On 5 July, UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet submitted a 16-page report on the human rights situation in Venezuela. The report, which said the Venezuelan government was implicated in “gross [human rights] violations”, has met with both praise and frustration. Notably, former UN independent expert Alfred de Zayas found the report “fundamentally flawed and disappointing”.
Human rights in Venezuela
The document, which focuses “on the situation of human rights in Venezuela since 2018”, comes after Bachelet returned from a historic 3-day mission to the country. During the visit, she met with various Venezuelan actors, including president Nicolás Maduro, opposition leader Juan Guaidó, and representatives of social organisations.
The mission found that, between 2018 and 2019, “the economic and social crisis deteriorated further” as the Venezuelan economy collapsed. This had a serious and negative impact on the economic and social rights of Venezuelans, who reported difficulty accessing and purchasing food and basic services. It also found major concerns regarding the right to health:
Violations of core obligations were linked to the widespread lack of availability of, and access to, essential medicines and treatment, the deterioration of conditions in hospitals, clinics, and maternity clinics, insufficient provision of underlying determinants of health, including water and adequate nutrition…
Meanwhile, previously controlled and eliminated diseases have returned to the country, and the government has reportedly failed to publish “comprehensive data on public health”.
Freedom of opinion and expression
The report was perhaps most damning regarding “freedom of opinion and expression”. It alleged major abuses by the Venezuelan security forces, including “excessive use of force” and “arbitrary detentions, torture and ill-treatment”.
In 2018, the Venezuelan government recorded 5,287 killings resulting from security operations meeting what it defined as “resistance to authority”. It listed 1,569 killings in the same category between January and May 2019.
The report also found wide-scale violations of Indigenous peoples’ rights.
This assessment comes days after the alleged torture and killing of Venezuelan Captain Acosta Arévalo, following his alleged plot to assassinate the president.
Access to justice, meanwhile, was found to be unsatisfactory.
US sanctions making things worse
The broad range of concerns raised in the UN human rights chief’s report are serious, shocking, and require addressing. There are nonetheless areas of the report that have been met with frustration. Most significantly, Bachelet found that:
the latest economic sanctions are exacerbating further the effects of the economic crisis, and thus the humanitarian situation, given that most of the foreign exchange earnings derive from oil exports, many of which are linked to the U.S. market.
health professionals and parents of sick children mentioned the impact of economic sanctions on the health sector, particularly the possibility of receiving urgent medical treatment, including transplants, outside the country.
The available literature – apparently ignored by Bachelet – goes much further.
In April 2019, economists Mark Weisbrot and Jeffrey Sachs found US sanctions responsible for an estimated 40,000 deaths in Venezuela between 2017 and 2018. And an opposition-aligned economist recently agreed that US sanctions are responsible for a rise in mortality. Meanwhile, US officials have made consistent threats – illegal under Article 2 of the UN Charter – against the Venezuelan government. This is all within the context of a wider and barely concealed US-backed coup effort.
Despite finding that economic sanctions exacerbate the humanitarian situation, Bachelet made no recommendations that the US end them. Nor did she call for the end of illegal threatsagainst the Venezuelan government, which notably include an indirect threat to sodomiseMaduro with a bayonet.
“Venezuela’s problems can all be solved, but first the criminal US sanctions must be lifted”
The historic visit of Michelle Bachelet to Venezuela had potential, but the report… is fundamentally flawed and disappointing…
The report should also have focussed on the criminality of the repeated attempts at a coup d’etat. Latin America has suffered too many right wing coups.
There is nothing more undemocratic than a coup…
The report… gives scarce attention to the central problem– the financial blockade and sanctions that cause so much suffering and death.
Venezuela’s problems can all be solved, but first the criminal US sanctions must be lifted.
Bachelet’s consistent failure to address the major and obvious human rights issues attached to US intervention in Venezuela is a damning indictment of the neutrality of her mission. This, wrote journalist Joe Emersberger in a letter to the UN, represents a “travesty”.
“All sides must be heard”
Many are similarly concerned that Bachelet’s report is heavily one-sided. De Zayas, for instance, added:
It is unprofessional for the UN staff to ignore or not give appropriate weight to the submissions by Fundalatin, Grupo Sures, the Red Nacional de Derechos Humanos, and the specific answers provided by the government
The main principle guiding any honest researcher or investigator is audiatur et altera pars. All sides must be heard.
Opposition violations include engineering armed insurrections, burning alive civilians suspected of government affiliation, and stringing barbed wire across roads in an effort to decapitate government supporters. Significantly, further violations include the destruction – by burning, sabotage, or negligence – of basic necessities aimed at improving the economic and social rights of Venezuelans. This, surely, is well within Bachelet’s remit.
And although the human rights chief visited families of victims of Venezuela’s opposition-organised guarimba violence, they are not mentioned or considered in her final report. The families responded:
Bachelet’s report makes the victims invisible and protects those responsible for the violence that has caused the country so much damage…
We have been let down.
Internal and external threats
Bachelet thus focused on inadequacies in the Venezuelan government’s welfare services, yet failed to mention how they have been subject to serious attack by members of the Venezuelan opposition. (And while it may be argued that some of the aforementioned events occurred before 2018, it is also true that the actors and interests behind them remain key today.)
Bachelet did briefly allude to such threats in point 76, writing:
Although these measures [restricting democratic space] have been adopted with the declared aim of preserving public order and national security against alleged internal and external threats, they have increased the militarization of State institutions and the use of the civilian population in intelligence gathering and defence tasks. [emphasis added]
She obscured what the “threats” were, though, and employed a formula – used by much of the corporate media – which presents “internal and external threats” as a mere ‘allegation’ of the Venezuelan government. But even the most cursory research would provide evidence of such threats.
The UN report also suggested that the country’s CLAP programme, which distributesgovernment-subsidised food to roughly six million Venezuelan households, is used for “intelligence gathering and defence tasks”. It further claimed that some Venezuelans:
were not included in the distribution lists of the CLAP boxes because they were not Government supporters.
A source in Venezuela told The Canary that this has occurred in rare cases, but that it is neither government policy nor systemic practice.
The Canary‘s own experience in Venezuela, meanwhile, supports this view. The main “intelligence gathering” operation for CLAP is via censuses, which are conducted by local organisers. The Canary accompanied a census in downtown Caracas which, incidentally, was an area densely populated with opposition supporters. But at no point during the census were questions regarding political affiliation asked. In fact, the census strictly focused on:
- The name and age of home-owner.
- The amount of people per household.
- The amount of elderly people and young children per household.
- Whether CLAP was required monthly or bi-weekly.
- If the household required delivery.
There is no reason to believe that this census was different from any other.
This is all the more worrying given that the US recently targeted CLAP for sanctions. Because any significant reduction in CLAP’s efficacy will lead to immeasurable suffering for the Venezuelan civilian population, regardless of political affiliation.
UN must recognise the concerns of all sides
The Venezuelan government carries serious responsibility for improving the country’s human rights situation. But Bachelet’s mission to Venezuela will continue to be the object of major concern while she refuses to recommend the end of US sanctions and threats and fails to adequately recognise the concerns of all sides.