Members of the United Nations Human Rights Council were visibly upset last week when one of its leaders criticized both Cuba and Venezuela’s governments. In his critique, the speaker insinuated that Cuba, already a member of the council, and Venezuela, currently applying to become a part of the Council, both violate human rights.
The leader of the Human Rights Foundation Thor Halvorssen explained to the council that his mother, in 2004, had been shot by Venezuelan security forces. He continued to state, “Through the Human Rights Foundation, which I founded and direct, I have carefully monitored the Venezuelan state and have established that its current government is among Latin America’s worst human rights violators.” According to Halvorssen, more than 150,000 people have been killed since Chavez took office in 1999. In response to Venezuela’s application into the council, he states, “To elect Venezuela would shame and embarrass this council, and would allow Venezuela to shield its horrendous record of abuse. Venezuela’s presence would also validate other authoritarian governments such as Syria, Iran and one that disgracefully sits on this council, Cuba.”
Cuban ambassador, Juan Antonio Quintanilla Roman, responded angrily to these accusations and demanded the chairman, Gulnara Iskakova of Kyrgyzstan, stop the proceedings. Roman continued to respond, “The speaker is out of line. It is possible to refer to human rights situations in this council, but one cannot question under any context the aspirations or hopes of states to become members of the Human Rights Council.”
Halvorssen was cautioned to proceed carefully by the chairperson, Iskakova. Halvorssen then resumed his statement by saying, “In December, four authoritarian governments, China, Cuba, Saudi Arabia and Russia will step down. You have a golden opportunity…” At this moment, his statement was interrupted and he was not allowed to continue. His prepared statement however reads, “You have a golden opportunity to prevent more human rights violators from soiling this council. Please block Venezuela’s bid and uphold your own standards.”