Key Points of UN Special Rapporteur’s Preliminary Report on Venezuela

By Mision Verdad – Feb 13, 2021

Alena Douhan, a Special Rapporteur on human rights for the United Nations (UN), visited Venezuela to investigate first-hand the negative impact of the unilateral coercive measures imposed on the country and the consequent violation of human rights, and submitted a preliminary report that was published in the website of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Most of the elements regarding the sanctions mentioned in the preliminary report have already been described and previously denounced by the authorities of the Venezuelan State, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and media agencies like this platform. However, for the first time, the destructive consequences of the economic-financial-commercial blockade on the Venezuelan population are referred to in a multilateral instance with great impact on global public opinion, something that must be valued in its fair measure.

Alena Douhan, a native of Belarus, was appointed in March 2020 as United Nations Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights.

She has extensive experience in the fields of international law and human rights. She is a professor of international law at the State University of Belorussia (Minsk), visiting professor at the Institute of International Law of Peace and Armed Conflict (Bochum, Germany) and director of the Research Center for Peace (Minsk).

She received her doctorate from the Belarussian State University in 2005 and obtained a PhD in International Law and European Law in 2015 (Belarus). Douhan’s academic and research interests are in the fields of international law, sanctions and human rights law, international security law, the law of international organizations, international dispute resolution, and international environmental law.

The Special Rapporteurs of the United Nations are part of the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council, which is the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system. Special Procedures is the general name for the Council’s independent investigation and monitoring mechanisms that address country-specific situations or thematic issues around the world. Special procedures experts work on a voluntary basis, are not UN personnel, and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent of any government or organization and serve in an individual capacity.

Viewed this way, Alena Douhan’s work in Venezuela has a humanitarian character in itself and reveals an awareness within the UN Human Rights Council that differs from what is exhibited through the destructive ideology of the United States in that instance. It can be said that the visit and the investigation of the UN Special Rapporteur is truly independent and was not coerced by any State nor by any public or private organization.

Panoramic view of the investigation

Context of UN Special Rapporteur Alena Douhan’s visit

From the very beginning of the text presented by Douhan, it is explicitly mentioned that these “observations are preliminary in nature, and are the result of extensive consultations with a wide range of stakeholders. The full report will be presented to the United Nations Human Rights Council in September 2021.” In other words, everything described here is still capable of being expanded and is nothing more than a panoramic view of the investigation.

The Special Rapporteur recalls that the imposition of unilateral coercive measures by the United States against Venezuela began in 2005 “when it introduced selective sanctions against persons and entities allegedly involved in drug trafficking.” Thereafter, in 2006, Washington imposed an arms embargo on the country “on the grounds that the government was not cooperating sufficiently in counter-terrorism efforts.”

To give it context, it should be remembered that in 2005, then President of Venezuela Hugo Chávez had terminated all joint operations and military exchanges with Pentagon, a measure that was not to the liking of Washington and that ruined US plans for military penetration in the Caribbean region of South America, using the so-called Plan Colombia as foothold.

RELATED CONTENT: UN Special Rapporteur Urges US to Lift the Blockade Against Venezuela

In continuation, the report recalls the role of the Law for the Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society of Venezuela promulgated by the US Congress in 2014, which was the preliminary basis for the designation of the so-called Obama Decree of 2015, which declared Venezuela as an “unusual and extraordinary threat to the security of the United States.” To this executive order against Venezuela, six more were added later, all issued by the administration of Donald Trump.

Since 2017, unilateral coercive measures have been issued from Washington that have completely debilitated the Venezuelan economy, and thus degraded massively the quality of life of the population. The preliminary report lists and describes all the legislations enacted by the White House and the US Treasury Department, as well as all the blockade actions (economic, financial, commercial, political and diplomatic), resolutions of the Lima Group and the Treaty of Rio, and the freezing of funds in international financial entities, such as the $1.2 billion frozen by Novo Banco de Portugal and the nearly $2 billion worth of gold seized by the Bank of England, assets that belong to the Venezuelan people but that have not been returned to the coffers of the Venezuelan State.

Economic and humanitarian situation in Venezuela
After a succinct description of the operation of the Venezuelan economy, dependent on state revenues from oil (“mono-oriented economy”) and on imports of “most products, from machinery and spare parts to food and medicines,” Douhan affirmed that “the decline of the economy began in 2014 with the fall in oil prices” and then went on to cite other factors such as “mismanagement” and “corruption.”

But she does not hesitate to confirm that “the unilateral sanctions imposed and increasingly harshened by the United States, the European Union and other countries have aggravated the problems” of the Venezuelan economy that had already been demonstrated, especially since 2013, with the death of Commander Chávez and the assumption of Nicolás Maduro to the presidency of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

The data published by the Presidency are also cited: “the government’s income has decreased by 99%” and “the country currently lives with 1% of its income prior to the sanctions.” She mentions that “remittances from abroad have decreased due to the seizures of state assets and the complexity of bank transfers and the impediments to carry them out” and that the hyperinflation of the last four years has pulverized the salaries of public servants.

She immediately makes a consideration: although in 2018 the Bolivarian Government introduced economic reforms with the intention of overcoming the aforementioned obstacles, “the tightening of the sanctions that the country has been facing since 2015 undermines the possible positive impact of the current reforms, as well as the capacity of the State to maintain infrastructures and execute social programs,” taking into account that especially since 2000, it has been the State that has invested huge amounts of money in social programs and development of the national economy.

The figures related to infrastructure, migration, and basic services for the population are devastating. Below we cite just a few connected to “the unavailability of financial resources and the reluctance of foreign companies to trade with Venezuelan public institutions and often with private ones”:

• “… electric power lines can work today at less than 20% of their capacity,”
• “Most public services have seen between 30% and 50% of their personnel reduced, including the most qualified (doctors, nurses, engineers, teachers, professors, judges, policemen, etc.), which has caused internal disorganization, an increase in workload for the remaining staff, a reduction in services and a decrease in their quality,”
• “…many households report frequent cuts due to power outages affecting water pumps, and lack of infrastructure maintenance, due to the shortage of qualified maintenance personnel,”
• “Due to trade impediments, the use of chemical agents to treat and purify water to make it potable has been reduced by 30%,”
• “The impediments to the importation of food, which constitutes more than 50% of national consumption, have caused a constant rise in malnutrition over the last 6 years, with more than 2.5 million people in a situation of serious food insecurity,”
• “The CLAP food box program, started as a government initiative in 2017 and which covers 6 million households throughout the country, has been forced to reduce the diversity of items,”
• “The impediments to health care include serious shortage of medicines and vaccines; rising prices; shortage of electricity for key medical equipment; water shortages and sanitation problems affecting hygiene; and deterioration of infrastructure due to lack of maintenance, unavailability of spare parts, unavailability of new equipment due to lack of resources or refusal on part of manufacturers to sell or deliver them; degradation of working conditions and lack of protective equipment against infectious diseases; the loss of personnel in all medical areas due to low salaries; and delay in completion of construction of hospitals and primary care centers,”
• “Positions of health care personnel in public hospitals are vacant by 50-70%. Only about 20% of medical teams are currently in operation,”
• “School and university education has faced a serious decline in government support since 2016, including the termination or reduction of the supply of school uniforms, shoes, backpacks and office supplies and the reduction of the number of daily meals at school (from 2 to 1), the decrease in its quantity and diversity of items or its total stoppage.”

RELATED CONTENT: Venezuela – Food Security and Sovereignty to Fight Starvation Sanctions

In light of all this, the UN Special Rapporteur comments that the Bolivarian Government maintains instances of cooperation with “UNDP, UNICEF, UNAIDS, PAHO, other international agencies, as well as with the church, the private sector and humanitarian NGOs that provide aid, facilitating some reconstruction of the water supply systems and the supply of vaccines, medicines, tests, reagents, school supplies and food.”

She denounces that “attempts to release the gold frozen in the Bank of England for the purchase of medicines, vaccines, protective gear and medical equipment through UNDP and PAHO in 2020 have failed. No funds have been released for the purchase of vaccines of the COVAX program through PAHO in 2020-2021,” implying that the economic and humanitarian situation in Venezuela has been visibly torpedoed by the blockade, even when Western propaganda covers up its actions and effects.

Assessment of the legal basis for the imposition of sanctions

The preliminary report states that the Obama Decree is basically illegal in the eye of international law:

“…it is not in accordance with the requirements of the Article 4 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, such as the existence of a threat to the life of the nation, the limitation of measures to the emergencies of the situation, a limited duration, the absence of discrimination, the prohibition of repealing the right to life and the prohibition of punishing an activity that does not constitute a crime, as mentioned in the January 29, 2021 communication of the human rights experts.”

Regarding the “sanctions” on the strategic sectors of the Venezuelan economy (oil, gold, mining, etc.), it says that:

“…they constitute a violation of international law, and their illegality with reference to countermeasures is not excluded. The announced purpose of the “maximum pressure campaign”—to change the Government of Venezuela—violates the principle of sovereign equality of States and constitutes an intervention in the internal affairs of Venezuela that also affects its regional relations.”

In short, the entire network of unilateral coercive measures of the United States against Venezuela violates the fundamental rights enshrined in international law. We quote extensively and highlight key comments below:

“Referring to the customary rules on the immunity of State property, the Special Rapporteur recalls that the assets of the Central Bank and the assets used for public functions belong to the State of Venezuela and not to its Government or to any individual. Therefore, the freezing of the assets of the Central Bank of Venezuela for not recognizing the Government of Venezuela, as well as the adoption of the related sanctions, violates the sovereign rights of the country and prevents its effective government from exercising its duty to guarantee the needs of the population.

“The Special Rapporteur emphasizes that the inclusion of State officials in the ex officio list contradicts the prohibition to punish an activity that does not constitute a crime, prevents officials from representing the interests of Venezuela in international courts and other international institutions, and undermines the principle of sovereign equality of States. She also points out that the repeated refusals of banks in the United States, the United Kingdom and Portugal to release Venezuelan assets, even for the purchase of medicines, vaccines and personal protection equipment under the oversight of international organizations, violates the aforementioned principle and impedes Venezuela’s ability to respond to the COVID-19 emergency.

“The Special Rapporteur is concerned that the selective unilateral sanctions in their current form violate, at a minimum, the obligations arising from the universal and regional instruments in the ambit of human rights, many of which are peremptory in nature.

“…The Special Rapporteur asserts that the application of extraterritorial jurisdiction to nationals and companies of third-party States for cooperation with public authorities, nationals and companies of Venezuela, and the alleged threats of sanctions to the said third-party States, is not justified under international law and it increases the risks of overcompliance with the sanctions. The Special Rapporteur notes with concern the alleged threats to private companies and to donors, partners and humanitarian organizations from third-party countries.”

This reflects that the instruments of coercion and threats used by Washington and its partners against Venezuelan officials and those who do business with the Venezuelan State are clearly illegal, exceed international agreements and violate the fundamental human rights of the population.

Impact on the enjoyment of human rights

Given all the US scaffolding to induce an economic and social crisis in Venezuela, the conclusions of the UN Special Rapporteur are convincing and conclusive since “they have exacerbated the pre-existing economic and humanitarian situation by preventing the acquirement of income and the use of resources for development and maintenance of infrastructure and for social support programs, which is producing a devastating effect on the entire population of Venezuela.”

Douhan also noted that “existing exemptions on humanitarian grounds are ineffective and insufficient, subject to lengthy and costly procedures, and do not cover the delivery and supply of spare parts, equipment and machinery necessary for maintenance and restoration of the economy and public services.” That is why the humanitarian presumptions of the United States and the European Union have not been able to translate into reality, but rather have served as propaganda ammunition in order to demonize the measures taken by the Bolivarian Government to protect the population from foreign economic attacks.

In the preliminary report, the researcher’s concern is present everywhere, since the application of the economic-financial-commercial blockade prevents “the government of Venezuela, its public sector and private companies from acquiring machinery, spare parts, medicines, food, agricultural supplies and other essential goods, even within the licenses granted by the United States government, and also leads to an increasing number of denials of bank transfer, extension of the time of bank transfers (from 2 to 45 days), increased costs for delivery, insurance and bank transfers, as well as reported increase in prices of all goods (especially imported goods).”

Furthermore, the blockade, as has been denounced hundreds of times, “translates into the impossibility of purchasing the necessary medical and technological equipment, reagents and spare parts for the repair and maintenance of electricity, gas, and water infrastructures, public transport, telephone and communication infrastructure, schools, hospitals, housing and other public institutions, which undermine the enjoyment of various human rights, including the right to a dignified life.”

The negative effects of unilateral coercive measures on the increase in migration, the reduction of wages, the lack of fuel for the Venezuelan internal market, the deterioration of basic services for the population are also recognized in the report. “The coercive measures endanger the exercise of the right to education,” “affect access to information and freedom of expression” and, in turn, “the right to education, academic freedoms and cultural rights, and impede the provision of humanitarian aid” and the right to property.

The UN Special Rapporteur also “observed that, due to the need to guarantee essential human needs for survival, the government has suspended all programs aimed at achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.”

A distinctive dimension of the preliminary report has to do with the fact that it is “recognized that selective and secondary sanctions violate the rights to a fair trial, procedural guarantees, freedom of movement, property rights and the right to reputation,” referring to the fact that Venezuelan officials are “suffering violations of their right to have and express opinions, and to participate in public affairs,” bringing to mind the case against Alex Saab in Cape Verde and the US efforts to prosecute him on US soil, in a totally illegal manner, as demonstrated by the UN Special Rapporteur:

“…it is noted that access to justice with regard to the sanctions of the United States is not guaranteed, especially in light of the numerous reported refusals by US attorneys to bring cases to OFAC due to the alleged threats from the United States government or fear of hypothetical sanctions.”

It is a war of political extermination with nuances in different planes of life that the United States exercises against Venezuela. These are the words that describe the conclusions of the preliminary report in this section:

“The Special Rapporteur concludes that the sanctions imposed against Venezuela, its citizens and companies affect people in Venezuela and outside its territory, both in public and private sectors, nationals of third-party countries and employees of companies of third-party countries affected by secondary sanctions or fearing them, donors and international humanitarian NGOs, beneficiaries of assistance from international organizations traditionally financed by Venezuela, while low-income people, women, children and people with special needs or with chronic or serious illnesses are the most affected with respect to the entire ambit of human rights, including civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights and the right to development.”

Finally, with regard to the recommendations that Alena Douhan made in relation to the blockade, she urged “the governments of the United Kingdom, Portugal and the United States and the corresponding banks to unfreeze the assets of the Central Bank of Venezuela (BCV) to acquire medicines, vaccines, food, medical and other equipment, spare parts and other essential goods to guarantee the humanitarian needs of the people of Venezuela and the restoration of public services in collaboration with UNDP and other United Nations agencies and through agreed upon mechanisms of cooperation and supervision.”

In that sense, what the report urged with the force of conviction is the end of the blockade as it exists over Venezuela, the end of the war against a country that seeks to overcome the existential pitfalls it is currently experiencing. This document is an examination of conscience on the situation of human rights in Venezuela, rights that are violated by a hegemon in decadence which is only interested in its survival at the expense of crimes against humanity over a people that too has the right to exist.


Featured image: Sanctions Kill, as says the UN Special Rapporteur about Venezuela. File photo.

(Mision Verdad)

Translation: Orinoco Tribune


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Misión Verdad is a Venezuelan investigative journalism website with a socialist perspective in defense of the Bolivarian Revolution

Misión Verdad

Misión Verdad is a Venezuelan investigative journalism website with a socialist perspective in defense of the Bolivarian Revolution