Statements Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
Human Rights in Crimea, Nicaragua and Venezuela
02 July 2020
Human Rights Council 44th Session
Statement by Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
2 July 2020
I am honoured to present reports by the Secretary General and my Office on the human rights situation in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, Ukraine and in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.
I will also briefly update the Council on the human rights situation in Nicaragua, as mandated by resolution 43/2.
Because of Spanish speaking Nicaragua and Venezuela, I will do it in Spanish.
Since my last oral update on Nicaragua in February, as mandated by resolution 40/2, persistent human rights violations continue to be documented against those who the Government perceives as opponents, including human rights defenders, journalists, social leaders, and former political detainees.
The right to peaceful assembly continues to be systematically curtailed by deployment of police, arbitrary arrests and attacks by pro-government elements when critics of the Government attempt to assemble peacefully. Between March and June of this year, my Office documented 43 complaints of alleged human rights violations, such as house searches without a warrant, arbitrary arrests and detentions, threats, harassment and intimidation by police or pro-government elements against people perceived as opponents.
There are still no investigations or criminal proceedings to identify, prosecute, and punish those responsible for serious human rights violations that have occurred in the past two years, partly as a result of the Amnesty Law.
This persistent impunity erodes trust in the authorities, and together with the lack of legal and institutional reforms, increases the risk of new human rights violations.
Attacks with firearms that left four indigenous people dead and two injured in Tuahka territory, in the North Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region on 26 and 27 March, are worrying. Violent incidents that took place on 19 and 20 April in Esquipulas, on the island of Ometepe, left at least two residents and three police officers injured. Several residents reportedly confronted the police for alleged use of force violations and the arbitrary arrest of three people, including taking a police officer hostage for a few hours, while demanding the release of those arrested.
Also of concern is the killing of an opponent in Jinotega in March, and the lack of information about the progress of the investigations into 10 of the 14 killings in that region, as mentioned in my previous oral update.
I welcome the recent release of 4,515 inmates under special measures so they can be with their families, releases that have also reduced overcrowding in prisons.
However, none of the 86 "political prisoners" registered by civil society as of 4 May 2020 benefited from these measures. I reiterate my recommendation to release all those deprived of their liberty in the context of the protests during the last two years.
Madam President and members of the Council,
The health crisis caused by COVID-19 has resulted in greater restrictions on the civic and democratic space. Official discourse stigmatizes people who criticize the State response or disseminate information contradicting official sources. The pandemic has also increased violence against women, femicides in particular. During the first five months of this year, civil society organizations registered 32 femicides, while in the same period last year they reported 27 cases.
There is also little transparency and a lack of clarity in public information about cases. Although the Government has indicated that it has been working to strengthen public health, community health, making house-to-house visits to detect cases, some government measures do not comply with the recommendations of WHO, PAHO, and the Nicaraguan medical community, especially regarding physical distancing. To date, we have received reports that at least 16 doctors have been reportedly fired without respect for legal procedures, for criticizing the State response to the pandemic.
On 25 June, through a legislative decree approved in an expedited process, the National Assembly cancelled the legal registration of the Asociación de Hermanamientos Municipales (ASODHERMU), a non-profit organization that has been developing social activities in the municipality of Camoapa. Since 2018, the Nicaraguan State has cancelled the legal registration of 10 civil society organizations without due process guarantees, affecting the right to freedom of association in the country.
The Nicaraguan economy was already facing serious challenges due to the crisis that began in April 2018. The pandemic could aggravate this situation, affecting the economic, social and cultural rights of the Nicaraguan people, particularly the most vulnerable.
I call on the Government to be more open to dialogue with civil society, and to cooperation with the United Nations and the Inter-American system.
This is fundamental to strengthen the response to the pandemic, implement consensual measures that contribute to overcoming the socio-political and human rights crisis, and prepare a fair and transparent electoral process. I reiterate our willingness to provide technical cooperation to all actors, as I pointed out to the Foreign Minister yesterday.
I also urge the Council to continue monitoring the situation.
I will now present my report on human rights in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (A/HRC/Res/42/4). On 15 July I will present another report on the independence of the judiciary, access to justice, and the situation of human rights in the Arco Minero del Orinoco, under Item 4.
I appreciate the increased access my Office has in Venezuela, and our cooperation since the signing of the Letter of Understanding in September 2019.
I thank the Government for its cooperation so that my Office was able to conduct visits to the states of Zulia, Bolivar, and Lara, as well as 13 visits to 11 penitentiary centres. I appreciate the establishment of, and exchange with, the Interinstitutional Coordination Committee to fulfil technical assistance agreements and exchange information on individual cases of people deprived of their liberty.
People in Venezuela continue to suffer grave violations of their economic and social rights due to low salaries, high food prices, persisting deficiencies in public services such as electricity, water and fuel shortages, and precarious access to healthcare.
The crisis has been exacerbated by the increase in sectoral sanctions and the COVID-19 pandemic.
I welcome the agreement reached between the Government and part of the opposition to join forces with the Pan American Health Organization to deal with the pandemic.
My Office continued to document restrictions to the civic and democratic space, with violations of freedom of expression and the right to information, and the detention of political leaders, journalists, trade unionists, health professionals, and people protesting for public services. Attacks, and the obstruction of the work of parliamentarians of the National Assembly continued.
I recognize the decrease in homicide rates in 2019, although I remain concerned about the high numbers of deaths of young people by security forces.
The Government reported that its security forces thwarted several attempts at rebellion. While I recognize the Government’s authority to prosecute those presumed responsible for these acts, I am concerned about the pattern of arbitrary detentions and violations of due process guarantees, as well as allegations of torture and enforced disappearances during initial days of detention, as documented in the report.
I recognize the decrease in levels of violence in detention centres administered by the Ministry for Penitentiary Services, although there continue to be challenges regarding access to food, health, water, and sanitation.
Above all, I regret that political actors fail to reach a negotiated solution to resolve the profound political crisis. Recent decisions of the Supreme Court of Justice reduce the possibility of creating conditions for credible and democratic electoral processes. These decisions named nine new rectors of the National Electoral Council without the consensus of all political forces and interfered with the internal organization of two of the main opposition political parties.
I reiterate my call for an inclusive political negotiation, based on human rights and the restitution of political rights. My Office remains available to contribute to these efforts.
I now turn to the interim report of the Secretary-General on the “Situation of Human Rights in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, Ukraine”, as mandated by United Nations General Assembly resolution 74/168. The report covers the period of 1 July to 31 December 2019, and draws heavily from the work of my Office’s Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine.
The report notes that human rights violations involving torture and other ill-treatment perpetrated by law enforcement agencies continued in Crimea. It is particularly concerning that, in all documented cases in which victims made credible complaints to the courts and law enforcement authorities, no perpetrator was held accountable.
There are concerns about inadequate conditions of detention in Crimea, which could amount to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
The ongoing criminalization of freedom of expression on social media is also worrisome, with journalists and media workers continuing to face interference with their professional activities. Several civil society groups faced obstacles in organizing conferences, public discussions and other meetings. My Office received information regarding pressure and threats by law enforcement on landlords of facilities where Crimean Tatar civic groups planned to meet.
In addition, the report provides several examples where, in violation of international humanitarian law, the Russian Federation failed to uphold its obligations as the occupying Power in Crimea. Transfers of detainees from occupied territory to the territory of the occupying Power, continue to violate the prohibition on individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as on deportations of protected persons. The report also notes that the Russian Federation continues to apply its criminal legislation in Crimea, contrary to its obligation to respect the criminal laws of the occupied territory, and that it carried out its tenth military conscription campaign in Crimea, in violation of international humanitarian law.
Moreover, the report reminds the Government of Ukraine of its obligation to use all available means to ensure respect for the enjoyment of human rights in Crimea. It reiterates concerns raised previously by my Office with regard to discrimination and obstacles suffered by current and former Crimean residents when trying to access banking services or register births and deaths in Ukraine, outside of Crimea.
My office will continue to monitor the human rights situation in Crimea, and stand ready to engage with the Russian Federation, as the occupying Power, as well as with Ukraine, in order to strengthen protection of human rights on the peninsula and throughout the country.
This concludes my introduction of reports under item 2.
In every case, I encourage all parties to fully implement the human rights recommendations in the reports. My Office stands ready to assist in this regard.