By Stefano Pozzebon, CNN
Venezuela has lost its seat on the United Nations Council of Human Rights — a development hailed on Tuesday by activists and human rights defenders in Venezuela as cause for celebration.
The Council, a 47-member multilateral body, is tasked with promoting human rights and addressing abuses around the world, though it has come under criticism for allowing the participation of countries with spotty human rights records, including China, Cuba, Saudi Arabia and Russia (Moscow was suspended from the council following its invasion of Ukraine in February.)
The Venezuelan government, which has been accused of committing crimes against humanity, had held a seat in the council since 2019. It did not react after it failed to be reelected on Tuesday. The result however was a symbolic victory for opponents of leader Nicolas Maduro and for human rights activists in Venezuela.
“This vote is a clear message to the government that they need to comply with their international responsibilities when it comes to human rights. Council members aim to promote human rights at home and internationally, and it’s something Venezuela, well, doesn’t do,” said Victoria Capriles, director at the Metropolitan University Human Rights Center in Caracas.
Andreina Baduel, whose father, prominent dissident and retired General Raul Baduel, died of Covid while imprisoned in Caracas last year for allegedly conspiring against Maduro, told CNN she welcomed the vote result.
“This result is a statement for truth, and the truth is that Venezuela violates human rights and the world knows it. It’s a relief in our never-ending fight for justice and liberty,” she said.
Venezuela was competing against Chile and Costa Rica for two seats allocated to Latin American countries, and came in third with 88 votes. Chile and Costa Rica won 144 and 134 votes respectively.
Miguel Pizarro, who represents Venezuela’s political opposition at the UN, told CNN that the lost seat meant criticisms of Maduro’s regime had finally been heard.
“This result comes thanks to the diplomatic efforts and the denunciation of human rights abuse in Venezuela. Victims and NGOs have worked constantly to obtain this result.”
‘The only barrier’
Critics have questioned the effectiveness of the Council, which cannot prosecute human rights violators. Still, many activists and victims see it as a key to expanding human rights around the world. And the Council-mandated investigations and awareness raising measures can lead to enforcement by other bodies, such as the International Criminal Court.
“What is happening in Venezuela is that the crisis has been normalized: human rights abuse has not stopped, it’s just not news anymore, and in front of this normalization, the only barrier is the work of multilateral bodies like the Council,” said Rafael Uzcategui, director of the human rights organization Provea in Caracas.
The Venezuelan government has found itself more and more isolated on the international stage since 2019, when Maduro won another six-year term in an election widely panned as a sham by the international community.
In part to improve its reputation, the government has allowed international bodies like the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights — an investigative office separate from the Council — to visit Venezuela and investigate alleged abuse.
According to Provea, documented extra-judicial executions at the hands of security forces fell by 50% between 2020 and 2021, but still accounted for 1,502 killings last year
Meanwhile, more than 200 Venezuelans remain in jail for political reasons, according to Foro Penal, an association of lawyers who provide legal assistance to activists and victims in Caracas.
An investigation set up by the Council in 2019, the International Fact-Finding Mission on Venezuela, last month published a report documenting alleged crimes against humanity, including acts of torture committed by the Venezuelan security forces, though it also recognizes efforts from the Venezuelan judiciary system to bring those perpetrators to account.
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Reporting contributed by CNN’s Richard Roth in New York.