Op-Ed

Venezuela is a repressive regime and has no right to join the U.N. Human Rights Council | Opinion

Relatives hold up images of a member of Venezuela’s military whom the Maduro regime arrested and imprisoned.
Relatives hold up images of a member of Venezuela’s military whom the Maduro regime arrested and imprisoned. Getty Images

The Human Rights Council (HRC) is the United Nations’ greatest failure. Instead of protecting human rights, it has long protected the tyrants, dictators and strongmen who abuse them. That’s why the United States withdrew from the HRC last year.

China — which is building a surveillance state and conducting an ethnic cleansing campaign of Muslim minorities — is on the Human Rights Council. Saudi Arabia and Cuba also are members in good standing.

And now, as if to confirm the United States’ decision to leave, Venezuela is poised to become a member on Oct. 16. Thankfully, Costa Rica has mounted a last-minute challenge. But unless other countries support its bid, the HRC will continue to make a mockery of human rights.

The Maduro regime in Venezuela is among the world’s worst human-rights abusers. It has crushed the independent media and legislature. It jails and tortures political opponents by the thousands.

The criminal, socialist, narco-state has ruined its economy and refuses to allow humanitarian aid into the country. The Venezuelan people dig through trash cans and slaughter zoo animals to feed their families.

I’ve watched Venezuelan mothers and children walk three hours in the blazing sun across the bridge to Colombia to get the only meal they will eat that day. The average Venezuelan adult has lost 24 pounds because of massive poverty and food shortages.

And this is a government that the United Nations is considering adding to its Human Rights Council.

As U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, I was told by my colleagues that the U.N. Security Council was not the right place to discuss the crisis in Venezuela. They said the Human Rights Council was the place to address Maduro’s crimes. So in June, 2017, I traveled to Geneva, where the HRC is headquartered. But my request to speak to the Council was denied. Why? Because Venezuela was then serving as a member on the HRC.

Even when we secured a private venue outside the Council to address Maduro’s abuses, the regime tried to stop us. Their thugs heckled two Venezuelan citizens who were brave enough to speak out. Maduro’s representatives publicly warned the two men that there would be “consequences” for their candor about the suffering of the Venezuelan people.

Venezuela is the last country that should sit on a council that’s supposed to protect human rights. And yet, because of the corrupt rules for membership in the HRC, the Maduro regime has a real chance of winning in the October 16 election. Until this week, Venezuela was one of just two candidates for two seats designated for Latin America. If Costa Rica hadn’t challenged Venezuela at the last minute, Maduro’s membership would have been assured.

Now, thanks to Costa Rica’s brave defense of human rights, Venezuela’s place on the HRC is no longer guaranteed. But there will still be an election. In any normal year, the members of the General Assembly would use their secret ballot to vote for the pre-arraigned candidate. This year they have the chance to actually defend decent human-rights standards by voting for Costa Rica.

I hope they do the right thing. But I’m not holding my breath.

My team at the UN spent a year trying to reform the Human Rights Council from the inside. We were looking for two simple changes: the end of the rigged voting system; and the removal of the standing item on the HRC’s agenda that singles out Israel for criticism. No other country — not China, Cuba, Syria, or North Korea — is subject to this kind of unfair scrutiny.

Of course, China and Russia opposed our reform efforts. They have no problem with full-scale human-rights abuses.

But what we found surprised us. 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.

Almost all the pro-human-rights countries agreed on the need for reform of the Council. But they refused to take a stand in public. Many encouraged us to remain on the Council because the United States, they said, provided the last shred of credibility the Human Rights Council had.

And that was precisely why we decided to leave. America should not lend any credibility to this cesspool of political hypocrisy and corruption.

The right to speak and worship freely, the right to determine your own future and to be treated equally under the law — these are sacred rights.

They are ours by virtue of our humanity, not by virtue of the country we were born in.

Americans take these rights seriously. Too seriously to allow them to be cheapened by an institution that falsely calls itself the Human Rights Council.

The United States must continue to fight for the protection of human rights and human dignity. That is who we are. But the fight cannot be ours alone.

If the U.N. General Assembly elects Costa Rica instead of Venezuela, we will know that a majority of the world’s countries agree.

Nikki Haley is the former governor of South Carolina and was the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations from 2017-2019.

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