Video: the heated 11-minute exchange begins at minute 27:20.
Cuba, China, Russia and Pakistan interrupted the following speech today in the UN Human Rights Council by Thor Halvorssen, president of the Human Rights Foundation. The USA defended his right to speak. The speech was delivered as part of UN Watch’s international campaign against Chavez’s bid for a council seat, timed right before today’s related U.N. appearance by Venezuelan exile Eligio Cedeno.
Thank you, Madam President.
My name is Thor Halvorssen, and I come from Venezuela. In 2004, my mother was shot by the security forces of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela.
Through the Human Rights Foundation, which I founded and direct, I have carefully monitored the Venezuelan state and have established that its current government is among Latin America’s worst human rights violators.
In Venezuela, exercising free speech is fraught with risks. Political dissent is criminalized. Property is capriciously and unlawfully seized. Opposition politicians are disqualified from elections due to false accusations. Journalists are harassed and media critical of the government is simply shut down. Judges are fired and even sent to prison when the President dislikes their rulings.
More than 150,000 people have been killed in Venezuela since Lieutenant Colonel Chávez was elected President in 1999. Add to this the more than 5,000 who have died in the country’s disgraceful prisons, many of them waiting trial and therefore possibly innocent of the charges that put them behind bars in the first place. No such murder rate had ever existed in Venezuela – or anywhere else in the world for that matter. The government has proven that it is incapable of protecting the most basic human right, the right to life.
While all of this has taken place this council has remained silent.
Despite all of this. Venezuela is now seeking election to this council. When it was founded in 2006, the council promised that only those countries that “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights” would be elected.
To elect Venezuela would shame and embarrass this council, and would allow Venezuela to shield its horrendous record of abuse and, equally problematically, to validate other authoritarian governments such as Syria, Iran, and one who disgracefully sits on this council today — Cuba.
Electing Venezuela would deny this council the chance to shine a light into the darkness that envelops Venezuela and it will blunt actions to protect 29 million Venezuelans who are at the mercy of a malicious and incompetent government.
In December, four authoritarian governments — China, Cuba, Saudi Arabia and Russia — will step down. You have a golden opportunity to prevent more human rights violators from soiling this council. Please block Venezuela’s bid and uphold your own standards.
Thank you, Madam President.
My delegation presents a point of order. The speaker is out of line. It is possible to refer to human rights situations, but one cannot question the hopes and aspirations of states to become members of the Human Rights Council members, or their right to be members. But you cannot say that my country does not have a right to be a member of this council. The statement is completely out of line — I ask that it be struck from the record.
As we have always highlighted, the United States firmly believes that accredited NGOs must be permitted to speak in this council. Though member states including ourselves may occasionally disagree on the content of their statements, it is essential that civil society voices be heard here in an atmosphere of open expression, and obviously their statement be kept for the record. Without addressing the substance of the speaker’s statement, we are of the opinion that what we have heard of the intervention is indeed addressed to the subject matter at hand, Agenda Item 4, “Human Rights Situations.” We therefore urge you to make sure the NGO statement is reflected in record.
China believes that all NGOs should get the opportunity to speak. We are never against their right to speak, but it should be under the item discussed. They can criticize and condemn countries for human rights situations, but they are not entitled to challenge the right of a country to become a member of the council. I hope that the Vice-President and other presidents of the council will give impartial rulings on this…
We would like to ask the NGO through yourself that they abstain from using disrespectful terms such authoritarian regimes. We will not permit them to use this kind of language in this forum.
We would like to align ourselves with the statement just made by Cuba, and point out that the Human Rights Council has its own agenda. The question of replacing governments has nothing to do with issue being discussed right now. We would like our statement placed on the record.
We ask the Vice-President to prohibit the NGO from speaking. The statement is totally out of the permitted scope. We ask which provision in rules of procedure permitted him to label a sovereign state, to point a finger on a country that is a member, or which wishes to become a member. I wonder: the terms he has used — “authoritarian” — are these terms permitted by the council?
We underscore that interventions of NGOs must be aligned with the agenda item.