Argentina will chair the United Nations Human Rights Council next year for the first time in its history, following the election of career diplomat Federico Villegas Beltrán as the body’s next president.
The election of Ambassador Villegas as the intergovernmental body’s president, agreed unanimously by the council’s 47 member states as a UN convention in Geneva on Monday, means that Argentina will play a key role in the promotion and protection of human rights worldwide over the next 12 months.
The country takes on the role representing Latin America and the Caribbean, with four other vice-presidents representing other regions. The presidency rotates on an annual basis and 2022 was Latin America’s turn.
Nevertheless, the news will be seen as a rare diplomatic victory on the international stage for President Alberto Fernández's government, which has failed to place key allies leading multilateral bodies and institutions, including the InterAmerican Development Bank and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).
Hailing the news, Foreign Minister Santiago Cafiero welcomed Argentina’s appointment to the body’s rotating presidency as “recognition of our country and its commitment to human rights since the recovery of democracy" in 1983.
Some complications may lie ahead, however, not least Argentina’s positions on human rights trouble spots such as Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba – nations that have repeatedly been denounced for serious violations.
Ambassador Villegas previously worked in the Human Rights Directorate of the Foreign Ministry when Jorge Taiana served as the head of the portfolio in former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s government. In 2016 he was appointed by then-president Mauricio Macri as Argentina’s ambassador to Mozambique. Starting next year, he will replace Nazhat Shameem Khan of Fiji at the head of the Council.
Thanking those who supported his nomination in Geneva and praising his predecessor, Villegas recalled in a speech on Monday that the “Mothers and Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo came to this city to denounce the disappearance of their sons and daughters” during Argentina’s 1976-1983 military dictatorship. “Those Mothers and Grandmothers returned years later as part of a society that matured and made human rights a state policy," he added.
Declaring that “human rights should not be held hostage to political tensions," the diplomat observed that global convergence in the field had “helped to heal the social and institutional fabric of my country.
Villegas vowed to ensure that the Human Rights Council remains a "stable platform to increase dialogue and deepen understanding about commonalities and differences about human rights," and to "learn more about the multiple roles placed by civil society organisations in improving human rights at the global and national levels".
The president-elect also proposed more concerted action "in conflict prevention and post-conflict reconstruction."