It is a good day for intolerant rulers like Hugo Chavez and Nursultan Nazarbayev, as seven countries with particularly appalling human rights records were elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council: Ethiopia, Gabon, Ivory Coast, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates and Venezuela.
The U.N. Human Rights Council was founded in 2006 in response to the censure that the U.N. Human Rights Commission was facing for including major human rights violators in its ranks. For decades the Commission was actively destructive to the interests of human rights by providing diplomatic cover to the worst tyrants. Human rights-abusing governments using seats on the Commission to deflect pressure for reform became one of the most cynical games in international politics.
At the time, Secretary General Kofi Annan admitted that the Commission’s “declining credibility” had “cast a shadow on the reputation of the United Nations system. Unless we re-make our human rights machinery, we may be unable to renew public confidence in the United Nations itself.” His advice, that the Commission be “scrapped and replaced,” was heeded. The new Council was to be different; it would only elect countries that “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights.” It was to right the wrongs of the defunct Commission. Unfortunately, today’s elections seem to indicate total failure. The Council is the same old wine in a new bottle. Take three of the countries that were elected to the Council with questionable human rights records: Venezuela, Kazakhstan and Pakistan.
The Venezuelan government has continually engaged in human rights violations. Arrests, incarceration and criminal prosecution of individuals who express opinions opposing the state are rampant. Press freedom is under assault, and the regime holds a communications hegemony. Legislation by the state has criminalized legitimate criticism of public officials, disregarding the principles of accountability, transparency and honest government. What’s more, the Venezuelan government has consistently ignored various international recommendations from U.N. member states. For instance, recommendations from Norway, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the Czech Republic to improve Venezuela’s hellish prison conditions have been denied. Venezuela has failed to uphold international obligations on freedom of speech, and has yet to respect a single decision of the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which has determined in numerous cases that Venezuela’s political prisoners should be freed.
Equally problematic is Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez’s repeated endorsements of some of the world’s top human rights violators: Vladimir Putin of Russia, Fidel Castro of Cuba, Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus, Bashar al-Assad of Syria, Muammar Gadhafi of Libya, Saddam Hussein of Iraq, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. The Venezuelan strongman has described these men as his “brothers.” It is doubtful that Venezuela can objectively address the human rights violations of leaders considered allies and friends and from whom it purchases billions of dollars in arms or shares totalitarian best practices. Things will only become worse with Venezuela, a country with neither the rule of law nor freedom of speech, and with a track record of ignoring the international decisions of the Council.