Maduro May Get Seat on UN Human Rights Council; ‘Perfect Example’ of Why US Withdrew

Patrick Goodenough | September 30, 2019 | 5:52am EDT
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Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro addresses the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva in 2015. Venezuela was a member of the HRC in 2013-2015 and 2016-2018, and is running for a new term in 2020-2022. (UN Photo/Jess Hoffman)

( – With Nicolás Maduro’s regime in Venezuela likely to be handed a seat on the Human Rights Council in Geneva in two weeks’ time, a U.S. official says the absence of criteria barring the election of such rights violators onto the U.N.’s top human rights body provides a “perfect example” of why the Trump administration withdrew from it.

The regime, which the U.S. and more than 50 other nations no longer recognize as Venezuela’s legitimate government, has formally submitted its candidacy ahead of the election on October 16, when the U.N. General Assembly meets in New York to fill 14 seats on the 47-member HRC, for the 2020-2022 period.

Under U.N. rules, two of the 14 vacancies must be filled by countries in Latin American and the Caribbean group (GRULAC). The group has submitted a “closed slate” of just two candidates – Brazil and Venezuela.

As things stand, the Maduro regime is guaranteed success, unless:

--Other governments successfully pressurize it to withdraw its candidacy;

--Another GRULAC country enters the race, turning the voting exercise into an actual contest; or

--The Maduro regime fails to achieve the required 97 votes, a simple majority in the 193-member General Assembly.

With 17 days to go until the election, there is no sign that Maduro will withdraw, and no indication of a newcomer submitting its candidacy.

The regime could in theory fail to obtain the required 97 votes, but the U.N.’s record in that regard is very poor: Voting is by secret ballot, and past HRC elections have witnessed repressive regimes win seats, repeatedly, by large vote margins (For example, China has garnered as many as 180 votes, Cuba 163, Saudi Arabia 154, and Pakistan 171.)

The Non-Aligned Movement, a bloc whose 120 members comprise a majority in the General Assembly, has already thrown its support behind the Maduro regime’s HRC candidacy.

‘They use their position to shield themselves from criticism’

The Trump administration walked away from the HRC in June last year, citing among other problems the fact that “human rights abusers continue to serve on and be elected to the council.”

“The fact that there is no established criteria barring egregious human rights violators like the former Maduro regime from winning a seat on the Human Rights Council is the perfect example of why we are no longer a member,” a U.S. official said in response to questions about the regime’s HRC candidacy.

“Countries with poor human rights records are routinely elected to the council, where they use their position to shield themselves from criticism, and frustrate efforts to safeguard human rights and fundamental freedoms,” the official added.

“The United States hopes that ultimately only suitable candidates will be supported and confirmed for election to the council.”

Despite its own departure from the HRC, the administration has during the U.N. General Assembly opening session underway in New York highlighted rights abuses taking place in Venezuela.

The U.S. official said the administration’s focus during the UNGA session included holding to account the Maduro regime and others “that consistently undermine human rights and humanitarian mechanisms and norms in U.N. bodies.”

Last Wednesday, President Trump discussed the crisis with regional leaders, including representatives of Juan Guaido, the head of the National Assembly whom the U.S. and dozens of other countries recognize as Venezuela’s interim president.

“We call on our friends in the region and the broader international community to take concrete action to increase pressure on Maduro’s dictatorship and his illegitimate regime,” the White House said afterwards.

‘Culture of impunity’

U.N. Watch, a Geneva-based non-governmental organization that monitors the HRC and other agencies, was first to draw attention to the likelihood of the Maduro regime winning a seat.

It noted that there is also a clean slate of candidates for four vacant HRC seats reserved for Africa, which means that barring any changes Sudan, Mauritania and Libya – countries with widely-criticized human rights records – will also become members of the council for the next three years.

“When the U.N. itself appoints human rights violators to its top human rights body, it indulges the very culture of impunity it is supposed to combat,” said U.N. Watch executive director Hillel Neuer.

“U.N. member states have the legal right – and moral obligation – to refrain from voting for unqualified candidates,” he said.

U.N. Watch is calling on European Union member-states in particular to protect the HRC’s mandate.

Neuer recalled that the E.U. led a group of nation which in 2017 pledged to “strive to ensure competitive Human Rights Council membership elections, particularly by encouraging more candidates than seats within each regional group.”

Despite that, he said, “U.N. Watch is unaware of any E.U. effort to encourage candidate countries from the Latin American group to challenge Venezuela, or to encourage African countries to submit candidacies to challenge Libya, Mauritania and Sudan.”

“We need to hear the E.U.’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and E.U. member states lead the call to oppose the worst abusers,” Neuer said. “So far, they have been silent.”

Queries on the issue, first sent to the European Union foreign policy division two weeks ago, have brought no response.

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