Venezuela's foreign minister hailed Tuesday the arrival of new UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet following a thorny relationship with her predecessor, vowing his country would cooperate fully with her.
In an address to the UN Human Rights Council, Jorge Arreaza vehemently criticised the former High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, who repeatedly raised concerns about serious rights abuses in Venezuela.
‘We reject the reports of the outgoing High Commissioner for Human Rights. These have been reports that are always biased, they are always against Venezuela, they have always put forward a political, personal position,’ he said.
But he hailed Zeid's successor, a former Chilean president who took the reins of the UN rights office just over a week ago.
‘We fully trust that the new High Commissioner for Human Rights will always uphold her mandate and her independence,’ said Arreaza, who met privately with Bachelet on the opening day of the rights council's 39th session on Monday.
‘We very much hope that... she will be able to begin a new cooperation stage,’ he said, adding that ‘the Human Rights Council and the High Commissioner can count on the full cooperation of the government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.’
- 'Moving on' -
He said his country ‘will move on as regards to the last four years with respect to the outgoing High Commissioner. We are moving on.’
Venezuela's announcement that it will cooperate with the UN rights office marks a clear about-face, after it had long denied access to the country by UN rights monitors.
Asked by journalists Tuesday if he planned to invite Bachelet herself to Venezuela, Arreaza said ‘the time will come’, but stressed that first work needed to be done to ‘rebuild trust’ between his country and the rights office.
During the last session of the rights council in June, Zeid had called for an international investigation of atrocities in Venezuela, blasting the government's chronic refusal to probe security officers over the alleged killings of civilians.
He asked, in vain, for the council to set up its highest-level probe -- a Commission of Inquiry -- for Venezuela and said the International Criminal Court may need to get further involved.
His call came after a report by his office, based on remote monitoring, suggested that officers, who had supposedly been tasked with fighting crime, may have been responsible for more than 500 killings between July 2015 and March 2017, largely carried out in poor neighbourhoods.
In a longer, written version of her maiden speech as rights chief Monday, Bachelet said that since the June report, her office had continued to receive ‘information on violations of social and economic rights, such as cases of deaths related to malnutrition or preventable diseases, as well as violations of civil and political rights.’
She lamented that ‘the government has not shown openness for genuine accountability measures’.