN Member states can therefore hide behind this vote secrecy to trade favors with repressive Regimes in exchange for other favors.

Lack of competitiveness in the Council elections has also been mentioned by critics. Countries can run without competition because the group nominates the exact number of countries required to fill Council vacancies. This limits the choices and guarantees the election of the only candidates put forward regardless
of their bad records. This is what is happening now in the case of Venezuela.

What next?
Next election is taking place in a few days and only 2 seats will become vacant for the Latin American / Caribbean group. Until last week, only two states have put forward their candidacy: Venezuela and Brazil. In the absence of any competition by a third state, it was likely for Venezuela to get elected. Last week Costa Rica announced its candidacy right after a call by former Nobel Prize winner Oscar Arias Sanchez to stop Venezuela from being elected. Costa Rica’s move is very good news as it should result in Venezuela being left out.
In order to be elected, a majority of votes (97) is required. We have seen counties with bad reputations achieving more than 100 votes in the past.

Human Rights NGOs are campaigning against this with UN Watch and Human Rights Watch taking the lead. From Norway, our group is liaising with various stakeholders worldwide to support the existing campaigns our call is to all UN democratic States, including of course Norway, and all Human Rights activists, to unite together in one voice to stop a Regime like Maduro’s from sitting at the UN Human Rights Council.

We can no longer accept a world where Human Rights abusers are setting up the global Human Rights Agenda.
In an intervention last year during an event organized in Oslo by the Norwegian Human Rights Foundation to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights a prominent speaker said: “The lights of Human Rights in the world are turning off”. We cannot allow this to happen. We must defend Human Rights with the same passion and perseverance that we defend issues like diversity, the climate and our planet. After all, protecting our planet also means protecting the people living in it!

See here the Norwegian published version, in VG newspaper:

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