Target: United Nations General Assembly
Goal: Ensure Venezuela does not become a member of the UN Human Rights Council while continuing to disregard the protection of human rights within its own borders
As a member state of the United Nations, Venezuela has the right to announce candidacy for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council. Members of the Human Rights Council, as noted in a resolution of the UN General Assembly, are called to “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights.” Venezuela, a country ripe with human rights injustices and blatant disregard for the rule of law, should not be allowed to hold this seat without first addressing the many issues of oppression at home. Call upon the UN General Assembly to ensure that Venezuela—whether elected to the Human Rights Council or not—uphold its obligations under international law and respect the rights of its citizens.
Freedom of speech and expression—specifically freedom of the media—is one of these essential rights under fire. Under Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, the state has far exceeded its jurisdiction in its handling of media institutions. Desacato laws allow the government to shut down any TV or radio stations it deems to be “foment[ing] anxiety in the public” or showing a lack of respect towards high government leaders. In addition, the government is working to reduce the ability of those media organizations that criticize the state to reach their audiences through sanctions and censorship. As a result, many journalists and broadcasters have had to self-censor, leading to a general population that stays quiet in the face of government oppression for fear of negative reprisals.
An independent judicial branch—another staple of a human rights-focused nation—is in jeopardy as well. The members of the Venezuelan Supreme Court have blatantly rejected the separation of powers and committed themselves to the promotion of President Chávez’s political agenda. For example, Judge María Lourdes Afiuni granted conditional liberty to a critic of Chávez’s government. The ruling—in line with UN recommendations and Venezuelan law—earned Judge Afiuni house arrest and a forthcoming trial. Her only crime was not succumbing to Chávez’s whims; the president wanted the critic in question to face 30 years in prison. The tragic result has been a judicial system that fears stepping out of line with a government that will imprison those who disagree.
Clearly, Venezuela has a long way to go before it is in conformance with international standards for human rights. Call upon the UN General Assembly to ensure that Venezuela—if it is to be a member of the Human Rights Council, and especially if it is to hold a seat—adheres to international human rights norms.
Dear United Nations General Assembly,
The recent candidacy of Venezuela for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council calls into question the expected standards of those nations claiming to be of the Council’s membership. Venezuela has a history of disregarding human rights standards and obligations under international law and so must not be allowed to hold a seat without first rectifying these issues.
For example, Venezuela under President Hugo Chávez has all but crippled freedom of the media. The government overreaches its jurisdiction on a regular basis, imposing sanctions and censorships upon any media institution that expresses criticism of the state. Desacato laws have frightened anyone who would publicly speak out against the government by criminalizing any disrespect of high government leaders. As a result, journalists and broadcasters are forced to self-censor, staying silent on important issues.
The overt lack of an independent judicial system is another example of Venezuela’s human rights failings. The Supreme Court has publicly declared itself to be a proponent of President Chávez’s political agenda. A judge that contradicted Chávez’s wishes faced house arrest and will have to appear in a trial at a forthcoming date. The judicial system, as a result, is crippled by fear of negative reprisals.
As the General Assembly of the United Nations, you have the ability to ensure that a nation rampant with human rights infractions does not sit on the Human Rights Council. I appreciate your attention to this important issue.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: Rob Young