(CNSNews.com) – U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has “congratulated” Venezuela on winning a new three-year term on the U.N. Human Rights Council, the socialist government reported Wednesday.
Venezuela’s mission to the U.N. said Ban offered his congratulations during a meeting Tuesday with Venezuelan ambassador to the HRC Jorge Valero in Geneva, the Swiss city that is home to the U.N.’s top human rights body.
Ban’s reported congratulations came despite the fact that the ongoing election onto the HRC of countries with poor human rights records has long outraged human rights advocates and frustrated democratic governments.
When the U.N. General Assembly voted last October to fill 18 vacancies on the HRC for the 2016-2018 period, Venezuela won the support of 131 of its 193 members. President Nicolas Maduro hailed the achievement as a “vote of confidence” in the face of “manipulative and lie-based campaigns” by Venezuela’s foes, implying that the U.S. in particular had tried to block its bid.
Following that election, the HRC in 2016 has just 18 countries rated as “free,” out of a total of 47 – the lowest number in the body’s decade-old history. Among the council’s more controversial members this year are China, Russia, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Burundi, Algeria, Vietnam – and Venezuela.
U.S. taxpayers account for 22 percent of the HRC’s budget.
Queries sent to Ban’s spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, and deputy spokesman Farhan Haq, brought no response by press time.
Hillel Neuer, executive director of U.N. Watch – a Geneva-based non-governmental organization that monitors the HRC – said Ban should have condemned the Venezuelan government rather than congratulate it on winning a new term on the council.
“The U.N. secretary-general should condemn Maduro, not offer congratulations after the U.N. cynically elected a gross abuser to its highest human rights body,” he said in an email. “It’s important to note that there is nothing whatsoever in U.N. rules or practice that requires such applause.”
“On the contrary, we call on Ban Ki-moon to condemn the election of Venezuela, and to support our campaign for diplomats to enact the first resolution condemning Venezuela’s violations at the Human Rights Council.”
Neuer was critical of the Maduro regime and that of his predecessor and mentor, the late Hugo Chavez.
“Venezuela’s Chavez and Maduro regimes have effectively destroyed a naturally-wealthy country, throwing opposition leaders in prison under trumped-up charges, and violating their own citizens’ fundamental right to be free from fear and want,” he said.
‘Audacious accusations … imperialist attack’
Ban’s reported congratulations stands in contrast to the approach taken by the U.N.’s top human rights official, human rights commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, when Maduro visited the HRC in Geneva last November, just weeks after the HRC election.
Zeid did not preside over the meeting – unusual in itself when a head of state visits the council – and in a pre-recorded video message urged Venezuela to do more to advance human rights at home, citing concerns about judicial independence, intimidation and threats against journalists and human rights defenders.
When Maduro stood to deliver a 40-minute speech, he lashed out at the criticism.
“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,” Maduro continued, going on to accuse the United States of using human rights as a “political weapon” against Venezuela.
The Venezuelan government release on Tuesday’s meeting between Ban and Valero in Geneva said the ambassador raised concerns with the secretary-general about what it called the “incident” during Maduro’s visit to the council last November.
Valero questioned Zeid’s decision to address the special meeting by recorded video, “contrary to established practice” when a head of state visits.
The release said 11 other “like-minded” countries joined Venezuela, in a signed communication delivered to Ban, expressing their concern about Maduro’s treatment.
The “like-minded” countries were Russia, China, North Korea, Algeria, Burma, Belarus, Uganda, Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador and Nicaragua.
Meanwhile, Ban voiced concern about “polarization between the government and opposition” in Venezuela. He expressed interest in visiting Caracas in July, when Venezuela hosts a Non-Aligned Movement summit, and to hold talks with Maduro and other visiting heads of state.
(Venezuela at that summit assumes the rotating presidency of the 120-member NAM, whose past presidents have included Cuba, Zimbabwe and Iran.)
Valero told Ban that Maduro’s government was “peace-loving and committed to justice and international law.”
It sought “friendly relations among nations, based on respect for sovereignty, equality, solidarity, self-determination of peoples, and respect for human rights in the world,” he added.
Ban is in Switzerland to attend the World Economic Forum in Davos.