Cuba: Don’t Question the Appropriateness of Abusive States Sitting on UN Human Rights Council

By Patrick Goodenough | September 25, 2020 | 4:50am EDT
The Maduro regime’s foreign minister, Jorge Arreaza, addresses the Human Rights Council in Geneva.  (Photo by Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images)
The Maduro regime’s foreign minister, Jorge Arreaza, addresses the Human Rights Council in Geneva. (Photo by Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images)

( – A Cuban U.N. diplomat on Thursday tried to shut down a non-governmental organization speaker for pointing to the incongruity of Venezuela’s Maduro regime being a member of the U.N. Human Rights Council.

The representative of the communist government in Havana, itself a perennial member of the U.N.’s top human rights body, said that questioning the appropriateness of countries holding seats was off-limits.

“We cannot question the candidacies of member-states. It is a lack of respect for the council,” said Cuba’s Jairo Rodríguez Hernández, after interrupting a statement by Hillel Neuer, executive director of the Geneva-based NGO U.N. Watch.

He urged the HRC president, Elisabeth Tichy-Fisslberger of Austria, to “prevent the speaker from abusing the council.”

Neuer had taken the floor to question the suitability of the Maduro regime remaining a member of the HRC when an HRC-mandated fact-finding mission has just reported on severe human rights abuses in Venezuela, including torture, sexual violence, and extrajudicial executions – some amounting to “crimes against humanity.”

“By what logic, and by what morality, can a convicted murderer, torturer, and rapist, convicted by this council’s own investigators, remain a member of this Human Rights Council?” he asked.

Neuer had already been interrupted once by the Maduro regime’s delegate, who called him “out of order,” but this time Rodríguez of Cuba started banging on the desk to get the president’s attention.

“Once again, this NGO is politicizing the council and he is using abusive language,” he said, recalling that HRC’s founding resolution in 2006 (resolution 60/251) called for “universality, non-selectivity, [and] impartiality.”

“We cannot question the candidacies of member states,” Rodríguez continued. “It is a lack of respect for the council. We agree with what Venezuela is saying, and we call upon you to prevent the speaker from abusing the council.”

Tichy-Fisslberger called for “appropriate language and appropriate dealing with each other” before allowing Neuer to complete his statement.

As he did so, he invoked article eight of the same HRC founding resolution 60/251, which says, “when electing members of the council, member-states shall take into account the contribution of candidates to the promotion and protection of human rights.”

“When will the United Nations remove the Maduro government from this Human Rights Council?” Neuer asked.

Widely considered a major weakness of resolution 60/251 is the absence of any enforceable criteria for membership. That was one the key reason given by the George W. Bush administration for voting against it – and for shunning the council altogether until the Obama administration reversed that policy in 2009.

Questioning the candidacies of HRC member-states was also, in part, what prompted the Trump administration to withdraw from the council in 2018 after unsuccessful efforts to bring about reforms, including preventing rights-abusing autocracies from becoming members.

Then-U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley, who led the reform push, afterwards expressed disappointment that some democracies agreed with the U.S. in private on the need to improve membership standards but “refused to take a stand in public.” She said, “It’s difficult to say which was worse: the tolerance we encountered for human-rights violators or the hypocrisy of the countries that should have known better.”

The Democratic Party’s 2020 platform includes a pledge to “rejoin and reform” the HRC.

The lack of mandatory membership criteria has allowed some of the world’s most egregious rights violators to be elected onto the 47-seat council, sometimes repeatedly. China, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan have held seats on the HRC for virtually its entire existence, serving four three-year terms each. Russia, Libya, Venezuela, Qatar, Egypt, Sudan, and Somalia are among other autocratic regimes that have been members.

A U.N. Watch petition calling for the Maduro regime’s expulsion from the HRC has more than 160,000 signatories. The campaign is chaired by Diego Arria, Venezuela’s former U.N. ambassador and an opponent of the Maduro regime.

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