Venezuela’s Maduro Regime Reportedly Eyeing a Return to UN Human Rights Council

By Patrick Goodenough | August 23, 2019 | 4:31am EDT
Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro addresses the Human Rights Council in Geneva in November 2015. Venezuela was a member of the U.N.’s top rights body in 2013-2015 and 2016-2018. (UN Photo/Jess Hoffman)

( – Several of the world’s most repressive regimes reportedly will run for three-year terms on the U.N. Human Rights Council in elections this fall, among them Venezuela’s Maduro regime, which the U.S. and dozens of other nations do not recognize.

Others in line to join the U.N.’s top human rights body in Geneva include Libya, Sudan, Mauritania, and Iraq, according to Hillel Neuer, executive director of the Geneva-based rights group, UN Watch, a veteran monitor of the HRC.

All five of those countries are graded “not free” by the democracy watchdog Freedom House, which scores countries each year for political rights and civil liberties. In the absence of any genuine opposition in their relevant regional groups, all five are expected to get a seat for the 2020-22 term.

And when they do, they will join at least eight other “not free” countries already on the HRC, whose terms extend into next year. They are Afghanistan, Angola, Bahrain, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Qatar, and Somalia.

Moreover, three of the 13 “not free” countries expected to take their seats next year are on a shortlist of the world’s most repressive regimes: Somalia, Eritrea and Sudan are among ten countries that score worst in Freedom House’s annual Freedom in the World report.

Fourteen of the council’s 47 seats will be up for grabs when the full U.N. General Assembly votes by secret ballot in the fall – four for Asia, four for Africa, and two each for the Latin American, Eastern European, and Western groups.

Given the political crisis in Venezuela, its candidacy will be particularly controversial. The U.S. and more than 50 other countries recognize the head of the National Assembly, Juan Guaido, as the country’s interim president, and want to see the back of Nicolás Maduro.

“SHAME: The murderous regime of Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro is running for a 2020-2022 seat on the UN Human Rights Council, and no one is opposing him,” Neuer tweeted Thursday.

If Venezuela does get a seat, it will likely be because the Latin America and Caribbean group (GRULAC) fails to put up a competitive slate for its two vacant seats.

“Closed slates” – the same number of candidates put up as there are openings – have characterized most previous HRC elections, although a Venezuelan candidacy could draw opposition within the group this time. To date, however, only two candidates have been put forward by the group for the two vacancies, Venezuela and Brazil.

GRULAC has 33 members, and while the majority of the region’s major countries support Guaido, a number of others in the group back Maduro or are ambivalent. (By rough count, 14 countries are pro-Guaido, seven are pro-Maduro, and the rest are neutral or have not indicated their preference.)

Venezuela was an elected member of the HRC for two previous terms, in 2013-2015, and 2016-2018.

In the fall of 2017 Maduro was scheduled to address the council on the opening day of one of its sessions, but after strong condemnation by human rights groups he canceled his appearance, sending Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza in his place.

Queries sent to Venezuela’s mission to the U.N. in Geneva about the candidacy received no response by press time. Last month, Arreaza said that the Non-Aligned Movement, a bloc of 120 developing states, supported Venezuela’s HRC candidacy.

China, Cuba, and Saudi Arabia to stand down

If there is an upside for democracies in the HRC, next year will see the departure of three autocracies that have served multiple terms despite having some of the world’s poorest human rights records. Under U.N. rules China, Cuba, and Saudi Arabia will be taking an enforced break of at least one year, having served two consecutive terms each.

Judging from past form, all three are likely to be back a year later. Over the HRC’s 13-year history, China, Cuba, and Saudi Arabia have held seats on the council for almost the entire time, serving four three-year terms each.

Cuba in particular has played an outsized role at the council, often joining China, Russia and the bloc of Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) members in promoting an anti-Western and especially anti-Israel agenda.

Russia has been another perennial member, although in 2016 it was narrowly defeated in a three-way race for two Eastern Europe seats.

That occurred because its region, in a rare move, put up a competitive slate – Russia, Hungary and Croatia – and with Russia having lost support in some quarters over its military support for the Assad regime, it fell just two votes short of Croatia.

Russia has announced its candidacy to run for a seat again, but only for the term beginning in 2021.

Also wielding considerable influence at the HRC is the OIC, the bloc of mostly Muslim-majority states. Of the council’s 47 members, in no one year have fewer than 13 seats been controlled by the OIC, and in 2010 and 2011 the number rose to 18, or more than one-third of the total membership.

This year the OIC holds 15 seats, and next year it is expected to have at least 16, although that could change depending on the final list of candidates.

The 16 likely OIC members next year will be Afghanistan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cote d'Ivoire, Iraq, Libya, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Senegal, Somalia, Sudan, and Togo.


MRC Store