Menu Close

Bachelet, her noises, and her silences

Throughout her mandate since September 2018, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Michele Bachelet made eleven interventions on Venezuela before the Human Rights Council, including presentations of reports and oral updates.

AlertaVenezuela selected topics in these eleven interventions, on which it carried out a content analysis finding the following.

Political dialogue. It is the most repeated theme, included in all her interventions. It is noteworthy that this is not an issue that Bachelet has addressed much in other countries that have international monitoring mechanisms on human rights, so it seems that she assumed a role of political operator, as part of an agenda agreed with the UN Secretary General, who has been practically absent from the political issues in the case of Venezuela.

Unilateral coercive measures. It is the second most referred topic, along with civic space, with 10 mentions. Without a doubt, a permanent nod to the Maduro government, which has never been satisfied, to the point that in the face of the government’s claim in its last intervention in June 2022 for what was considered an insufficient reference to sanctions, Bachelet chose to once again please the government, making a mention of the death of children who had pending transplants, allegedly as a result of unilateral coercive measures, citing unsupported figures from an organization whose pro-government bias is widely known as a GONGO .

Civic space. Includes mentions of CSOs, human rights defenders, journalists, and trade unionists. Bachelet referred to the subject in ten of her eleven interventions. Undoubtedly, the strong claims and demands of CSOs before the OHCHR for their right to exist had to do with these abundant references. However, sometimes the tone was timid, trying to justify the unacceptable, such as the hope of cosmetic modifications to norms that affect the right to free association and to defend rights, without questioning the very existence of such norms. There were expressions of concern, followed by descriptions, without rejection of the practices or forceful calls for their cessation. The most unfortunate case is that of the arbitrary detention of a human rights defender, for which the High Commissioner requested “urgent access to defense attorneys of his choice”, without questioning the very fact of the persecution.

Special procedures. Only on two occasions did Bachelet mention the issue, specifically in her first and second appearances before the Human Rights Council. Both times she made enthusiastic references to government announcements about the future invitation to special procedures. However, for the next two years she made no reminders or demands about this broken promise.

Independent International Fact-Finding Mission (FFM). Without a doubt, this is the most shameful omission of the Bachelet period when it comes to Venezuela. She never made a single mention of the FFM, neither before its establishment to support its creation, nor immediately after to highlight the beginning of its mandate, nor throughout the almost three years of life of this special mechanism to refer to its findings and recommendations. The OHCHR team in Venezuela has tried to justify this strict separation between the Office and the MII based on an extreme and artificial approach to what should be understood as independence. The argument falls by the way of facts, when it is observed that, in the cases of Nicaragua, Ukraine, Ethiopia, Libya, Myanmar, Yemen, Burundi, Syria, South Sudan and the Congo, the High Commissioner had various interactions with the special mechanisms created for these countries. Interactions that range from promoting or supporting its creation, directly appointing it, enthusiastically welcoming the start of its activities, condemning disqualifications of the mechanism by the State concerned, citing its reports, and holding joint interactive dialogues. Bachelet’s silence on the FFM was a deliberate and politically calculated act, unacceptable on the part of someone who has the world’s mandate to protect human rights.

Political calculation was present throughout Bachelet’s administration, not only in relation to Venezuela. The most embarrassing example was that of her visit to China in June 2022, which provoked outrage and even requests for resignation from the academic and human rights communities, as well as from 47 democratic countries before the Human Rights Council, for having washed the face of the Chinese regime, endorsing its repressive language and unjustifiably delaying the publication of a report that points to the existence of crimes against humanity in Xinjiang.

With limited resources, without punitive power or coercive capacity, the only patrimony of the OHCHR is its auctoritas, that is, its moral power, based on its prestige and recognition. Bachelet put that heritage at risk in a way that none of her predecessors had done. This should be a wake-up call to the countries when electing the next head of the OHCHR.