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Common visions, different languages

This is how the representative of Paraguay summarized the presentations made on Venezuela in the 52nd period of the Human Rights Council, by High Commissioner Volker Turk on March 21, 2023, and by the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Venezuela (FFM) the next day.

Volker Turk referred to political prisoners, torture, judicial and security reform, executions by law enforcement officials, the closure of civic space, with special mention of the bill for the control, regularization, action and financing of non-governmental and related organizations, the harassment of human rights defenders, trade unionists and journalists, as well as retaliation against peasants and indigenous people in their demands for respect for their lands in the context of extractivism, and called for the release of all persons arbitrarily detained. He also mentioned the crisis in electricity and water services, as well as the lack of food and medicine, and the impact that this whole situation has on the mental health of the population.

The High Commissioner did not go ahead to applaud the promises made to him by the government during his visit, but instead asked for results, especially in judicial reform and investigation of cases of torture and executions. In addition, he demanded progress in the creation of mechanisms for the investigation of femicide and discrimination against the LGTBIQ+ population and considered the next report before CEDAW as an opportunity to align the legislation on abortion with international standards on the matter.

Unlike the FFM, however, he referred to alleged signs of economic recovery without further details and again referred to the effects of unilateral coercive measures, although he acknowledged that these have only exacerbated a pre-existing crisis. Likewise, he opted for the dialogue in Mexico as a mechanism for the peaceful solution of the political crisis. When answering questions, he made an important allusion to the need for human rights to be part of the humanitarian response.

For its part, the FFM acknowledged that the figures for torture and executions have dropped, but recalled that previous cases have not been investigated or punished and that the reduction in repression is related to a decline in social mobilization resulting from an “inhibiting effect of the protest that has managed to frighten the civilian population and demobilize political dissidence”. The Mission also kept in mind the persistence of arbitrary detentions, referring to the cases of Javier Tarazona, Roland Carreño, Jesús Medina and the six social activists imprisoned since July 2022.

The MII dedicated a long time to the restrictions on civic space and the effects that the approval of the law for the supervision of NGOs would have as it implies an “abusive control” of the activity of NGOs, recalling the statement that it had published in this regard in January of 2023.

In addition, the FFM reiterated the negative effects of the Orinoco Mining Arc Project on the environment and on indigenous territories, which has even resulted in murders such as that of Virgilio Trujillo.

The Mission sent a clear message to the Venezuelan government by recalling that its reports and findings were similar to those of the International Criminal Court and that the IIC took the FFM reports as an important input for its work, thereby establishing the framework of cooperation between both mechanisms.

In both interactive dialogues there were recurring themes on the part of the States and CSOs, including the welcome to the renewal of the OHCHR presence in the country for two years, the recent visit to Venezuela, the strong threat to the civic space for the possible approval of the NGO control law, the release of political prisoners, with special reference to Javier Tarazona, the importance of advancing in conditions for fair and free elections in 2024 and the need for Venezuela to cooperate effectively with the UN human rights system and comply with the recommendations of the Office of the High Commissioner and the FFM.

It is also striking that the States, except for those of an authoritarian nature allied with Venezuela, have not bought into the three main lines of discourse of the government: that Venezuela has settled, that the country cooperates with the UN human rights system, and that the Sanctions are responsible for all the ills of the country. On the other hand, there were a couple of critical references to the confidential nature of the letter of understanding that extends the presence of the OHCHR in Venezuela for two years.

Two days, two languages and a single vision and the same objective: to advance towards the effective protection of human rights in Venezuela, beyond the announcements, and with real commitments to fight against impunity and reparation for the victims.