(CNSNews.com) – Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro lashed out Thursday at the top U.N. human rights official for questioning his socialist government’s record, suggesting the criticism was part of a broader attack by Venezuela’s “imperialist” enemies led by the U.S.
Invited to address a special session of the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, Maduro first sat and listened as U.N. human rights commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein in a recorded video message urged Venezuela – recently re-elected to a new term on the HRC – to do more to advance human rights at home and abroad.
Zeid cited concerns about judicial independence, and intimidation and threats against journalists, human rights defenders and lawyers.
“Membership of the council comes with the responsibility to promote and protect human rights in one’s own country, but also on the global stage,” he said. “It is my sincere hope that Venezuela will strive to make concrete progress on both fronts.”
When it was Maduro’s turn to speak, he hit back.
“This is not the first time that a civil servant has sent audacious accusations, taken from the agenda of global harassment of the imperialist attack against the Bolivarian republic,” he said through an interpreter.
“And this will not be the first time that we strike down these lies with the strength of the truth in our country,” he added.
“Venezuela faces ongoing harassment and a misuse and manipulation of the issue of human rights,” Maduro said, attributing it to an attempt to isolate the country “and to protect those who are seeking to destroy the system our country has built over the past 17 years.”
In a 40-minute speech, Maduro railed against the United States, accusing it of using human rights as a “political weapon” against Venezuela.
“Venezuela has suffered over nearly two decades. Ongoing harassment of the imperialist powers of the United States – you know.”
A spokesman for the U.S. mission to the HRC, Paul Patin, called the speech “an affront to a council whose sole purpose is to protect and promote human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
“We thus regret that a head of state would use this council for blatant domestic political purposes as it risks damaging the credibility of this body,” he said.
Earlier 50 Venezuelan and international human rights activists urged ambassadors to boycott the speech, “and not to legitimize the Maduro government’s record of abuse.”
‘Vote of confidence’
As he frequently does, Maduro invoked his late predecessor and mentor, “our commander Hugo Chavez, our magnificent leader of all of humanity in this century.”
He thanked U.N. member-states for re-electing Venezuela onto the HRC, calling it a “vote of confidence” in the face of “manipulative and lie-based campaigns” by its foes. (Of the General Assembly’s 193 members, 131 voted in support of Venezuela.)
Maduro said during its new three-year term (2016-2018) Venezuela would prioritize issues like the plight of migrants trying to get into Europe – the result, he said, of “the wars of intervention and sacking and plundering” in Libya and Afghanistan and Syria; as well as the plight of the Palestinians.
The “hegemonic power,” he said, was behind all those problems.
In further criticism of the West, Maduro said the HRC must ensure it is not used as a political weapon by “those who seek to impose just one vision of the world.”
In reality, the HRC has long been used by repressive governments, including Islamic and communist regimes, to counter efforts by Western democracies to highlight rights abuses in many countries, while focusing disproportionately on Israel.
That situation looks set to continue next year, when the HRC will have the fewest number of members graded “free” by Freedom House in its 10-year history – just 18 out of 47, or 38 percent.