A war of words broke out Friday during a meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council when Venezuela’s representative angrily objected to a comment from the aunt of jailed opposition leader Leopoldo López.
Speaking on behalf of the non-governmental human rights group, UN Watch, Julieta López called the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, and the 47-nation body to organize a debate on the violent situation in Venezuela and launch an investigation.
“Madam High Commissioner, the alarming situation in Venezuela is very personal for me,” López said. “You have spoken of the large number of people arrested for exercising their rights to peaceful assembly and to freedom of expression. Well, my nephew, opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, is one of those people."
Venezuela delegate Edgardo Torro Careño immediately broke in when López called for an urgent debate.
"We apologize for interrupting this session, but we found ourselves obliged to take the floor on a point of order given that we are currently assessing the report of the High Commissioner which was presented to the Human Rights Council,” Careño said. “We are not on item 4 of the agenda discussing the situation of human rights which require the attention of the Council."
Calling the Venezuelan delegation's comments inappropriate, UN Watch dismissed the objection.
"It's time for the council to stop turning a blind eye to the escalating human rights crisis in Venezuela, which has already claimed hundreds of casualties,” Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, said in a statement. “We need to see an urgent debate, the adoption of a resolution, and the undoing of the council's shameful election of Venezuela last year as one of its members."
The scuffle at the United Nations Human Rights Council is the second altercation that Venezuela’s delegation has had in as many days with members of the international body.
United Nations human rights experts demanded answers Thursday from Venezuela's government about the use of violence. Six experts with the UN's top human rights body wrote to the administration of President Maduro about allegations of protesters being beaten and in some cases severely tortured by security forces, and taken to military facilities, cut off from communication and denied legal help.
"The recent violence amid protests in Venezuela need to be urgently and thoroughly investigated, and perpetrators must be held accountable," the experts said in a joint statement.
Also on Thursday, the Venezuelan government declared the Panama ambassador and three other diplomats in the country as "persona non grata" and gave them 48 hours to leave the country.
The previous day, Maduro announced he was breaking diplomatic relations with Panama and freezing bilateral economic links.
The announcement came after the Organization of American States said it is studying a request by Panama to call a meeting of foreign ministers regarding the situation in Venezuela.
The Venezuelan leader chided the Panamanian government for being a "lackey" and had harsh words for President Ricardo Martinelli, whom he accused of not being "worthy of his people" and of having been "actively working against Venezuela, creating conditions so that the OAS and other organizations take a step toward intervention" in the South American country.
"Nobody is going to conspire with impunity against our country to ask for an intervention against our homeland. That's enough, enough. I call on the people to unite in defense of sovereignty, of independence," Maduro said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.