The Human Rights Council will not shield Venezuela's Maduro from condemnation

The Human Rights Council will not shield Venezuela's Maduro from condemnation
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On Oct. 17, 2019, Edmundo “Pipo” Rada, councilman and Venezuelan opposition political activist, was shot point blank and burned in an act of violence that shook the nation. That same day, Nicolás Maduro won a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), despite a campaign by more than 54 organizations and many countries opposed to the nomination because of Venezuela’s record of human rights abuses. 

Venezuela’s newfound position in the UNHRC was a setback for the millions of victims of the Venezuelan regime, but a symbolic win for Maduro. Yet, while Maduro has called the move a victory, he should not count his blessings. 

In his search for legitimacy and recognition, Maduro made a strategic error in running for the contended seat. Rather than shielding his regime from scrutiny, as a member of the UNHRC, Venezuela can expect renewed attention from thousands of defenders of human rights and the international community, who already have begun to take coordinated action. 

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Dozens of human rights organizations have spoken out against the appointment. Days after the vote, the nongovernmental organization UN Watch launched a global campaign to expel Maduro from the UNHRC, invoking Article 8 of the 2006 General Assembly Resolution 60/251. Article 8 asserts the United Nations General Assembly can suspend the membership of any country that commits gross and systematic violations of human rights, as was the case of Libya in 2011. 

In the eyes of the international community, Maduro is now further exposed as not just a dictator but also as an internationally recognized violator of human rights. 

Venezuela is the Western Hemisphere’s largest man-made crisis. Less than three months before the UNHRC election, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) released a report “expressing grave concern at the alarming situation of human rights.” 

The report identified clear patterns of human rights violations, including arbitrary arrests (at least 15,045 people detained for political motives), torture and extrajudicial executions (5,287 in 2018 and 1,569 between January and May 2019). As of May 2019, 793 people remained behind bars, and 22 National Assembly deputies had been deprived of their parliamentary immunity. From fear of persecution and hunger, more than 4 million Venezuelans have fled the country. 

In 2020, per an Organization of American States report on Venezuelan migrants and refugees, this number could jump to 7.5 million Venezuelans seeking refuge in neighboring countries. A migratory flow of this magnitude will increase pressure on the US southern border. 

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Now is the time to reaffirm the world’s commitment to finding a peaceful and sustainable solution to the crisis in Venezuela. Most immediately, three steps can be taken: 

  • In the short term, the U.S. Congress and the international community must continue applying sustained, unified pressure on the Maduro regime, through the HRC’s own fact-finding mission created in September 2019 to further investigate systematic violations of human rights committed in Venezuela;

  • The European Union should renew its commitment to identifying and seizing the illegal assets and accounts in Europe of Maduro government officials and allies; and
  • The U.S. Senate has the opportunity to reaffirm its commitment to protecting Venezuelan refugees by approving the TPS Act of 2019 (H.R. 549), which would grant protected status to Venezuelans fleeing into United States.

Venezuela’s new position in the Human Rights Council is a symbolic, but ultimately short-lived, win for the Maduro regime. The United States and the international community must seize this moment to send a lasting message that they will stand with Venezuelans in their pursuit of life and liberty.

Diego Area is an associate director at the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center.