Between June 21 and June 28, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, addressed the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on major setbacks on human rights taking place in a number of different countries, including several in Latin America. “To recover from the biggest and most serious setbacks in human rights that we have ever seen, we must have a life-changing vision and concerted action to put it into practice,” Bachelet told members of the Human Rights Council in the first week of three of the 47th session of the UNHRC.
The High Commissioner is almost right. Almost.
There are violations of human rights in Mexico, Colombia and Nicaragua. And much worse in Venezuela and Iran, which perpetrated the horrible bombings of the Israeli Embassy in Argentina 25 years ago and the AMIA bombing 27 years ago, and still today justice has not been served in both cases. But it is very curious that the High Commissioner puts every tragedy in one bag.
Venezuela has been a dictatorship for more than two decades and has created (according to U.N. information) the second largest humanitarian crisis in the world in the last ten years after Syria, which has the first place. More than 5 million Venezuelans have fled from their country due to misery, poverty and ongoing violations of human rights. What has any U.N. High Commissioner, including the present one, done to stop the ongoing tragedy in Venezuela, except for an isolated speech here and there against the Venezuelan leader, Nicolas Maduro? Selectivity in human rights violations is a major setback of effectiveness and fairness in the UNHRC.
Bachelet is alarmed at the “high level of political violence” during the campaign for the Mexican legislative elections held at the beginning of June. “At least 91 politicians and party members, including 36 electoral candidates, were assassinated during the electoral period that began in September 2020,” Bachelet said. It is unfortunately certain and reprehensible. But like it or not, Mexico is not Venezuela. Mexico is a democracy with flaws, but a democratic country for more than a century.
Bachelet also addressed the wave of anti-government protests that broke out at the end of April in Colombia. "My office has expressed grave concern over allegations of serious human rights violations by the security forces,” she said.
Yes, there were riots in the streets and there were 59 civilians and two policemen dead. Riots were not peaceful as the High Commissioner said, and Colombia, which is a democracy, after several days of violence, addressed the confrontation and installed a negotiating table between the government and the leaders of the riots. Nothing even similar could take place in Venezuela or Iran, so, again, it is a very harmful mistake to put everything in one basket.
Bachelet also stressed that in Colombia, “although the majority of demonstrations were peaceful, there were some episodes of violence” and encouraged “dialogue to resolve the crisis.” Dialogue is what is going on these days, something that is unthinkable not only in Venezuela but also in Nicaragua. Colombian President Duque suffered an attack against his helicopter when he was on an official mission with his closest aides on June 29, but even this very serious incident did not stop the negotiations with the civil society to keep the democratic dialogue in Colombia.
Daniel Ortega, the Nicaraguan dictator, has decided to have elections by the end of this year but in the meantime, he is sending every possible candidate to jail, and other candidates have fled the country due to the persecution. Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, fear defeat in November. Although he still leads the Sandinista party, rather than adhere to its socialist past, Ortega has, since 2007, ruled with nepotism and dynastic pretensions. While taking control of the legislature, the judiciary and the electoral authority and muzzling the media, he kept support among the poor with social programs paid for by Venezuela. When this dried up, austerity prompted a national uprising in 2018 and more than 300 people were murdered. Will the Ortegas get away with this? The Organization of American States (OAS) has condemned the persecution of political leaders. Bachelet has also condemned the farce of an election the Ortegas are preparing, but at the end of the day, Nicaragua and Venezuela receive condemnations and sanctions, but stay still because Iran or some big powers, and sometimes both together, help these rogue dictatorships to stay in power and of course, for Iran, Venezuela is a “democratic friend.”
Why did we write in the beginning of this article that the High Commissioner is “almost right” when she speaks out about violation of human rights all over the world? Mixing riots in democratic countries with crimes in dictatorships is not a fair way to expose the weak and poor situation of human rights. We fully agree that from the Office of the High Commissioner, violations of human rights are denounced. But it is far from enough to selectively denounce human rights violations.
Serial human rights abusers in Latin American can say with high hypocrisy that the allegations against their governments are “illegal interference in their internal affairs,” but the truth of the matter is that the allegations show the unacceptable and cruel reality their people are suffering.
What the U.N. and the High Commissioner can't forget is that terrorism must be strongly condemned, and the fact that there was no mention of the terrorist attacks with rockets from Hamas to the Israeli civilians in the most recent conflict, was a dangerous form of incitement. Worse, there was a rude comment from the High Commissioner against the “Israeli disproportionate use of force.”
These are the U.N. attitudes and comments that erodes, day after day, the credibility of this international U.N. agency. Why is the High Commissioner loud and clear with some dictatorships, but when Israel is defending its citizens from a terrorist attack, the disproportion comes from the attacked country and not from the aggressor?
This narrative harms the necessary credibility that the international agencies must have to combat the evil of dictatorships violating human rights. Venezuela, Nicaragua, Iran, all of them are aware that there can be investigations and speeches about their regimes, but at the same time, they are also aware that after the speeches and maybe some sanctions, they will keep their power fully. Without credibility and trust, the future will be more and more speeches, no real sanctions and more impunity.
According to announcements, the Palestinians will put off the legislative elections originally planned to take place on May 22, followed by presidential elections on July 31. These would have been the first national elections to take place in the Palestinian territories since 2006. The 2006 elections led to an unstable unity government. In 2007, civil war broke out between Hamas and Fatah. After a bloody struggle that left hundreds dead, Hamas expelled Fatah from Gaza to the West Bank.
When the widely unpopular Abbas issued a formal decree ordering the elections in mid-January this year, many observers believed he was just trying to find some path to strengthen his legitimacy and stay in power.
Close Abbas advisers such as Hussein al-Sheikh, Majid Faraj and the wealthy businessman Nabil Shaath were said to oppose the move from the beginning because they fear that there are many inside Fatah and, of course, from Hamas that would take the opportunity to take all the Abbas team and proxies down.
Now that the elections will most likely be postponed, who is being blamed? Of course, Israel. The real problem is that Abbas firmly believed he could control the vote in May and July, but when a short time ago the convicted murderer Marwan Barghouti said that he would participate, “whatever it takes,” even from his cell, Abbas and his team started thinking that they could have a civil war rather than an election.
Abbas’s justification for delaying the election is based on the symbolic status of East Jerusalem. The Palestinians insist that an election cannot happen if Jerusalem is not included. The Oslo Accords stipulate that a symbolic number of Palestinians can vote at designated post offices. The other 150,000 would vote at ballot boxes in the West Bank.
Let's see what may happen if there are elections, and what the reaction in the international community will be.
Abbas is corrupt and his administration has no popularity in the West Bank. But he has managed to stay in power and tries to use doublespeak to move forward. On one hand he says he wants peace, on the other hand he does not sit at the negotiating table and endorses terrorism, paying great amounts of money to those terrorists who kill Israeli civilians.
Marwan Barghouti wants to take power. He believes he can get out of jail and become the new Palestinian President. But who is Barghouti? He planned and executed several massacres of Israeli civilians. He organized the killing of Georgios Tsibouktzakis, a Greek priest in Ma'ale Adumim, and killed Israeli civilians; he directed a massacre in the Seafood Market in Tel Aviv, killing Israeli civilians; he sent suicide bombers to the Malha Mall; he planned and executed 33 attacks which murdered 21 people. This is Barghouti. This is the murderer who challenges Abbas and wants to lead the PA.
Researchers from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy have noted in a special report that the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) have nominated candidates with criminal records, and Hamas has nominated other criminals who should be in prison for life instead of candidates in an election. Two examples are:
Jamal Muhammad Farah al-Tawil, a Hamas commander in the West Bank who planned multiple suicide bombings, including a 2001 car bombing in a Jerusalem pedestrian mall that killed 12 Israelis and wounded nearly 200.
Jamal Abd al-Shamal Abu Hija, who was arrested in 2002 and sentenced to nine life sentences for involvement in at least six bombings, including the 2002 Meron Junction attack in north Israel that killed nine and the 2001 Sbarro pizzeria bombing in Jerusalem that killed 15. He is also on the Hamas electoral list.
If relations between the Palestinians and the international community are based on the Palestinian commitment to nonviolence, the recognition of Israel and the acceptance of agreements, it is time to ask if the international silence is because they endorse criminals as possible leaders of the PA or if they will decide once and forever to repudiate the electoral participation of these convicted terrorists.
In this context, Abbas feels comfortable to claim there is no possibility of elections due to the restrictions in Jerusalem. It is false, but the international community sometimes has a tendency to accept these kinds of statements from Abbas. We can watch it in every U.N. agency meeting all the time. Less than a month ago, in the United Nations Union Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva, Israel was vandalized by a resolution saying that Israel is guilty of “war crimes.” European and Latin American countries did not hesitate to vote such atrocity.
When are they going to face the reality of corruption in the PA, whose leaders stole vaccines two months ago, which were sent for medical doctors but were used to vaccinate the ruling officers during the tragedy caused by the pandemic?
When are they going to understand that candidates to lead a Palestinian State can be criminals like Barghouti or al-Tawil?
When will the international community, those who believe in real peace, stop harassing Israel in the U.N. agencies and push both Israelis and Palestinians to discuss face to face through a negotiating table?
When is the international community going to understand that corruption and criminals are not the solution for the Palestinian future? The Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco, Sudan, Egypt and Jordan have business and diplomatic relations with Israel. The Palestinian narrative boasting that no Arab country can have peace with Israel without a solution between them and the Israelis is obsolete.
The European and Latin American countries which insulted Israel in the UNHRC last month should react. And the great democracies too.
On Dec. 2, 2020, the Organization of American States (OAS) Secretary General Luis Almagro and OAS Special Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect Jared Genser released a report that reaffirms that there is a reasonable basis to conclude the regime of President Nicolás Maduro has been committing crimes against humanity in Venezuela since Feb. 12, 2014 and condemned the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) for inaction in the face of these crimes.
The new document notes that, since the publication of the original 2018 report, the crimes against humanity in Venezuela have increased in scale, scope and severity as the country faces a humanitarian crisis caused by unprecedented political and economic turmoil, along with food and medical shortages. Drawing on the work of the U.N. Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Venezuela, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, NGOs, independent scholars and other credible sources, the new report paints a vivid portrait of a Venezuela wracked by state-sponsored violence and in the throes of a humanitarian disaster.
Among other findings, the report identifies 18,093 extrajudicial executions carried out by state security forces since 2014, and that tens of millions of people have suffered or been subjected to serious injury due to the ongoing humanitarian crisis created by the regime. This includes reports, such as one by the United Nations, which found 7 million people in need and more than 100,000 children under the age of 5 affected by severe acute malnutrition. There have been outbreaks of measles, diphtheria and malaria, the highest in Latin America, with almost 1,000 reportedly dead because of a lack of anti-malaria medication.
The report identifies enforced disappearances in 2018 and 2019, documented cases of torture since 2014, and that rape and sexual violence have been weaponized by the regime, including as a method of torture.
The report highlights the failure of the Prosecutor of the ICC Fatou Bensouda (the prosecutor that has decided that there is a “Palestinian State” according to International Law and accused Israel of “war crimes”) to conduct her preliminary examination expeditiously and to open an investigation despite overwhelming evidence of crimes within the court’s jurisdiction.
The OAS report recommends the prosecutor proceed as rapidly as possible to open an investigation into the situation in Venezuela and, in the meantime, has requested immediate, full and open access to Venezuela, issued a detailed public statement about the deteriorating situation in Venezuela, and highlighted the true scope and severity of the situation in Venezuela in the forthcoming “2020 Report on Preliminary Examination Activities.” Bensouda has never responded.
The report also presents actions by the Maduro regime that have facilitated and prolonged Venezuela’s worsening humanitarian disaster.
Government institutions, including the security forces and the Judiciary, have been used as weapons against citizens. For the people of Venezuela, the rule of law domestically no longer exists. For members of the regime, the State empowers them to operate with total impunity. The pursuit of international justice is the only recourse left.
The secretary general of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, said “the Venezuelan regime has been allowed to operate with impunity. Every day of inaction from the international community increases the suffering of the Venezuela people. We call on the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to take action and show the world that crimes against humanity will not go unpunished.” But Bensouda did not listen.
Jared Genser, OAS special adviser on the responsibility to protect wrote: “It is therefore as inexplicable as it is shocking that after almost three years examining the situation, Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has still failed to even open an investigation into the alleged crimes.”
Bensouda began investigating the Venezuela case in February 2018 and, in the nearly three years since, has only completed two of four stages of her “preliminary examination.” Instead, contrary to her office’s stated goals of promoting prevention, deterrence and putting perpetrators on notice, she has failed to act, as she has repeatedly done in other cases. As a result, the regime has been emboldened to commit more crimes in the belief it can act with impunity.
“Crimes Against Humanity” are defined in Article 7 of the Rome Statute, which established the International Criminal Court, as the crimes specified there on the condition that they were “committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against a civilian population with knowledge of the attack.”
Venezuela signed and ratified the Rome Statute and, as a result, the International Criminal Court has jurisdiction over any crimes committed in the territory of Venezuela or by Venezuelan nationals since July 1, 2002.
Maduro and his proxies have felt that the inaction of the ICC and the world’s silence backed the regime to move forward in its alliance with Iran and the terrorists of Hezbollah. Most experts on Hezbollah in Latin America have concluded that it is primarily raising money, particularly in the tri-border area of Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil, through all sorts of illicit commercial activities—money that’s increasingly needed as Iran, as a result of sanctions and low oil prices, has less money available to subsidize its proxies worldwide.
The fact that Hezbollah has freedom to operate in Venezuela makes it presumably easier for its operatives to travel around Latin America. Iranian friendships in Latin America, particularly in Caracas, have facilitated Hezbollah’s presence in the Western Hemisphere, as well as that of Iranian officials who coordinate Hezbollah operations.
The Venezuelan regime is also a drug-trafficking organization. It not only harbors Colombian guerillas, but also meaningfully benefits from its role in the shipment of cocaine from South America abroad, including to the United States and Europe. In March 2020, the Justice Department indicted Maduro and other top-ranking officials for coordinating the transport of cocaine with Columbia’s FARC guerrillas. Two nephews of Maduro are in prison in the United States for their role in the export of cocaine. The Treasury Department has repeatedly designated senior officials—including Tarek El Aissami, the former vice president of Venezuela—as major drug dealers.
The pandemic has not changed the starvation, malnutrition, poverty and the violation of human rights. On the contrary, things are worse, and the 5.4 million Venezuelans that have fled in recent years to the United States and mostly to Colombia, Brazil, Peru, Chile, Argentina and Uruguay are increasing dramatically. According to experts, by the end of 2021 the number of Venezuelan refugees will rise to more than 6 million, outnumbering Syrian refugees.
On Feb. 22 the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) will start its forty-sixth regular session. Another round of shame will be the main input. Among the shameful behavior of the UNHRC, there will be another litany of alleged “resolutions” against Israel based in outrageous item 7. Venezuela today and for another year will be a member of the UNHRC. Venezuela will vote and speak against Israel, as other dictatorships like Cuba will do. Maduro will have the floor of the UNHRC. And Venezuela and the other dictatorships that are members of the UNHRC will again feel that the current hypocritical international system is protecting them.
History shows that impunity of dictators does not last forever. But meanwhile, millions of people keep suffering brutally and needlessly. It is the case of Venezuela, the dictatorship that enjoys the silence of the ICC Prosecutor and shameful UNHRC, which has no limits to hosting human rights abusers as full members.
In this last month of the year, the United Nations General Assembly established that “Israel must renounce to have nuclear weapons” in a vote of 153 for, 6 against and 25 abstentions.
Israel was asked not “to develop, produce, test or buy nuclear weapons.” Israel was also asked to “renounce possession of nuclear weapons and to submit all its nuclear facilities without safeguards to the U.N. requested safeguards as a step forward toward trust among the States in the region and as a step forward to improve peace and security.”
The U.N. presumes that Israel is one of the nine nuclear powers of the world, but Israel has never admitted any possession of nuclear weapons and nobody has ever demonstrated that the U.N.’s presumption is true. There are eight countries which are recognized as nuclear powers; five of them – China, France, Russia, United Kingdom and United States – have signed the Treaty of Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. India, North Korea and Pakistan have not signed the Treaty but have admitted having, and testing, nuclear weapons.
Those 153 countries voting “for” decided to make an exclusive call to Israel, asking Israel to sign the treaty under the accusation of “the risk of nuclear proliferation in Middle East.” The resolution is part of two U.N. packages. One, asking all the world globally and generally for a nuclear dismantling, but singling out by name only Israel. The other package is the endless litany of more then 20 resolutions per year singling out only one country: Israel. Meanwhile, chemical weapons can be used in Syria, millions of civilians are displaced by the Venezuelan dictatorship creating a hunger crisis in the region, the extent of which has never been known before; and except for useless reports which nobody pays attention, the U.N. agencies are not interested in such tragedies.
There were some more-than-disconcerting votes on these resolutions. While Egypt, Jordan, and the UAE (which have peace treaties with Israel) were among the sponsors of the resolutions, there are differing interpretations as to why — not the least of which is the need to play to a broader Arab constituency.
Perhaps more alarming were the abstentions of 15 European countries, Australia and some African countries. It is unacceptable that all Latin America voted for the resolution, with only Panama abstaining. It is a very serious mistake that Latin America, hidden under the alleged umbrella called GRULAC (Latin American Group) voted almost unanimously against Israel in such a sensitive question as nuclear weapons. It is indeed odd that Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Chile, Costa Rica, Paraguay or Uruguay voted together with Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua and Bolivia. No U.N. resolution supported by Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, Bolivia should ever be shared by democracies.
But the U.N. obsession with Israel is not new. The language about nuclear weapons, and presuming that Israel has those weapons, is the same for more than 30 years. Such a resolution was voted in 2019, and in 2018, and so on. Meanwhile the countries with nuclear weapons have increased their capabilities. North Korea has openly shown it is increasing its arsenal, and no resolution has come to the table. The United Nations General Assembly wants to show by these votes that the only danger in the Middle East and beyond is Israel.
Iran signed an agreement about the nuclear weapons that the Ayatollah´s regime wants and does not have yet. Iran regularly lies to the U.N. and to the International Atomic Energy Agency. Iran uses the U.N. stages to threaten Israel and to “promise” the destruction of Israel. The U.N. GA has never discussed the behavior and threats of Iran when once a year the almost 200 countries “discuss” the “dangers” in the Middle East.
The changes in the resolution about nuclear weapons in the last three decades have been ideological, but no country has even tried to show real concern for the main issue: nuclear advances put all the planet in danger. The resolution was not obsessed with Israel 30 years ago. And at that time, all of Latin America, without exception, abstained. But today Venezuela, as a Latin America host of Iran and Hezbollah, opens the windows of danger everyday.
Early Dec. 2nd, in one of the sessions with five votes against Israel, Latin America showed how its votes have changed in the last decade or so. And it happened almost all this year and will likely repeat in the next year.
How is Latin America divided today vis a vis Israel in U.N. agencies? Brazil, Colombia, Honduras and Guatemala are with Israel. Their governments do not believe in the litany of charges against Israel or in the harassment of Israel. Panama, Peru, Paraguay and Uruguay are abstaining in most of the resolutions and mainly in those that support the Palestinian offices which get a great amount of funds and use them to incite hatred instead of solving the problems of the Palestinian people. And the rest: Chile, Argentina, Mexico, Costa Rica? Some time they could abstain but in general, sadly, they vote together with Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, Iran and North Korea.
Maybe these Latin American democracies voting together with dictatorships against Israel believe that they may have sometimes some political or economic benefit. But these votes, irrelevant and noisy as they usually are, stay on the record and are well registered. And there are stains that can't be cleaned. As simple as that.
In the last days of June, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) decided to discuss and vote on “issues linked to human rights violations”. However, the council did not say a word about violations to human dignity and human freedom in Venezuela, Zimbabwe, Pakistan, Somalia, Argelia, Turkey, Russia, China or Iraq.
The UNHRC passed very soft and useless resolutions on North Korea, Myanmar, Libya, Syria and Iran. These will be forgotten soon.
Ignoring the egregious human rights violations of countless other countries, the UNHRC devoted most of its attention to one single country: Israel. The council passed five resolutions on Israel; one on Friday, June 19, and four on Monday, June 22.
This situation is not new. Unfortunately, it will happen again in the short-, mid- and long-term. This council is not doing anything different than its predecessor, the Human Rights Commission. In fact, it is worse. It has among its members the worst human rights abusers in modern times, and the council gives those countries the power to condemn democracies.
Last June 19th, the council decided to discuss one resolution against Israel. Some years ago, the council’s resolution used to focus on settlements; some short time ago, the council added to it the boycott of products made by Palestinian workers in Israeli factories. The goal of the resolution is to punish Israeli factories, but what would really be doing (if their resolutions were not toothless) would be leaving thousands of Palestinians unemployed.
Who cares that Palestinians become unemployed if the council can score points with a shameful resolution that attacks Israel? Almost nobody cares. The Palestinian Authority does not care; they promote the resolution. The “international community”?. It would be great to know what the term really means. What about the council, the high commissioner? Worst. The council is following dangerous paths on Israeliphobia and the high commissioner – believe it or not - has agreed to make a list of Israeli businesses which should be boycotted.
The resolution (not binding) passed with less votes than the Palestinians hoped. But there was more: the council decided to ask the high commissioner to present a full report on Israeli settlements…in March 2021. At a time when nobody in the world has a real idea when the pandemic and its consequences may end, in times of world economic recession and world unemployment, we can be sure that the UNHRC will ask for a useless report in nine months’ time.
The resolution had 22 votes in favor (which is less than half of the 47 members of the body), 8 votes against and 17 abstentions.
The Latin American members of the council overwhelmingly voted to unjustly condemn Israel.
Among the council’s 8 votes against the resolution, the only Latin American country included was Brazil.
The Bahamas and Uruguay abstained.
Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela voted for the resolution.
What are Argentina, Chile, Mexico and Peru thinking when they vote with undemocratic human rights violators like Qatar, Somalia, Eritrea, Sudan and, of course, Venezuela? That they are helping to achieve peace? That they are delivering a message of sanity to the Middle East? That they are really supporting and helping the Palestinian people? How is it possible that they do not see that pushing for boycotting Israeli products made by Palestinian workers is exactly the opposite of working towards peace?
Israeli Ambassador Aviva Raz Schechter was very clear: “This Council has an item which has been exclusively designed to condemn one state. Item 7 is a systematic mechanism of discrimination against Israel which is a feeling that is deeply rooted in the culture of this Council and several of its members. Let´s call Item 7 by its real name: it is the item of institutionalized antisemitism.”
Not one Latin American country answered the Israeli ambassador. Australia and the Czech Republic loudly and clearly rejected Item 7and the litany of votes against Israel.
Venezuela is ruled by a dictatorship which allies itself with Iran, violates human rights and has created a health turmoil in the region. We can expect nothing from such a regime, especially because it is also institutionally anti-Semitic. However, it is unacceptable that democracies join dictatorships and human rights abusers to single out Israel.
But it happens all the time in the U.N. agencies. It is time for those democracies to decide on which side of history they want to stand, because they can´t be in two places at the same time. If they keep standing together with Venezuela, Qatar, Somalia and others, it will be very difficult to see what differentiates these democracies from noted human rights violators.
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