What a travesty. Despite Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s bloody repression of opposition protests that has resulted in more than 100 dead, thousands of wounded and hundreds of political prisoners over the past three months, the United Nations Human Rights Council has not uttered a single word about Venezuela’s human rights crisis.
The Geneva-based UNHRC, whose job is to “uphold the highest standards” of human rights across the world, has not issued one single resolution about Venezuela, nor convened any urgent session to discuss the crisis there, nor called for any inquiry into the deaths of protesters by armed government-backed mobs.
There is a reason for that inaction, of course. About half of the council’s 47 member countries are dictatorships – including Cuba, China, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Venezuela – who defend one another against charges of human-rights violations. In fact, the UNHRC is a mutual protection society for the world’s worst dictatorships.
“The council is entitled to call an emergency session on Venezuela any day, and given what is happening on the streets there, they should have done that,” says Hillel Neuer, head of U.N. Watch, a Geneva-based advocacy group. “But they have never called for an emergency session on Venezuela.
“They should have created a commission of inquiry on what is happening there, and they have not done that either. On the contrary, Venezuela was recently re-elected to the council.”
Neither the United States nor other democracies represented at the council presented any motions to the council condemning Venezuela’s human rights abuses.
The Trump administration, aside from a few photo shots of President Donald Trump with Venezuelan opposition figures and some targeted visa sanctions against Venezuelan officials that had been started by the Obama administration, has been largely invisible in the Venezuelan crisis.
Trump has not yet appointed a U.S. ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, which is one of the reasons why there was no high-level pressure on the council to debate the Venezuelan case, critics say. Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in New York, made a brief visit to Geneva during the UNHRC sessions in June, but only held a side event on Venezuela outside the council’s session.
The Trump administration’s diplomatic inexperience and ineptitude were also evident at the Organization of American States’ June special meeting of foreign ministers on Venezuela. The absence of U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at that meeting helped make it possible for a handful of tiny Caribbean islands to effectively defeat a condemnation of Venezuela’s regime by 20 countries in the region.
The Trump administration has said it is considering pulling out of the UNHRC unless the council reforms itself. Haley has rightly noted that the council’s seats should be awarded through competitive voting to keep the worst human-rights violators out of it.
As it is now, council members are appointed by their regional blocs. That allows countries that desperately want to be in the council – such as Cuba and Venezuela – to trade favors with their neighbors in exchange for their appointments to the UNHRC.
But most independent human-rights groups say it would be unwise for the Trump administration to pull out of the UNHRC. They say the council was even worse before the Obama administration decided to join it in 2009.
Asked whether the United States should resign from the council, Neuer told me, “It’s a dilemma. But when George W. Bush decided to pull out, the council did not get better. It got worse. The United States should appoint a human-rights hero as ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva. Send someone who will fight.”
My opinion: I agree, although I doubt that the Trump administration will have any credibility as a leader on human-rights issues. Trump has already embraced the dictators of Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey and several other countries, breaking a long-standing tradition by Republican and Democratic presidents to speak out against human-rights abuses everywhere.
The best course of action would be for all democracies, including the United States, to start raising their voices and denouncing the UNHRC for what it is – a monumental joke.
Andres Oppenheimer is a Latin America correspondent for the Miami Herald and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.