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Introduction of the report on the independence of the justice system, access to justice and the situation of human rights in the Arco Minero del Orinoco in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela

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Statement by Nada Al- Nashif
UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights
44th session of the Human Rights Council
Geneva, 15 July 2020

Madam President,
Distinguished delegates,
Colleagues,
Friends,

I am pleased to present our report that focuses on the independence of the justice system and access to justice in Venezuela, as well as the situation of human rights in the Arco Minero del Orinoco region, as mandated by the Human Rights Council in resolution 42/25. I refer you to the High Commissioner’s presentation of our report on the Human Rights Situation in Venezuela (A/HRC/44/20) on 2 July, which reviewed the human rights situation in the country and highlighted the cooperation between the Government and the Office.

I acknowledge the Government’s efforts to cooperate with the Office. This report reflects information gathered and analyzed by OHCHR, including through interviews with victims, witnesses and other sources. Whenever possible, the report refers to official information and data.

The report notes the Government’s efforts to improve access to justice and independence of the justice system, as well as initiatives by the Attorney General Office’s to investigate human rights violations allegedly committed by security forces. The report elaborates on factors that undermine the independence of judges, such as conditions for appointment and tenure, lack of freedom of association and political pressure, including threats of dismissal.

The report found that far-reaching reforms need to be implemented to enable the judiciary to effectively fulfill its role as guarantor of human rights, to contribute to accountability for human rights violations, and facilitate access to justice for victims, including women. Effective protection for victims of human rights violations also needs to be reinforced to dispel fears of re-victimization and restore trust in the rule of law.  Actions in these areas can contribute to addressing impunity, including for serious violations by security forces such as killings and human rights violations committed in the context of protests and security operations, and reports of torture and enforced disappearances.

The report highlights the continuing use of the military justice system for civilians, which should be and remain exceptional. Moreover, since 2018 anti-terrorism courts have increasingly been used to prosecute politically sensitive cases. The report also documents how insufficient resources have hindered the Public Defender’s capacity to adequately defend the people it represents, and that in some cases, defendants are not allowed to appoint their lawyers, leaving them without an effective legal defense.

I now turn to the human rights situation in the Arco Minero del Orinoco region. Due to lack of transparency on the information related to mining activities in the Arco Minero, the Office is not able to determine to what extent the Government has indeed managed to regularize mining activity and curb illegal mining. According to firsthand accounts received by the Office,  a large portion of mining activities remain under the control of organized crime or armed elements that impose their own rules through violence and extortion. The report highlights a pattern of labour exploitation, including child labour, and refers to reports of human trafficking and sexual exploitation. It also found that miners are required to give a large portion of the gold they extract to criminal and armed groups, subjected to long workdays in hazardous conditions, and being exposed to diseases and mercury contamination.

Despite the considerable presence of military and security forces inside the Arco Minero region, and efforts to tackle criminal activity, authorities have yet to fully comply with their obligation under international law to  investigate and sanction violations of human rights related to mining operations.

The expansion of mining since the establishment of the Arco Minero in 2016 has particularly affected the lives and livelihoods of indigenous peoples, within the Arco Minero and beyond, primarily due to the presence of armed actors and environmental impacts. A principal consequence has been the loss of control of their traditional territories and resources, which also undermines their right to self-determination.

The report puts forward targeted recommendations to the Government to address the range of human rights challenges documented. The Office reiterates its offer to continue to provide technical assistance to the authorities and to supporting efforts to improve the situation of human rights in Venezuela.

Finally, the Office calls on all parties to resume inclusive political negotiations aimed at reaching concrete agreements for the conduct of a peaceful, transparent, credible and inclusive electoral process.