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Statements Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Oral Update on the Human Rights Situation in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela

09 September 2019


Human Rights Council, 42nd Session
Statement by Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights


9 September 2019

Mr. President,
Members of the Human Rights Council;

Since the presentation of my report to this Council on July 5th, the human rights situation has continued to affect millions of people in Venezuela, with clear destabilizing impacts in the region.  It is because of this that I maintain my commitment to continue cooperating with the authorities to achieve substantial changes and to put an end to the human rights violations documented in my report. 

A team from the Office has been re-established in Caracas and the Government has confirmed its willingness to go forward on the basis of human rights commitments made during my visit to the country in June.

Regarding the situation of detention centres and detainees, there have been recent advances. On September 6th a member of my team was authorized to visit the Ramo Verde Military Processing Centre (our sixth visit to a detention centre  since March). Progress is being made on a protocol and calendar of visits for the coming months. In accordance with the commitments made with my Office, the Government released  83 people, including those whose detention was considered to be arbitrary by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, but were still in detention and other cases pointed out by the Office. The full unconditional releases of Judge Afiuni and the journalist Braulio Jatar, who had obtained conditional releases, is still pending. 

The Government also agreed to establish a mechanism to deal with individual cases, and my Office has already presented 27 priority cases which we hope will be resolved soon. The authorities have also advised of recent measures taken to assist the medical situation of some detainees. Additionally, progress is being made by the Government, regarding its invitation to grant ten Special Procedures access to the country within the next two years. 

On the other hand, the economic and social situation continues to rapidly deteriorate, limiting the enjoyment of economic and social rights of millions of people. The economy is experiencing what may be the most severe period of hyperinflation the region has seen, affecting the ability to purchase basic foods, medicine, and other essential goods. As of today, the minimum salary is equivalent to 2 dollars per month, in comparison with 7 dollars in June, meaning a family would need to earn the equivalent of 41 minimum monthly salaries just to cover the basic food basket. The de facto dollarization in various sectors of the economy is exacerbating inequalities.  Public services continue to face serious and recurring outages, which are particularly intense in Zulia state.  Fuel shortages outside of Caracas have exacerbated this situation.

It is within this context, that on August 8th I expressed my concern regarding the potentially severe impact on human rights of the new sanctions imposed by the Government of the United States of America. Despite the exceptions contemplated in these latest sanctions in the area of humanitarian assistance, over-compliance of the financial sector, the reduction of public revenues, and the decrease in oil production is already having a serious impact on social programmes and the population in general. All of this is contributing to the worsening of the humanitarian situation and the exodus of Venezuelans from the country.  

Serious obstacles to the availability and economic accessibility of food persist. For example, Caritas reported 35% chronic malnutrition in children under five in the poorest areas of 18 States in June 2019.    

Regarding the Right to Health, I am particularly concerned with insufficient access to medicines and treatment for the more than 400,000 people suffering from chronic diseases. Deaths of kidney patients have been recorded due to shortages in medicines and supplies necessary for dialysis since 2017.  Due to the shortage of supplies, the only two centres in the country with the capacity to conduct bone marrow transplants are facing serious operational problems. Additionally, due to financial problems, at least 39 people, including girls and boys, are waiting in Venezuela to travel abroad to receive transplants through state-sponsored programmes.  During the past four months at least four children have died during the wait. One positive step is that according to the Pan American Health Organization, vaccine coverage for polio, measles, and diphtheria has increased. 

My Office has continued to document cases of possible extrajudicial executions committed by members of the Special Action Forces of the Bolivarian National Police – known as FAES – in some areas of the country. During the month of July alone, the non-governmental organization Monitor de Victimas (Victims’ Monitor) identified 57 new cases of presumed executions committed by members of the FAES in Caracas. The documented cases reveal the same pattern identified in my July report and demonstrate the lack of effective protection mechanisms for witnesses and family members of the victims, the majority of whom are women. My Office has not received information regarding measures taken to implement the recommendation made in my report to dissolve the FAES and prevent extrajudicial executions. On the contrary, the FAES have received support from the highest level of Government. 

According to information recently received from the Public Ministry, between August 2017 and May 2019, 104 members of security forces were convicted for human rights violations.  My Office awaits detailed information regarding the types of violations, the institutional affiliation of those convicted, and the profiles of the victims.  

In June, the Supreme Court upheld the conviction of a member of the Bolivarian National Intelligence Services (SEBIN) for the murder of Bassil Dacosta, who died from a shot to the head during an anti-government protest in 2014. Also, one of the people allegedly responsible for the death of Orlando Figuera, who was set on fire during protests convened by the opposition in 2017, was detained in Spain.  I call on judicial authorities to expedite investigations and criminal proceedings of the remaining cases of deaths in the contexts of protests. 

I am concerned about the increased presence of the military in the territory of the Pemon indigenous peoples, as well as recent cases of violence against indigenous people, including the deaths of two Warao youths in July allegedly by the FAES, as well as the deaths of a pregnant Warao woman and a six-year-old girl, as well as the death of a Curripaco indigenous leader in Amazon state, allegedly by members of the Bolivarian National Guard. 

I am also concerned about the impact of mining for gold, diamond, coltan, and other metals in the Arco Minero del Orinoco (“Mining Belt”), is having on the way of life of indigenous peoples, as well as the environmental impact in their territories.  While the Government maintains it carried out consultations with indigenous peoples prior to the establishment of the Arco Minero, indigenous leaders and NGOs maintain neither adequate consultations nor environmental impact studies took place. 

Since the presentation of my report, the National Constituent Assembly, at the request of the Supreme Court, lifted the parliamentary immunity of four more deputies of the National Assembly, increasing the total number to 24 parliamentarians (1 woman and 23 men) stripped of their immunity, including its President. Two parliamentarians are currently in preventative detention awaiting trial. I trust that my Office will be able to visit them soon. 

I wish to express my condemnation at the conviction of trade union leader Ruben Gonzalez to 5 years and 9 months imprisonment by a military tribunal on August 13th for events that took place in the context of his activism as a trade unionist. His family has also been subjected to various forms of harassment. The use of military justice to try civilians constitutes a violation of the right to a fair trial, including the right to be tried by an independent and impartial tribunal. 

I am concerned about recent actions taken to pass a law that criminalizes activities of domestic human rights organizations that receive funds from abroad. This law, if passed and applied, would further reduce the democratic space. I also regret recent attacks by the Government on the independence of universities. 

My Office has documented cases of torture and ill-treatment, both physical and psychological, of people arbitrarily deprived of their liberty, particularly members of the military.  Conditions of detention do not meet minimum international standards and those detained do not have access to adequate medical attention.  I  call on the authorities to take action to correct these practices, to allow access to medical care, and investigate human rights violations. 

The autopsy of Captain Acosta Arevalo, who died in custody on June 29th, revealed he had suffered multiple blows, bruises, wounds and burns to various parts of his body. He had 15 broken ribs, as well as fractures in his nose and right foot.  Authorities reported that two military counterintelligence officials (DGCIM) had been detained and accused of second-degree murder, but not of committing acts of torture.  I encourage the authorities to investigate reports of torture, to punish those responsible, to provide reparations to victims, and to adopt measures to avoid their repetition. 

According to the latest United Nations figures, there are more than 4.3 million Venezuelan refugees and migrants in the world. I commend the efforts taken by host countries in the areas of reception, documentation, and access to rights. I agree with the words of Eduardo Stein, the Secretary General’s Special Representative for Venezuelan refugees and migrants, and although I understand the need to adopt measures to guarantee safe, orderly, and regular migration, those measures should not be obstacles to access the countries, possibly resulting in increased irregular migration, and exacerbate the risks of becoming victims of various forms of violence and exploitation.   I am concerned about reports of outbreaks of xenophobia in countries in the region and reiterate my call to the authorities of host countries to mitigate and prevent such outbreaks, while preserving the rights of migrants and refugees. 

My Office has continued to document cases of migrant victims of trafficking, particularly women, girls, and boys, for the purposes of sexual exploitation, labour, and recruitment for illicit activities by criminal organizations and armed groups. Victims rarely report for fear of reprisals, or of being deported, and because of corruption, impunity, and lack of adequate care services. At the same time, the disappearance of dozens of migrants whose boats were either shipwrecked or disappeared on the Caribbean coast, apparently in connection with  trafficking networks and human trafficking to the Caribbean islands, has been documented. 

I am concerned about information received by my Office according to which some civil society organizations and their representatives that collaborated with my Office in the preparation of my latest report to this Council have been victims of public denouncements and threats by senior officials, following its publication. Reprisals for having cooperated with the United Nations are unacceptable and I urge the authorities to take preventative measures. 

I remain convinced that the recommendations in my report can serve as a guide to overcome the current human rights situation. My Office will continue to provide the necessary technical cooperation and support to institutions and victims, while continuing to monitor and report. 

I reiterate my call to both the Government and the Opposition to overcome their differences and prioritize the negotiations, which I consider to be the only way to overcome the current human rights situation. Once again, I express my availability, and that of my Office, both inside and outside the country, to support all efforts that contribute to overcoming this current crisis that affects millions of Venezuelans. I support the dialogue facilitated by the Kingdom of Norway, as well as the various initiatives that the international community is promoting.