US Clashes With Cuba, Venezuela As UN Approves Leftist Human Rights Chief

By Patrick Goodenough | August 13, 2018 | 4:25am EDT
Michelle Bachelet, the socialist former president of Chile, will be the next U.N. high commissioner for human rights. (UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferre)

( – The U.N. General Assembly’s quick approval – without a vote – of the next U.N. human rights chief produced a clash between representatives of the U.S., Cuba and Venezuela, following concerns that the Latin American socialist nominated to the post has been sympathetic to the two leftist regimes.

Some human rights groups also expressed dismay about the speed of the process to install former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet as the U.N. high commissioner for human rights for the next four years. There was just one month between the job being advertised (June 11) and the deadline for applications (July 11), and less than two months between that deadline and the start date of September 1.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres announced the nomination last week, and on Friday, the General Assembly endorsed the decision, without debate and without a vote.

“May I take it that the General Assembly wishes to approve the proposal …?” General Assembly president Miroslav Laják asked the gathering in New York.

U.N. General Assembly Miroslav Lajčák bangs his gavel as the world body, without a vote, endorses Michelle Bachelet of Chile as the next U.N. human rights chief, in New York on Friday, August 10, 2018. (UN Photo/Manuel Elias)

After briefly looking around the chamber, he added, “It is so decided,” and banged his gavel.

After the decision had been confirmed, delegates from various regional and other groups offered comments.

U.S. Delegate Stefanie Amadeo said the appointment comes at an important time, given “the failures of the Human Rights Council to address some of the most egregious human rights abuses of our day” – which prompted the recent U.S. withdrawal.

“It is incumbent on the secretary-general’s choice, Ms. Bachelet, to avoid the failures of the U.N. human rights system in the past, particularly the Human Rights Council's consistent failure to address extreme human rights abuses in the Western Hemisphere, in Venezuela and Cuba in particular,” she said.

As reported earlier, Bachelet’s nominated brought some criticism over her evident sympathies with the regimes in Havana and Caracas.

Both countries are themselves members of the Human Rights Council, and neither has ever been the subject of a critical HRC resolution.

(Data compiled by the NGO Human Rights Voices show that countries with poor rights records that have not faced a single critical HRC resolution also include China, Russia, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Of the resolutions is has passed, more than one-quarter targeted Israel.)

Responding to Amadeo’s remarks, Cuban representative Ana Silvia Rodríguez Abascal accused the U.S. of using Bachelet’s nomination to exercise its “pathological tendency” to “twist reality”

Cuba was very proud of its human rights achievements, she said, noting it has signed onto 44 international human rights agreements, compared to 18 in the case of the U.S.

Rodríguez Abascal cited a range of issues in the U.S. including gun violence, the marginalization of migrants, detention of terror suspects, and proposals “to build walls against neighboring countries”

“They have no moral authority to judge my country,” she said.

Venezuelan delegate Samuel Moncada said only on the day when the U.S. human rights abuses end will the world believe its concern for human rights is sincere.

“Their attacks are the expression of the most racist and cruel government in the recent history of this country,” Moncada said. “They have no moral right to talk about this topic because this hatred has led to them being a threat to international peace and security.”

Amadeo then asked for the floor again, and said the U.S. delegation “notes with disappointment the incorrect misconstructions, fabrications and false criticisms of the delegations of Cuba and Venezuela.”

Rodríguez Abascal came back one last time, accusing Amadeo of “pathological amnesia.”

‘Rushed process’

Meanwhile several human rights groups voiced concern about the speed with which the U.N.’s top human rights post was filled.

The non-governmental organization U.N. Watch, which monitors the Geneva-based HRC in particular, referred to a “lack of transparency of the rushed process.”

“The appointment was treated as an internal recruitment process, without elements such as a public list of candidates and vision statements, as for the most recent secretary-general appointment process.”

U.N. Watch had earlier asked Bachelet for a meeting to clarify its concerns about “her spotty record on supporting human rights in Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela.”

Amnesty International director of international advocacy Isha Dyfan urged the U.N. “to work on improving transparency around selection processes for senior U.N. positions.”

“If the U.N. is to maintain its credibility as the standard bearer for human rights, rule of law and accountability, it is essential that its leaders are selected in a way that is representative of the fairness and transparency that it aims to advance around the world,” Dyfan said.

The United Nations Association in the U.K. compiled a “transparency checklist” for the appointment, and found the process wanting in several respects.

Pointing to the short amount of time allowed, it said “there are concerns that this is too short a period for a robust process, with insufficient time for: widespread promotion of the vacancy; a wide range of candidates to apply; rigorous vetting of candidates; and civil society input. There are also concerns that this will leave the successful candidate with little time to prepare for this challenging role.”

UNA UK also said the vacancy appeared not to have been widely advertised around the world, which “could result in a weaker field of candidates.”

Similarly, it found that the U.N. had not advertised the vacancy across its social media platforms.

Minutes after Bachelet’s endorsement by the General Assembly, Guterres said he was “delighted” his nominee had been confirmed, and that he “could not think of a better choice.”

He highlighted her achievements as Chile’s first woman president, and the first head of the agency known as U.N. Women.

At a time when “hatred and inequality are on the rise,” respect for human rights is declining, and press freedom is under pressure, he said, “we need a strong advocate for all human rights – civil, political, economic, social and cultural.”

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