(CNSNews.com) – The foreign minister of Venezuela’s Maduro regime told the Human Rights Council in Geneva on Thursday that countries which support economic sanctions do not deserve to sit on the U.N.’s top human rights body, adding that it was time to revisit the “criteria” for membership.
“If members of this Human Rights Council can be accomplices to the imposition of this kind of measure then they shouldn’t be members of this council,” Jorge Arreaza said through an interpreter.
Any HRC member not prepared to stand up and demand an end to “unilateral coercive measures,” he said – using U.N. jargon for sanctions – was in effect condoning the damage they cause in the countries where they are imposed.
“We need to look here in this council again at the criteria for the election of members of this council, and when we use those criteria we should take into account the attitude of the member state concerned towards the imposition of unilateral coercive measures,” he added.
Arreaza’s appearance at the HRC comes at a time when the regime he represents – which the U.S. and more than 50 other countries no longer recognize as legitimate – is itself on track for a new three-year term on the council.
For years, human rights advocates and some Western governments have expressed concern about the fact that some of the world’s most egregious rights violators are members of the HRC.
Current members include China, Cuba, and Saudi Arabia, and next year’s membership is expected to include Libya, Sudan, Mauritania, Iraq, and the Maduro regime, following elections to be held in New York in the fall.
The core of the problem, critics say, is the fact there are no enforceable “criteria” for membership. Countries are merely asked, when considering candidates, to take into account the need for members to “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights.”
But elections are by secret ballot, and some of the world’s most repressive regimes have been voted on, year after year, often by large margins.
Contributing to the problem is the practice of “closed slates,” when regional groups put up the same number of candidates as there are seats available for that group. When the U.N. General Assembly meets later in the fall to fill 14 of the council’s 47 seats, two of the vacant seats are for the Latin America group, and only two candidates – Brazil and the Maduro regime – are on the slate.
‘We’re not going to cede an inch of our sovereignty’
Arreaza used the platform provided to him by the HRC on Thursday to slam the United States for imposing sanctions on the regime, and several others around the world.
Sanctions, he said, “cause suffering and they kill people in the countries upon which they are imposed. Then the impact of the sanctions is used to harass the state, to pressure the state, and to put the state concerned in the dock internationally because it’s allegedly failing in its responsibility to protect and defend its people.”
The U.S. and dozens of other countries recognize the head of the National Assembly, Juan Guaido, as Venezuela’s interim president in accordance with the constitution, pending new elections.
This year has seen a battle of wills between the rival camps and their foreign supporters, which in the case of the regime include Russia, Cuba and Iran.
The Trump administration has ratcheted up sanctions in response to what it calls Maduro’s “continuing usurpation of power,” but says targeted transactions exclude those “related to humanitarian activity, including the provision of articles such as food, clothing, and medicine intended to be used to relieve human suffering.”
The U.S. is the largest donor of humanitarian assistance for Venezuelans, but has struggled to get aid in. In February the regime shut the borders with Colombia and Brazil as the Guaido opposition tried to bring food and medical supplies into the country. The Brazil border was opened in May and the border with Colombia in June.
In his remarks, Arreaza accused the U.S. last February of trying to “force humanitarian aid, which is neither aid nor humanitarian, across our borders from Colombia.”
As Maduro has done, he attributed the decision not to allow the aid in to sovereignty concerns.
“We are not going to surrender our right to self-determination and we’re not going to cede an inch of our sovereignty either,” he said.
Arreaza also raised the possibility of getting the U.N. to adopt a “convention” outlawing sanctions, saying Venezuela has already submitted a resolution to the U.N. through the Non-Aligned Movement.