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(New York) – Venezuela’s brutal crackdown on dissent, and its failure to tackle a humanitarian emergency that is largely of its own making, gives rise to serious concerns about its fitness as a candidate for the United Nations Human Rights Council, a coalition of 54 international and Venezuelan organizations said today.

On October 17, 2019, the UN General Assembly will elect 14 new members of the 47-nation Human Rights Council for a three-year term beginning in January 2020. Until October 3, the Latin American and Caribbean regional group at the UN had put forward only two candidates for two council seats – Venezuela and Brazil, virtually assuring them both of victory. But on October 3, Costa Rica announced that it would compete for one of the two seats. Now members of the 193-nation General Assembly have an opportunity to deny a seat to Venezuela’s abusive government.

“The idea that Venezuela could get a seat on the world’s top human rights body has set off alarm bells,” said Louis Charbonneau, UN director at Human Rights Watch. “Human Rights Council members are supposed to respect rights at home and cooperate with UN bodies, but Venezuela does neither. Electing Venezuela would undermine the integrity of the Human Rights Council.”

In July, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a damning report on Venezuela. That report echoed the alarming findings of Venezuelan and international human rights organizations about numerous serious human rights violations by the government, including arbitrary arrests, torture, extrajudicial executions, and violations of the rights to food and health. These abuses have caused more than four million Venezuelans to flee the country.

UN General Assembly Resolution 60/251, which created the Human Rights Council, urges UN member states voting for prospective members to “take into account the contribution of candidates to the promotion and protection of human rights.” This applies to candidates’ efforts to promote and protect human rights in their own countries and abroad. Members of the Human Rights Council are required to “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights” and to “fully cooperate with the Council.”

“Venezuela has a long record of attempting to frustrate efforts by the Human Rights Council to tackle serious human rights violations,” the groups said in their statement.

In light of Costa Rica’s last-minute decision to join the election in an attempt to defeat Venezuela, Human Rights Watch has urged UN member countries not to vote for Venezuela.

In September, the Human Rights Council passed a resolution establishing an independent fact-finding mission to investigate allegations of extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests, torture, and other cruel or degrading treatment committed in Venezuela since 2014. Venezuela has already rejected that resolution.

The Human Rights Council was created in 2006 to replace the Human Rights Commission, whose credibility had been shattered in large part because of the participation of countries with records of serious, unaddressed human rights violations. In the interest of safeguarding the integrity of the Human Rights Council and fulfilling the vision of its creators, the coalition urges delegates to the UN General Assembly to apply the membership criteria from its own resolution when casting their secret ballots on October 17. Venezuela clearly falls far short of those standards, they said.

“Seats on important UN bodies like the Human Rights Council shouldn’t be the subject of horse trading,” said Charbonneau. “Other candidates have worrying rights records, but Venezuela is in an abusive league of its own and shouldn’t get to use a Human Rights Council seat to deflect attention from its abysmal rights record.”

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