The president of Venezuela, whose government shoots protesters in the street, recently thanked the international community for its “universal vote of confidence” in that country’s commitment to human rights.
The Cuban deputy foreign minister, whose government imprisons thousands of political opponents, once said Cuba has historic prestige “in the promotion and protection of all human rights.”How can these people get away with saying such things? Because they have been elected to the U.N. Human Rights Council, whose members are — on paper — charged with “upholding the highest standards” of human rights.
Last month, a U.S. Senate subcommittee met to consider whether the United States should remain a part of the council. Expert witnesses shared their viewpoints, not on the question of whether America supports human rights — of course we do, and very strongly. The question was whether the Human Rights Council actually supports human rights or is merely a showcase for dictatorships that use their membership to whitewash brutality.
Venezuela is a member of the council despite the systematic destruction of civil society by the government of Nicolás Maduro through arbitrary detention, torture and blatant violations of freedom of the press and expression. Mothers are forced to dig through trash cans to feed their children. This is a crisis that has been 18 years in the making. And yet, not once has the Human Rights Council seen fit to condemn Venezuela.
Next week, I will travel to Geneva to address the Human Rights Council about the United States’ concerns.
I will outline changes that must be made. Among other things, membership on the council must be determined through competitive voting to keep the worst human rights abusers from obtaining seats. As it stands, regional blocs nominate candidates that are uncontested. Competition would force a candidate’s human rights record to be considered before votes were cast.
That would be a good reform.