(CNSNews.com) – Delegates of the U.N. Human Rights Council opened a meeting in Geneva on Monday by standing silently with heads bowed, after the delegation of Venezuela’s leftist government requested a minute’s silence to “honor” the late Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.
Not everyone in the chamber took part. U.N. Watch executive director Hillel Neuer described the honoring of “human rights abuser Fidel Castro” as “despicable” and said that his non-governmental organization “stayed seated.”
In an official U.N. webcast, a member of the Israeli delegation, seated behind Venezuela’s representatives, can be seen walking out as Venezuelan ambassador Jorge Valero asked members to honor Castro.
The United States is not currently a member of the HRC – it will return next year after a mandatory one-year break – but U.S. Ambassador Keith Harper tweeted that the HRC “should not be honoring gross and systematic #Humanrights violators with moments of silence.”
Spokesmen for the HRC Secretariat and for U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein did not respond by press time to queries about the appropriateness of the minute’s silence for the leader of a communist regime with a grim human rights record.
“On the 25th of November,” Valero told the gathering, “late at night on Friday, we heard the news of the passing away of the historic leader of the Cuban revolution, the comandante and head leader of the revolution, Fidel Castro Ruz.”
Praising Castro’s “constant fight for the peoples of the third world,” the Venezuelan ambassador called him a leader of “international stature” whose “influence went beyond the borders of his country.”
“My delegation would like respectfully to ask all delegations to, together, observe a minute’s silence in his honor.”
The Venezuelan delegation then stood, followed by others across the chamber. After about half a minute of silence, Valero thanked the Human Rights Council, and delegates took their seats.
The outgoing HRC president, Choi Kyong-lim of South Korea, then gave the floor to a Cuban representative, who thanked Venezuela and the council for the gesture at a “time of deep pain for the Cuban people.”
She spent several moments praising Castro, calling him “the father of the Cuban revolution,” “a paradigm of the fight for social justice” and “an inspiration for many dignified men and women who fought and still fight today to defend the principles of independence, sovereignty and equality.”
The Cuban delegate added that that fight was also a fight for development, peace, “solidarity between human beings and between all nations of the world,” and a “fight to achieve a world without inequalities in which we can all enjoy all of our human rights.”
Since it took power in 1959 the Castro regime has been held responsible for tens of thousands of deaths, including deaths by firing squad, extrajudicial killings, deaths in custody, and deaths at sea while trying to flee the regime.
The Washington-based democracy watchdog Freedom House, which gives countries annual scores for political rights and civil liberties, have ranked Cuba as “not free” every year since 1973.
The HRC is the U.N.’s top human rights body, created a decade ago to replace the badly discredited U.N. Commission on Human Rights.
The Castro regime has played an outsized role on the 47-member HRC, having held a seat for most of the last ten years, with terms in 2006-2009, 2010-2012 and 2014-2016. It was re-elected last month to a new three-year term.
Over that decade, despite a human rights record widely criticized by advocacy groups, Cuba has not been the subject of a single critical HRC resolution.
While Western nations on the council seek to highlight violations of fundamental human rights and freedoms by governments around the world, Cuba and its allies at the HRC have focused instead on what they call “third generation rights” such as the right to economic self-determination, the right to development, and “international solidarity.”
Cuba has also taken an active role in the HRC’s repeated and ongoing targeting of Israel.
At an event in Geneva in October, Mari Werlau, the executive director of the Cuba Archive – a non-profit project that documents deaths and disappearances resulting from the Castro revolution – took aim at Cuba’s membership of the HRC.
“Cuba should not be part of the U. N. Human Rights Council, responsible for the promotion and protection of all human rights around the globe, because it is a totalitarian state that violates – in its laws and practices – essentially all applicable articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” she said.