UNITED NATIONS HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL, 37TH SESSION: SIDE EVENT ON INTERNATIONAL ORDER AND MULTILATERALISM

On 9 March a side-event to the 37th session of the Human Rights Council

was held in room XXIII of the Palais des Nations

on international order and multilateralism.  I focused primarily on my visit to Venezuela 26 November to 4 December 2017.
——

UNITED NATIONS HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL, 37TH SESSION

SIDE EVENT ON INTERNATIONAL ORDER AND MULTILATERALISM

Alfred de Zayas, Friday 9 March 2018

Excellencies, Distinguished panelists, ladies and gentlemen

When the Human Rights Council appointed me as the first independent expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order in 2012, I felt overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task, but at the same time very honoured that I was given the opportunity to demonstrate the added value of Human Rights Council Resolution 18/6, showing in a concrete and tangible way that human rights are indeed interdependent and interrelated, and addressing fundamental issues that have been frequently avoided, because perceived as not opportune or not “politically correct”.  Six years later I have written seven thematic reports to the Council and six to the General Assembly and currently I am drafting my mission report to Venezuela and Ecuador.

My final report A/HRC/37/63 contains 23 Principles of International Order that should help governments, inter-governmental organizations and civil society advance toward a more just and peaceful world, where the United Nations Charter is recognized as the World Constitution and the International Court of Justice as the World Constitutional Court.

My final report summarizes the lessons learned from the mandate thus far and formulates recommendations for further thematic reports e.g. on the impact on the international order of the activities and behind-closed-door-decisions of private groups and organizations like the World Economic Forum, the G7, the G20, the Bilderberg, the Transnational Commission, the Council on Foreign Relations, etc.  Also important will be to measure the impact of credit rating agencies like Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s on the international order, private enterprises that influence world finances while operating without transparency or accountability and lacking democratic legitimacy.

Among the achievements of the last six years I would like to highlight my country mission to Venezuela and Ecuador with a view to examine the impact of alternative economic models on the international order, and the possibility of achieving enhanced respect for economic, social and cultural rights through the implementation of such models, supported by international solidarity[1]. Early in my preparations for the mission and in the course of studying the mainstream narratives on Venezuela and Ecuador, it became apparent that some powerful countries strongly oppose “experiments” like the Revolución Bolivariana in Venezuela and the Revolución Ciudadana in Ecuador, and do not hesitate to conduct an economic war against those countries with the declared intention to make those experiments fail.  This contravenes Chapter 4, article 19, of the OAS Charter and GA Resolution 2625 on Friendly Relations, both of which prohibit such economic pressures on sovereign States.

I feel honoured to have been the first UN Special Procedures mandate holder since 1996 to have carried out a mission to Venezuela, which I conducted in strict compliance with United Nations mission guidelines and the code of conduct. Among other things, the mission contributed to increased cooperation of UN agencies with the Venezuelan government and to the release of a number of detainees.  I made a considerable effort to see members of the opposition, the National Assembly, Fedecameras, business leaders, university professors, representatives of the Church, non-governmental organizations critical of the government, including Amnesty International and Provea, etc.  I sought and received ample documentation from all stakeholders, including persons suffering from scarcity of medicines, relatives of detained persons, electoral commissions and government officials.

Before travelling to Venezuela and Ecuador, I conscientiously studied the 2017 report of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on Venezuela, as well as the concluding observations of the examination of Venezuela’s reports to the Human Rights Committee and Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.  I studied the reports of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other organizations, including numerous Venezuela-based ngo’s.  I also studied the pertinent responses of the Venezuelan government.

In my opinion, every mission by a UN rapporteur should be constructive rather than confrontational, it should formulate pragmatic recommendations and not engage in needless rhetoric.  With regard to my mission to Venezuela, my methodology was to listen to all stakeholders, study all relevant documentation and statistics, including from FAO, WHO, CEPAL, and to try to arrive at a balanced view of the situation and to devise a coherent strategy how to solve the pressing problems of scarcity or foods and medicines, galloping inflation and general insecurity.  Our priority was and must be how to help the Venezuelan people.

The United Nations has a responsibility to advance an international order that is more peaceful, democratic and equitable.  As rapporteur, I have always seen my mandate as result-oriented.  I have been guided by the fundamental rule “audiatur et altera pars”, a habit that I practiced for decades as Deputy-Chief of the Communications Branch and subsequently Chief of the Petitions Department at OHCHR.  I have always been committed to a culture of dialogue, convinced that States have the responsibility to protect their own populations and that only States can effectively improve the lives of persons under their jurisdiction.  I am persuaded that States will act for human rights when they recognize that it is in their own interest and in the interest of their peoples to respect human dignity and to ensure that human rights are better served.

Under my chiefs Theo van Boven and Jakob Möller, I learned to listen – listen to all relevant stakeholders – victims, non-governmental organizations, civil society – and also government officials.  As a drafter of decisions for the Human Rights Committee, I welcomed the increased cooperation of States and the submission of concrete responses to the allegations by victims. This kind of cooperation from States must be encouraged, as only through good faith dialogue can we identify and overcome obstacles so as to achieve results

Having studied the detailed responses given by the Venezuelan government to communications transmitted by OHCHR, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and other institutions.  I have the impression that these responses have been largely ignored, something that would have been unthinkable in the procedure under the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.  While responses by governments may not always be complete and may not always be convincing, they must be taken into account sine ira et studio.  If responses are deemed insufficient, more dialogue becomes necessary, and ultimately solutions can be found.

Personally, I do not see the function of a mandate-holder as playing judge and jury, grandstanding and condemning States.  More important is to try to mediate, to listen to the victims and confront the State with their grievances. I consider the all too popular policy of “naming and shaming” as ineffective, because the government being “named and shamed” may not recognize the moral authority of the “namer and shamer”.  Insulting a head of State is hardly a promising strategy. Far more fruitful is quiet diplomacy and a good faith offer of advisory services and technical assistance.

During my mission I told my interlocutors that I was coming to listen and to learn, in the hope to be able to help, and that I remained available for mediation.  I explained that I am not a super-rapporteur and cannot encroach on the areas of competence of the working group on arbitrary detention, the rapporteur on freedom of expression, the rapporteur on the right to peaceful assembly and association, the rapporteur on human rights defenders etc.

Nevertheless, out of respect for many who welcomed the visit of a UN rapporteur, and out of compassion for all victims, I did receive their documentation and listened to their grievances.  I promised to transfer their concerns to the pertinent rapporteurs and working groups, which I did forthwith, and continue to do whenever I receive additional information, for instance, this very week.

From ngo’s and opposition politicians I received lists of persons in detention.  I thought it appropriate to take advantage of the opportunity of communicating to the Venezuelan authorities my desire that they reconsider the cases in question and release as many detainees as possible in a manner consistent with the rule of law.

I was pleased to learn that on 23 December the Government decided to release 80 persons, including many whose cases I had brought to the attention of the government, for instance the engineer Roberto Picon, whose wife and son I had met in Caracas.[2]

The focus of my visit to two Alba Countries was to examine measures taken to recast government priorities toward economic, social and cultural rights, toward a more equitable distribution of wealth, the elimination of analphabetism, the expansion of free education from primary schools to universities, the reduction of extreme poverty, the construction of affordable housing and the distribution of subsidized food and medicines.

Bearing in mind that unilateral coercive measures, financial blockades, induced inflation, international criminal rings involved in contraband of foods and medicines, as well as narcotrafficking all impact the international order, I endeavoured to study these phenomena and their impact on the economic crisis in Venezuela, the growing scarcity of certain foods, medicines and items of personal hygiene.

In the mainstream media and in statements and press releases of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and also of some of my colleague Special Procedures mandate-holders, we learn about the problems of hunger, disease, scarcity and insecurity.  Those are precisely the problems that we in the United Nations must endeavour to solve.  In order to solve them, we must inquire into the causes of these problems.  We read that the socialistic model has failed and that the problems are exclusively attributable to incompetence and corruption. But where is the empirical evidence to back up such general statements?  Any investigative journalist, scientist or truth seeker can find at least some empirical evidence showing that the sanctions imposed by Obama and Trump, as well as sanctions imposed by Canada and the European Union, the economic war being waged against the Venezuelan government since 1998, the closing of Venezuelan bank accounts in many countries, the financial blockade, etc. have significantly aggravated the Venezuelan crisis.  An article published this week by Mark Weisbrot in US News and World Report touches on these issues[3].  Much more detailed is the analysis by Professor Pasqualina Curcio of the University of Caracas that documents in her book The Visible Hand of the Market how the non-conventional war against the Venezuelan government is hurting the Venezuelan people in a manner not unlike the non-conventional war waged against the Salvador Allende government from 1970 to 1973 when he was toppled by the coup d’etat of General Augusto Pinochet.

The book by Peter Kornbluh – the Pinochet files[4] – based on declassified US documents shows how Richard Nixon told Henry Kissinger in 1970 that an alternative economic model in Latin America would not be tolerated – hence he ordered “to make the Chilean economy scream”.  Henry Kissinger was particularly concerned about Allende’s program as a “precedent” for Marxist-like measures in other countries.  A more equitable distribution of wealth nationally and internationally has never been part of the neoliberal agenda.

One of my main concerns during the visit was to observe the situation on the ground.  My methodology was aimed at objectivity, the ultimate aim was to formulate constructive proposals in the spirit of international solidarity, as formulated by my colleague Virginia Dandan in her Declaration on the right to international solidarity[5].

I was particularly sensitive to the fact that as the first rapporteur to visit Venezuela in 21 years, I should encourage the government to invite other rapporteurs.  Indeed, the United Nations can and should offer advisory services and technical assistance so as to help the government tackle the complex problems they are facing.

Allow me a comment about a dysfunction of the system of Special Procedures that should be addressed by the Coordinating Committee of Special Procedures, by the OHCHR and by the Human Rights Council

I am referring to the imperative to defend the independence of rapporteurs.  Already six weeks before the beginning of my mission to Venezuela and Ecuador, a defamation campaign against me was launched by critics of my mission, and considerable pressure was brought upon me in an attempt to intimidate me.  I was subjected to constant ad hominem attacks, my credibility was put into question – notwithstanding the fact that I have again and again proven my independence, having written twelve reports to the Council and General Assembly; notwithstanding the fact that I had been Secretary of the Human Rights Committee and Chief of Petitions and author of numerous books, including the Handbook United Nations Human Rights Committee Caselaw (co-authored with Jakob Möller) and many encyclopedia articles including two on the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, on Nelson Mandela, Simon Wiesenthal, Kenneth Roth, Aryeh Neier, founder of Human Rights Watch, etc..

Six weeks before my trip I received letters and emails from ngo’s essentially telling me not to go – because I was not the “pertinent” rapporteur.  Out of solidarity with the other rapporteurs who had asked for invitations before me, I should condition my acceptance on the acceptance by Venezuela of visits by the other rapporteurs. I received emails essentially dictating to me what should be in my report.  I was subjected to multiple insults and intimidations. My mission was labelled “a fake investigation” even before I had landed in Caracas.  During the visit to Venezuela an ngo launched a facebook and twitter campaign against my visit, in which I was insulted in terms that I cannot repeat.  Following my visit to Venezuela this kind of mobbing continued.  I have signalled this to the Office and to the Coordinating Committee, but as of today nothing has been done to defend my honour and reputation.  Indeed, if the independence and credibility of a rapporteur is attacked, this also affects the independence and credibility of the whole system of Special Procedures.

Rapporteurs must be able to conduct their investigations according to the code of conduct and not be subjected to defamation and intimidation.  Otherwise the rapporteurs may choose the easy way and practice self-censorship, making only “safe” statements that will not offend anyone.  Had I wanted applause, had I been an opportunist, I could have gone along with the ngo’s and mainstream media.  But this would have violated not only the code of conduct, but also my own conscience.

Coming back to the priority of helping the Venezuelan people overcome the economic crisis, I wish to conclude with a simple statement.

Those who shout “humanitarian crisis” should first look for the causes thereof, and to the extent that they themselves are contributing to the crisis through sanctions and an economic war, they are estopped and lack moral authority. Whoever wants to help the Venezuelan people should prevail upon their governments to lift all unilateral coercive measures and put an end to the economic war.

I had welcomed the two-year negotiating process between the Venezuelan government and the opposition in the Dominican Republic, a noble process initiated by the former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and accompanied by representatives of six Latin American and Caribbean countries.  It was most regrettable that after a compromise text had been reached, at the last moment and to everyone’s surprise, the opposition refused to sign.

Be that as it may, I call on all Venezuelans to continue the dialogue and to participate in the forthcoming elections of May 2018.  I call upon the United Nations and the Carter Centre to send observers to the elections.  Boycotting these elections would be undemocratic and contrary to the interests of the Venezuelan people.

I have not yet completed drafting the report, which will be presented to the Council by my successor in September 2018.  I welcome all here present to send me pertinent information and documentation, which I shall endeavour to incorporate into my report.

I thank you

[1] http://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=22457&LangID=E

[2] http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=22569&LangID=E

[3] https://www.usnews.com/opinion/world-report/articles/2018-03-03/new-evidence-the-trump-administration-is-meddling-in-venezuelas-elections

[4] https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB110/

[5] https://digitallibrary.un.org/record/1301204

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