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OHCHR: A report neither exhaustive nor detailed

This Wednesday, July 5, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Volker Turk, presented a report on Venezuela to the Human Rights Council. This report originates from Council resolution 51/29, which asks the High Commissioner “to present a comprehensive report on the situation of human rights in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, which includes a detailed assessment of the application of the recommendations made in previous Council reports” (emphasis added).

With this resolution, the Council did not ask the OHCHR for one more report, but one with very special characteristics that would make it possible to determine the true scope of the alleged cooperation of Venezuela, about which the Maduro government makes so much propaganda. That is why a comprehensive report with a detailed assessment was requested. However, the document presented by Turk to the Council fell short of the adjectives that qualified the Council’s assignment.

Although Turk’s oral presentation was less timid than the written report, what remains on record is the text, and this is generic, weak, and insufficient to meet the Council’s requirements. It is a descriptive report that fails to establish a relationship between the facts presented and the 105 recommendations registered in the annex to the same report.

In the absence of this exhaustive and detailed comparison, however, on 35 occasions throughout the report, the OHCHR uses expressions such as “OHCHR encourages the government”, “OHCHR reiterates its call”, “OHCHR urges the authorities”. In this way, without expressly saying so, the OHCHR is acknowledging that Venezuela has failed to comply with the recommendations in all areas and rights referred to in the report and its annex.

The timid tone that prevails in the report maintains the cautious line of the previous High Commissioner, where the presence of the Office in Venezuela was prioritized over the protection mandate. In the opinion of human rights defender Calixto Ávila, “it is a model in which evaluating their own recommendations can undermine permission to stay in the country. It makes an OHCHR weak in the face of authoritarianism, subjected to a logic of taking hostages”.

The presence of the OHCHR in Venezuela began in mid-2019 with only two people and resources were recently approved to increase the number of officers to 30, so it is inexplicable that, with more personnel deployed in the country, the Office cannot achieve present reports that comply with the requirements of the Human Rights Council. The only possible explanation is that it is not a problem of human resources, but of political calculation.

On the other hand, it should be remembered that the subject of the evaluation was not in the first version of the resolution, so its inclusion in the text approved in September 2022 was considered an achievement and progress. However, in the opinion of Ávila, the OHCHR, “instead of taking advantage of the strength of the mandate given by the Council, weakens it, accommodates it, fails to comply with it”.

Something similar has happened with the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Venezuela (FFM) whose work continues to be totally ignored by the OHCHR. The report presented by Turk on July 5, has 107 footnote references that include national and international NGOs, journalistic sources, treaty bodies, special procedures, and the OHCHR reports themselves, but not a single citation, mention, or reference to the work of the FFM. It is as if it did not exist, despite the fact that both the mandate of the OHCHR and the FFM owe their current validity to the same resolution 51/29.

Despite the weaknesses of the report, the democratic countries were able to extract some information to demand, once again, Venezuela’s compliance with its international obligations that were included in the annex to the report and which are summarized in the following table. They should have been the measuring stick for the report.

By virtue of the recently presented report, the international community and national and international human rights NGOs must demand that High Commissioner Turk comply with the general mandate of the office in Venezuela and in accordance with resolution 51/29, keeping in mind that these are 105 recommendations on which the assessment of Venezuela’s compliance with international obligations should be based. Likewise, the end of the wall that prevents the interaction of the FFM with the presence of the OHCHR in Caracas must be demanded, and support must be given to the FFM to take full advantage of the enormous and valuable information produced by it.