from Pressure Points

The New UN Report on Venezuela’s Human Rights Calamity

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michele Bachelet, reported to the Human Rights Council on March 10thon the situation in Venezuela. The full statement can be found here.

Her report is yet another description of the viciousness and brutality of the Maduro regime and its indifference to the suffering of the Venezuelan people, as well as more proof that the situation continues to worsen.

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There are several key points, about repression and about the humanitarian situation.

First, while the regime continues to argue that U.S. sanctions explain the humanitarian crisis, the Bachelet statement is a reminder that the regime’s own conduct stops humanitarian work.

She told the Council:

[H]umanitarian assistance is all the more essential. I am concerned about recent initiatives to impose undue restrictions on NGOs’ ability to operate, including freezing of assets. I call for the resumption of suspended projects.

I am concerned by multiplying signs of shrinking civic space. Since September, my Office has documented at least 66 cases of intimidation, harassment, disqualification and criminalization of journalists, media outlets, human rights defenders, humanitarian workers, union leaders and members or supporters of the opposition, including elected members of the 2015 National Assembly and their relatives.

Until today, five activists continue to face charges related to terrorism and money laundering for having provided humanitarian assistance as part of the UN’s Humanitarian Response Plan. More NGOs are the object of investigations on similar grounds.

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In previous statements, Bachelet has noted that the regime uses what should be humanitarian programs as instruments of social control. The World Food Program has not been permitted to provide food to hungry Venezuelans because its own provision of food—on neutral principles, according to need and not politics—would undermine regime control.

Human Rights Watch made a similar point on March 10 as well:

Venezuelan authorities have in recent months harassed and criminally prosecuted civil society organizations doing essential work to address the country’s ongoing humanitarian emergency. Authorities and security forces have carried out a systematic campaign against these organizations by freezing bank accounts, issuing arrest warrants, raiding offices, detaining some members for questioning, and prosecuting them.

This should be kept in mind when the regime’s propaganda machine blames sanctions for the suffering of the populace.

As Human Rights Watch stated,

Covid-19 has become a convenient excuse for Nicolas Maduro’s government to crack down on dissenting voices. The brutal repression continues, with extrajudicial killings, short-term enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests, and torture—further evidence supporting the conclusions presented by this UN Fact-Finding Mission.

Bachelet also commented on repression in Venezuela:

Reports of extra judicial executions continue in the context of security operations. In early January, at least 14 individuals were allegedly killed during an operation conducted in the Caracas neighbourhood of La Vega….

In January alone, at least three search and seizures operations were conducted at the premises of media outlets. To varying degrees, equipment was seized, offices sealed, staff intimidated and broadcast suspended.

Think about that: reports that in one police operation in January 14 people were killed. It is a reminder of the number of executions by the Maduro regime. By July 2019, the UN had concluded that “Special Action Forces described by witnesses as ‘death squads’ killed 5,287 people in 2018 and another 1,569 by mid-May” of 2019. In January to June 2020, the UN said 1,324 more had been killed “in the context of security operations.” That’s over 8,000, and the UN noted that independent groups cited an even higher number—9,000 by 2019. It’s not unreasonable to believe the regime has by 2021 killed over 10,000 citizens in extra-judicial executions.

The facts are clear, and they suggest that U.S. sanctions on the Maduro regime must be maintained. The notion that weakening sanctions would help the people of Venezuela is untrue because, tragically, the Maduro regime will ensure that any relief benefits the regime and not the people.  If direct assistance to the people can be negotiated, for example via the World Food Program, it should be implemented. But any action that strengthens the regime, enhances its control, or overlooks the true nature of its murderous reign must be rejected.