UN Expert: Crisis in Venezuela is economic, not humanitarian (Part I)

UN Expert: Crisis in Venezuela is economic, not humanitarian (Part I)

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights published on, 30 August 2018, the long-delayed report of the Independent Expert on the Promotion of a Democratic and Equitable International Order, Alfred-Maurice de Zayas (United States of America, Switzerland) on his visit to Venezuela and Ecuador form 26 November to 9 December 2017.

Professor de Zayas was the first UN rapporteur to visit Venezuela since 1996. The mission aimed at examining the social and economic models prevalent in ALBA countries so as to formulate constructive proposals to improve the human rights situation and issue pragmatic recommendations how to solve economic and political tensions. He conducted the mission pursuant to the terms of reference of the international order mandate. Bearing in mind that the expert is not a “super rapporteur” or a plenipotentiary, his mission could not focus on violations of freedom of expression, independence of the judiciary, or right to peaceful assembly and association.

Nevertheless, reports by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights have issued reports on certain democratic and human rights deficits, constitutional and para-institutional problems, drawing attention on the economic crisis affecting Venezuela, characterized by hyperinflation, scarcity of foods and medicines, and mass emigration.

Prior to his visit the independent expert studied all relevant reports and double-checked their sources. During the visit, with the professional assistance of UNDP, he endeavoured to meet with as many stakeholders as he could reach, receiving all information and listening to all sides. He met with members of the opposition, National Assembly, chamber of commerce (Fedecameras), opposition NGO’s, pro-government NGO’s, churches, diplomats, professors, academics, students, families of detainees and victims of violence during the protest (guarimbas).

The report looks for the causes of the economic crisis, considering the evidence proffered for the main opposition argument that the socialist model has failed and that currently there are too many ideologues and not enough technocrats in government. The expert proposes a more nuanced view, observing that among the multiple factors affecting the crisis one must also consider:

1) The century-old dependence on the sale of petroleum and the devastating effect of the sharp fall of oil prices.

2) The cumulative effect of 19 years of economic war conducted against the socialist regime, comparable to the measures adopted 1970-73 against the government of Salvador Allende in Chile and in the 1980’s against the government of Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua

3) The financial blockade, comparable to that suffered by Cuba since 1960

4) The effects of the economic sanctions imposed since 2015, which have immensely aggravated the scarcity of foods and medicines, caused serious delays in distribution, and triggered the phenomenon of mass emigration to neighbouring countries.

In paragraph 34 of the report, the independent expert writes: “While arms sales embargoes may be justifiable against some countries, especially to facilitate dialogue and peacemaking, economic sanctions that hurt innocent populations contravene the spirit and letter of the Charter of the United Nations.

In paragraph 35 he continues: “On 23 March 2018, the Human Rights Council condemned unilateral coercive measures by a vote of 28 in favour, 15 against and 3 abstentions, because economic sanctions demonstrably cause death, aggravate economic crises, disrupt the production and distribution of food and medicine, constitute a push factor generating emigration, and lead to violations of human rights. The refusal of Colombia to deliver anti-malaria medicine that had been ordered to combat an outbreak in November 2017, as well as the absence of condemnation from the international community, entails joint responsibility for the aggravation of the crisis. In that case, the anti-malaria medicine had to be imported from India.”

In paragraph 36: “The effects of sanctions imposed by Presidents Obama and Trump and unilateral measures by Canada and the European Union have directly and indirectly aggravated the shortages in medicines such as insulin and anti-retroviral drugs. To the extent that economic sanctions have caused delays in distribution and thus contributed to many deaths, sanctions contravene the human rights obligations of the countries imposing them. Moreover, sanctions can amount to crimes against humanity under Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. An investigation by that Court would be appropriate, but the geopolitical submissiveness of the Court may prevent this.”

In paragraph37: “Modern-day economic sanctions and blockades are comparable with medieval sieges of towns with the intention of forcing them to surrender. Twenty-first century sanctions attempt to bring not just a town, but sovereign countries to their knees. A difference, perhaps, is that twenty-first century sanctions are accompanied by the manipulation of public opinion through ‘fake news’, aggressive public relations and a pseudo-human rights rhetoric so as to give the impression that a human rights ‘end’ justifies the criminal means. There is not only a horizontal juridical world order governed by the Charter of the United Nations and principles of sovereign equality, but also a vertical world order reflecting the hierarchy of a geopolitical system that links dominant States with the rest of the world according to military and economic power. It is the latter, geopolitical system that generates geopolitical crimes, hitherto in total impunity….” He concludes: “Economic sanctions kill.”

In paragraph 40 the independent expert calls for a renewal of dialogue between the government and the opposition parties. “There is nothing more in keeping with the letter and spirit of the Charter of the United Nations than mediation.

For two years, the former Spanish Prime Minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero (quoted in full in annex IV), with the support of the Vatican, headed a negotiating team in the Dominican Republic which facilitated talks between the Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and the opposition.

Negotiations advanced to a balanced document entitled “Agreement of Democratic Coexistence” (quoted in full in annex III) that should have been signed by all sides on 7 February 2018. The Government signed, but, as was reported, a telephone call from Colombia frustrated the two-year negotiating process with the instruction: “Don’t sign”.

Some believe that certain countries do not want to see a peaceful solution of the Venezuelan conflict and prefer to prolong the suffering of the Venezuelan people, expecting that the situation will reach the “humanitarian crisis” threshold and trigger a military intervention.”

Source: Alfred de Zayas Human Rights Corner – Venezuelanalysis


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  1. Semantics! We are playing with words here. How IGNORANT can some people be! We the pregnant without prenatal care. The STD-infected who will get to the irreversible stages because of the unavailable drugs. This is so dumb!


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