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Report of UN mechanisms calls for more monitoring on Venezuela

Among the compendium of inputs for the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on Venezuela to be held on January 25, is the OHCHR compilation document on the reports of the treaty bodies and special procedures and other relevant United Nations documents.

As a starting point, the international regulatory framework ratified by Venezuela remains deficient. In the second cycle, the State received several recommendations to adhere to or ratify eight human rights treaties, of which only one was ratified during the period of this review, namely, the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers. Since 2016, the State has dragged a debt against the UPR that denies international protection to victims in the field of forced disappearances, torture, childhood, refuge, statelessness, and domestic work. In contrast, in the past cycle it was recommended to return to the American Convention on Human Rights and to the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court, which was not mentioned in this report.

As in the previous cycle, this report reiterates the recommendation of the OHCHR to advance in the programming of the visits requested by the heads of special procedures, none of which have been carried out. Similarly, in both cycles, the OHCHR mentions the delay of the State in submitting reports to treaty bodies. It is noteworthy that, although in this report the OHCHR acknowledges the establishment and extension of the mandate of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Venezuela, it does not include an express recommendation to cooperate with said mechanism, which does appear with respect to the other mechanisms of the Human Rights Council.

Another difference to highlight between the reports of the second and current cycle is linked to the specificity of the information on cooperation with treaty bodies and special procedures. While in the second cycle information was included on the number of decisions by treaty bodies and their status, as well as the number of communications from special procedures and responses received from the State, the current report did not include this data, which makes it impossible to quantify the impact of the Venezuelan situation from the perspective of UN expert and independent mechanisms.

In terms of substantive obligations, the current report adds new sections, one on the environment, development and business, another on the fight against terrorism, a third on slavery, and a fourth on women, in addition to diversifying a fifth section on migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, which recently incorporates internally displaced persons. The first group highlights the impact of unilateral coercive measures, the situation in the Orinoco Mining Arc and the acceptance of humanitarian aid by various actors, in all of which the State failed to comply with its international human rights obligations.

Regarding the fight against terrorism, the use of legislation to stigmatize and criminalize civil society, particularly defenders and the media, is noted. Regarding the issue of slavery, the report points to the increase in cases of human trafficking in the context of Venezuelan mobility. As for women, the report expresses, among other things, “the disproportionate and differentiated impact that the crisis had” on women and girls and the cases of sexual and gender-based violence against women and girls deprived of their liberty. On the issue of migrants, the report links the migration crisis with “the lack of access to economic, social, cultural and environmental rights” and internal displacement with “issues related to security, especially localized armed conflicts”.

Although the rest of the issues are repeated from the second cycle, the current report shows the worsening of the crisis through patterns of the use of force in the context of demonstrations and deaths in the context of security operations that would constitute extrajudicial executions. A key fact is that “OHCHR noted little progress in establishing a chain of command of responsibilities from higher authorities and indicated that no final judgment had been rendered in these cases”.

Additionally, the report states that the most serious cases of cruel treatment and torture took place in the facilities of the civil intelligence agency (Bolivarian National Intelligence Service, SEBIN), the military intelligence agency (General Directorate of Military Counterintelligence, DGCIM) and of military units throughout the country. It also refers to practices of forced disappearances, the lack of judicial independence, restrictions on NGOs, lack of public information and guarantees of economic, social, and cultural rights, especially regarding access to public services, food, health, decent wages, and social security.

The report, although in a poor and isolated way, refers to pre-existing causes that depend on the government. In terms of ESCR, the violations recorded in the section on the “right to an adequate standard of living” are framed in “preexisting multifactorial social and economic crises”. According to the report, “the problems persisted due, in part, to the misallocation of resources, the lack of maintenance of public infrastructure and the serious lack of investment in essential services”. Even so, these references do not use the concept of complex humanitarian emergency, which had already been applied by the organs of the UN system to the Venezuelan situation. In terms of civil and political rights, the violations reported in the section on “fundamental freedoms” are fueled by “selective acts of persecution and repression for political reasons, including stigmatizing rhetoric and smear campaigns”.

Despite these important points, there is also an imbalance between the information and analysis collected by the OHCHR and the information and analysis from the heads of special procedures, with few references to the latter, despite making patterns visible. For example, key information was not included, such as that contained in the most recent communication of United Nations rapporteurs published on November 19, 2021, which systematizes and condemns a set of restrictive legislation against civil society for imposing acts of control, registration, control, and sanctions to organizations. The time factor does not seem to be a valid reason, since other information from older communications, such as those that question the use of a state television channel to persecute opponents or those perceived as such, are not reflected in the report either, even when they put the magnifying glass on a recognized pattern that triggers human rights violations in the country. The report, in short, has its pros and cons in terms of expressing with rigor and conceptual clarity the human rights situation in Venezuela. Even removing the noted ups and downs, it is clear that cooperation with the human rights system is a misleading narrative. So many disregarded institutional and substantive commitments, serious and systematic patterns that have not been dismantled, and a humanitarian emergency “justified” in the sanctions, are the consequence of a system of state institutions, policies, and practices that are not seriously reformed and seek to impede international monitoring. This once again confirms that the State has room for maneuver that does not entail sufficient political cost