Venezuela declares Swiss diplomat 'persona non grata' after his defense of UN Watch-led protests

Upon learning of the impending visit of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to the United Nations Human Rights Council in November 2015, UN Watch organized a press conference, a joint appeal to governments to not attend the one-sided, self-aggrandizing monologue which was bound to ensue, and a protest rally.
These actions, along with reproachful words from both the then-President of the Human Rights Council and the High Commissioner for Human Rights in introductions given before Maduro’s speech, caused such displeasure in the Venezuelan government that the Swiss ambassador was banished from Caracas.

Read the full story in two reports below: (1) from, translated from the original Spanish; and from Swiss Radio, translated from the original German.


Venezuela declaró persona non grata a diplomático suizo, por Reyes Theis

 Venezuela Declares Swiss Diplomat Persona Non-Grata

 February 25, 2015

By Reyes Theis

Swiss diplomat Benedict De Cerjat unexpectedly had to leave the country as the Venezuelan government declared him persona non grata due to an incident that began in November 2015 when President Nicolas Maduro visited Switzerland.  Three weeks before parliamentary elections on December 6, Maduro traveled to Geneva, Switzerland. He had requested a special session at the Human Rights Council of the United Nations, of which Venezuela is a member, to explain the country’s “progress” in this sector. His wife, Cilia Flores, and members of his government accompanied him and he was greeted at the airport by Jorge Valero, Ambassador of Venezuela.
Maduro’s exposure did not escape controversy. UN Watch, a nongovernmental human rights group based in Geneva, commented on the matter: “By giving a special forum to the authoritarian ruler of Venezuela at the largest human rights body in the world – where no questions can be asked, or voices of dissent heard, – the UN creates a dangerous slippery slope. It is only a matter of time now before Turkey’s Erdogan, Assad of Syria and Kim Jong-Un from North Korea and other dictators start requesting the same global podium, which they can otherwise only get each September in New York. The Human Rights Council is responsible for becoming ridiculed at that time,” said Hillel Neuer, Executive Director of the NGO.
Maduro’s speech had to overcome strong resistance. According to UN Watch, a group of diplomats led by a German representative tried to oppose Maduro’s request to avoid “possible negative perceptions” linked to impending Venezuelan elections.
But aside from Maduro’s entourage, other Venezuelans were present in Geneva. Julieta Lopez, aunt of Leopoldo Lopez and student leader Eusebio Costa, were there telling the other side of the story that the president intended to hide.
Opponents, along with UN Watch, tried to persuade the Human Rights Council to block Maduro’s speech but, having failed in their attempt, made sure their voices were heard at a press conference at the UN and also staged a protest in front of the organization.
“Venezuelans are organized and always protest in defense of human rights at the square in front of the UN. Approximately 100 people from different cities in Switzerland were part of the protest and while we did not have the opportunity to address Maduro, we did host a press conference rejecting his visit with international media inside the UN with Leopoldo Lopez’s aunt,” explained Costa via email.
This protest is what precipitated the Venezuela-Switzerland diplomatic impasse. Once in Caracas, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez summoned Benedict De Cerjat to her office and “let him know her disapproval of the protests against President Maduro” which she considered to show a lack of respect. She also demanded that these actions “not be repeated,” said a diplomatic source.
Rodriguez did not expect the response offered by the Swiss diplomat. “In my country there is freedom of expression and we cannot prevent people from expressing themselves freely,” the diplomat responded, according to the source.
After the tense meeting, the Foreign Minister informed President Maduro of De Cerjat’s response, who then decided to declare the Swiss diplomat persona non grata, as the Venezuelan government considered his conduct “an unfriendly gesture.”
The Swiss diplomat left the country a few days ago and sent a letter to international diplomatic missions in Venezuela saying goodbye and explaining that “for reasons beyond his control” he was forced to leave the country.
De Cerjat was contacted by email and confirmed that he was in Switzerland, but neither confirmed nor denied the events described above.
SRF logo

Venezuela expels Swiss diplomat

February 27, 2016
By Ulrich Achermann
Venezuelan President Maduro likes to divide the world in sides of good and evil.
There are the good left, for example the Cubans and there are the evil imperialist, especially the USA. Switzerland is normally never mentioned. But recently Maduro has expelled the Swiss chargé d’affaires of the country.
Since February 4th de Cerjat is again in Switzerland. This confirms the Swiss Department of Foreign Affairs to the Swiss Radio SRF. The starting point for the diplomatic incident was a visit of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in Geneva.
Expulsion for protests against Maduro in Geneva
The successor of Hugo Chavez has claimed at the UN Human Rights Commission, that despite the 70 political prisoners in Venezuela, his country violates no human rights.
When Maduro appeared at the Geneva headquarters of the Commission, Venezuelan opposition members were demonstrating and called him a dictator and murderer. The aunt of the to prison convicted Leopoldo Lopez was there as well.
Days after the incident in Geneva, the Swiss chargé d’affaires was summoned by the Foreign Minister of Venezuela. She complained to Bénédict de Cerjat that Venezuela sees in the demonstration in Switzerland a lack of respect to Nicolas Maduro. When de Cerjat then replied that the right of freedom of expression applies in Switzerland the conversation came to an abrupt end. This reported a Brazilian newspaper correspondent.
Twitter activity as the official reason for expulsion
The Foreign Minister briefed the President, and Maduro decided to declare the Swiss chargé d’affaires as persona non grata and to expel him.
The reason given was that the chargé d’affaires had interfered with internal affairs of Venezuela with some statements relating to Venezuela on the short message service Twitter.
These days, nothing inappropriate can be found on his Twitter timeline expect that every now and then he has linked some critical articles about Venezuela from the Swiss press. End of February he had to leave Venezuela after only five months of duty.

UN Watch