GENEVA, March 6, 2013 – The Geneva-based human rights monitoring group U.N. Watch criticized the chief United Nations human rights body for holding a rare minute of silence today for late Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez, saying that the Cuban-led praise (see below) was “excessive, uncustomary, and disrespectful of its own experts’ findings of gross and systematic human rights abuses committed by the Caracas government, and of testimony by Venezuelan victims whom UN Watch had brought before the Council.”
“Protocol did not require today’s ceremony,” said UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer, “and the world body must not forget that its founding purpose is to defend basic human rights. Sadly, that message is at serious risk of being blurred today.”
“Now should be a time for the UN to show solidarity with the victims — like Judge Maria Afiuni who was jailed and raped for the crime of releasing a political prisoner arbitrarily detained by Chavez — and not with the perpetrators.”
“Instead of praising an autocrat who persecuted his country’s independent judges, journalists, human rights activists and students — and who vocally supported mass murderers, tyrants and terrorists in Syria, Libya, and Iran — the U.N. should be apologizing for having just elected the Chavez regime to its human rights council, and it should begin to call for accountability, reform and an end to impunity in Venezuela,” said Neuer.
In its entire history, the human rights council refused to adopt a single resolution on Venezuelan abuses, even though UN Watch and other human rights groups had submitted to them a detailed draft resolution.
However, some of the council’s independent experts recently began to voice concerns about Venezuela’s arbitrary detentions and restrictions on free speech, independence of the judiciary, and opposition activity.
When China, Cuba, and Russia were forced to go off the council for the first time in January due to term limits, Venezuela was put in to represent their interests, such as by backing Syria.
The ambassador of Cuba — which has declared three days of mourning for its ally Chavez — led diplomats in Geneva in observing the minute’s silence, but it was the council chair who opened the session with condolences:
Swiss Ambassador Alexandre Fasel, a Council vice president, and chair of this morning’s session: “We express on behalf of the Council our condolences to the people and government of Venezuela at the death of Hugo Chavez.” (Video – see opening words, reiterated at end of speeches)
Cuban Ambassador Anayansi Rodriguez Camejo: (Video minute 1:06:36)
“It is with deep sorrow that our countries received the news of the painful passing away of Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela. [Council holds Minute of Silence.] On behalf of the Latin American and Caribbean states, we wish to express our deep solidarity with the people and government of Venezuela, particularly the family members and friends of Commandante Chavez. Our deepest solidarity lies with our brother republic. It is very difficult to take in this terrible event. He is respected and admired worldwide. Even his political adversaries wished to see him restored to good health. Chavez has not died, those who die for life can never die. He sparked the Bolivarian revolution to struggle for true Latin American and Caribbean integration. Chavez was key in Latin America’s advance towards its second independence. He worked tirelessly not only for his people, but for the betterment of the nations of Latin America and the Caribbean. Under his leadership, Venezuela reached the peak of its history. He eradicated illiteracy, democratized education, increased minimum wage. Chavez has not died, he didn’t enter history yesterday, he entered history a decade ago when he began the Bolivarian Revolution and the struggle for real Latin American integration.He will always remain present among us.”
- Bolivia: “We are overwhelmed with sorrow for the loss of our cherished leader, Hugo Chavez. Particularly the ALBA countries are sorrowed because we lost a statesman whose actions went beyond his land. He is a symbol of the struggle for equity.”
Venezuela: “Our delegation on behalf of the people and government of Venezuela want to thank the delegations who have expressed their solidarity and condolences. We really do cherish what we’ve heard, the tribute and homage to Hugo Chavez. We are opening up a book of condolences so you can write down your expressions of solidarity.”