By Sinikka Tarvainen and Gretel Johnston (dpa)
HAVANA TIMES – Venezuela on Thursday announced the release of 24 prisoners jailed for political reasons, shortly after its election to the UN Human Rights Council sparked criticism because of the country’s poor human rights record.
Attorney General Tarek William Saab announced the release of the inmates who, he said, had been implicated in anti-government protests in 2014 and 2017.
Saab said the decision formed part of the government’s dialogue with part of the opposition and reflected its engagement to guarantee peace in the country, broadcaster Telesur reported.
Alfredo Romero from the human rights group Foro Penal confirmed that 12 of the prisoners had already been released.
The South American country has hundreds of political prisoners, according to the UN. President Nicolas Maduro has so far resisted a campaign by self-declared interim president Juan Guaido, who has the backing of dozens of countries, to oust him amid a massive economic crisis.
“Here nobody gets tired, we are moving ahead. There is a clear route traced by president Juan Guaido,” daily El Nacional quoted one of the released prisoners, Elias Rodriguez, as saying.
Venezuela was among 14 new members elected on Thursday to the UN Human Rights Council, a controversial move that came despite rights groups and opponents of the government urging countries to vote against it.
The vote took place in a secret ballot held in the General Assembly in New York. The 193-member body elected Venezuela and the other new members to the 47-member council for three-year terms starting January 1.
The Maduro government has been accused of human rights violations, including torture, extrajudicial killings and intimidation to maintain power.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called it a “harsh blow” for victims of the regime and the cause of human rights. The selection of Venezuela is “a farce that further undermines the Council’s already frail credibility,” he added.
In a statement, Pompeo cited the UN High Commissioner report on Human Rights, issued in July, which documented egregious human rights abuses of the regime.
“It is sadly no surprise that Maduro shamelessly sought a seat on the UN Human Rights Council in an effort to block any limit to his repressive control of the Venezuelan people,” Pompeo said. “What is truly tragic, however, is that other nations voted to give Maduro’s representative for Venezuela a seat on the UN Human Rights Council.”
The council has become “an exercise in shameless hypocrisy – with some of the world’s most serious offenders sitting on the Council itself,” he said.
The United States withdrew from the council in 2018.
Washington was concerned about giving Venezuela a seat on the council because it might give the country a chance to shield itself from UN investigative efforts, a US State Department official said.
Roger Carstens, deputy assistant secretary for democracy, human rights and labour, added that it also “pulls down the credibility and integrity” of the council.
The Maduro government is not recognized as legitimate by about 50 countries. It wanted to return to the council to counter an image of international isolation. Venezuela and Brazil beat out Costa Rica for the two Latin American seats up for election.