Venezuelan President Maduro to address U.N. Human Rights Council

FILE PHOTO: Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro speaks during a meeting at Miraflores Palace in Caracas, Venezuela August 25, 2017. Miraflores Palace/Handout via REUTERS

By Tom Miles GENEVA (Reuters) - President Nicolas Maduro, accused of trampling on human rights and democracy in Venezuela, is expected to address the opening day of a three-week U.N. Human Rights Council session on Sept. 11. Maduro's government has been criticized by the United Nations, Washington and other governments for overriding Venezuela's opposition-led Congress, jailing hundreds of opponents and failing to allow the entry of foreign humanitarian aid to ease a severe economic crisis. "We received a 'note verbale' today that he is coming," U.N. human rights spokesman Rolando Gomez said on Monday. "He will be speaking at the opening of the council session." Maduro will speak shortly after an opening address by U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, who said last week democracy was "barely alive" in the Latin American country. An Aug. 30 report from Zeid's office said security forces had committed extensive and apparently deliberate human rights violations in crushing anti-government protests. The report called for further investigation and accountability and urged Maduro to release arbitrarily detained demonstrators and to halt the unlawful use of military courts to try civilians. Venezuela has not allowed U.N. rights officials to make a fact-finding visit to the country since 1996. The U.N. says around 882 people are currently believed to be still in custody, out of 5,341 arbitrarily detained in street protests since April. Detainees are often subjected to ill-treatment, in some documented cases amounting to torture, last week's report said. Maduro's appearance at the council comes almost two years after he delivered a 45-minute speech to it praising Venezuela's socialist policies and decrying the "harassment of the imperialist powers of the United States". An official at Venezuela's mission to the U.N. in Geneva said she could not immediately confirm the information about Maduro's trip to Europe. Other speakers at the rights council session will include Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates have cut political and trade ties with Qatar this year, accusing it of supporting terrorism, which it denies. (Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Andrew Roche)