Turmoil in Geneva over Venezuela as U.N. official criticizes rights record

President Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela holding a small copy his country’s constitution as he spoke to the U.N. Human Rights Council Thursday.
President Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela holding a small copy his country’s constitution as he spoke to the U.N. Human Rights Council Thursday. McClatchy

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro told the U.N. Human Rights Council Thursday that the Miami-based commander of U.S. troops in Latin America, Marine Gen. John Kelly, was fanning tensions in his country and posed a threat.

In a 40-minute presentation, Maduro told the 47-member council that Kelly has said “Venezuela was going to implode politically, socially, and he issued a series of statements that clearly come from a general of the U.S. army . . . These are not just thoughts of his, these are mandates, these are attacks, these are threats.”

He accused the United States of trying to imposed its agenda internationally. “We are dissidents to those who want to impose one vision of the world,” he said.

The U.S. delegation to the council denounced Maduro’s comments. “The Venezuelan president’s address today was a transparent attempt to use the U.N. Human Rights Council to shift attention away from his government’s own actions to restrict fundamental freedoms of peaceful assembly, association, and expression, particularly just before important national elections,” the U.S. delegation said in an unsigned statement. “This is an affront to a council whose sole purpose is to protect and promote human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

It is hardly the first time Maduro, whose party is facing a close parliamentary election in three weeks, has accused the United States of fomenting unrest. Earlier this year, he said the United States was behind an alleged coup plot that included the planned bombing of the presidential palace. He ordered the arrest of 11 people, including a former air force general. The United States denied that it had plotted Maduro’s overthrow.

Maduro was in Geneva in part to thank delegations that recently vote in the U.N. General Assembly to give Venezuela another three-year term on the council, despite accusations by human rights groups that Venezuela had a poor record on human rights.

Reflecting these concerns, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein expressed “serious concerns” about Venezuela’s record in a brief video message that was played on two large screens for the council ahead of Maduro’s speech.

Zeid questioned “the independence of the judiciary of Venezuela, the impartiality of judges and prosecutors and the pressures they face in handling politically sensitive cases.”

Zeid also expressed his concerns “about intimidation, threats and attacks against journalists, human rights defenders and lawyers.”

Maduro dismissed Zeid’s remarks. “This it not the first time that a civil servant has sent audacious accusations taken from the agendas of global harassment, imperialist attack against the Bolivarian Republic,” Maduro said.

Later, Venezuela filed a formal complaint with the council, saying the video had not shown Maduro proper respect. “We are of the view that all heads of state and government – without exception – need to be respected accordingly, and in line to the principle of sovereign equality among states.”

Rupert Colville, Zeid’s spokesman, had no comment to the criticism.

Zarocostas is a McClatchy special correspondent.