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Venezuela Joins the UN Human Rights Council Amid Criticism

Punto Fijo, November 13th, 2012 ( – Venezuela was elected as a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council on Monday for the period 2013-2016, sparking criticism both domestically and in the United States of supposed human rights abuses in Venezuela.

Venezuela received a total of 154 votes from UN General Assembly members, easily surpassing the minimum of 97 votes needed to be elected, despite what Venezuelan Ambassador to the UN Jorge Valera called a “shameful and manipulative campaign” against Venezuela from international organizations and the media.

Also elected from Latin America were Brazil and Argentina, receiving 184 and 176 votes respectively. Cuba, Mexico, and Uruguay are the three Latin American countries that will be replaced on the council.

Venezuelan government officials celebrated the news as a victory and a sign of Venezuela’s good reputation in the international arena.

“This is a demonstration of the strength of the [Bolivarian] revolution in the world, and the successful state policies to protect the human rights of all Venezuelans without exception,” said UN Ambassador Jorge Valero.

Venezuelan vice-president Nicolás Maduro said the decision shows that the country has an “ample guarantee of human rights” and said it was one of a “series of victories in the international arena.”

But the country’s entry was met with criticism among the Venezuelan opposition and in some US media. The criticisms centered around Venezuela’s so-called “political prisoners” and supposed lack of freedom of expression.

Venezuelan opposition leader and former UN Ambassador Diego Arria accused the government of gaining entry through “negotiation” and called it a sign of the “collapse” of the UN Human Rights Commission.

“We still have political prisoners, because that’s what they are, like the case of Judge [María Lourdes] Afiuni, among others,” he said.

The Washington Post, whose editorial board published an article yesterday against Venezuela’s entry, also cited the case of Maria Lourdes Afiuni, a Venezuelan judge who was arrested in 2009 after she ordered the release of a businessman accused of money laundering.

International media and human rights groups often refer to the case as an example of Venezuela’s “political prisoners” and the lack of an independent judiciary, though it has been pointed out that the judge was not a known critic of the Chavez government, and that the businessman’s release was carried out in an illegal way which allowed him to flee the country after exiting through a back door of the court.

Other critics, such as Human Rights Watch, cite a lack of press freedom in Venezuela, stating that the Chavez government “freely intimidates, censors and prosecutes its critics.”

But defenders of the Venezuelan government cite the rapid growth of media outlets in the country during the Chavez government, and the daily criticisms against the government in private media.

“You have to see the huge amount of private media that everyday are constantly attacking the government” said Venezuelan writer Luis Britto Garcia recently. “They call the president a dictator, a tyrant. How could they say these things if there were not freedom of expression?”

UN Ambassador Jorge Valero also referred to Venezuela’s past human rights record, and pointed to the current government’s improvement over previous governments.

“We have never tortured a political opponent, nor have we made any political parties illegal. We’ve never violated the will of the parliament. We’ve never carried out a policy of forced disappearances. These [past] violations of human rights have been completely overcome,” he said.

Valero said he hopes Venezuela’s membership on the Human Rights Council will allow Venezuela to be a “spokesperson for the south” in monitoring human rights. Venezuela will serve a three-year term on the commission beginning on January 1st, 2013.

Published on Nov 13th 2012 at 4.09pm