The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights has visited Venezuela and blasted Washington’s sanctions regime.
Alena Douhan, who was in Venezuela from February 1-12, published her preliminary findings on Friday after meeting a “wide range of interlocutors,” including from state institutions, a vast variety of political parties, independent grassroots movements, trade unions, business lobbies, the Church and NGOs. She will present her full report at the 48th UN Human Rights Council session scheduled for September.
In the preliminary findings, the Belarusian lawyer concluded that Washington’s 2015 state of national emergency and the US’, EU’s and allies’ subsequent sanctions regime “violates international law” and “the principle of sovereign equality of states,” while also constituting “an intervention in the domestic affairs of Venezuela.”
Douhan especially highlighted the “devastating” impact of the blockade on “all of Venezuela’s population” as well as on human rights, the economy and social coverage, directly linking it to the recent migration levels, increased poverty and deteriorated living conditions.
The human rights lawyer concluded the report by “urging” that sanctions be “revised and lifted.”
Frozen assets abroad
In the findings, the independent UN expert criticized moves to freeze Venezuelan assets abroad, calling on the UK, Portuguese and US governments and their “corresponding banks” to liberate them and enable Caracas to attend to the “needs of its population.”
Douhan made special reference to the COVID-19 emergency and the obstacles faced to secure tests, medicines and vaccines.
The UN lawyer also stated that the sanctions violate a great number of human rights, including the right to work, to social security, to an adequate standard of living, to fair trial and freedom of movement.
“The Special Rapporteur is concerned that unilateral targeted sanctions in their existing form violate at the very least obligations emerging from universal and regional instruments in the sphere of human rights, many of which are of a peremptory character,” her report states.
The expert from the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) went on to mention a number of cases in which the measures have detrimentally affected healthcare.
“The unavailability of resources, including the frozen assets, for buying vaccines and supporting family planning programs has resulted in outbreaks of malaria, measles and yellow fever and opportunistic infections,” she explained.
She particularly pointed to increasing teenage pregnancy rates and HIV/AIDS infections due to contraception shortages, and “the diversion of assets of PDVSA’s [seized] US subsidiary, CITGO, [which] has prevented transplants of liver and bone marrow to 53 Venezuelan children.”
The UN Rapporteur additionally stressed a drop in educational standards and coverage caused by “the unavailability of financial resources and reluctance of foreign companies to trade with Venezuela” since 2015, referring to an “absence or insufficiency of school supplies, school uniforms and food at school, which used to be provided by the government”
Similarly, she highlighted the suspension of the government-run Canaima computer program for the same causes, as well as “transportation problems, the absence of electricity, and reduced Internet and mobile phone coverage [which] endanger the right to education.”
The UN official went on to criticize tightening sanctions against the oil sector, and fuel and diesel production and purchases in particular.
“The Special Rapporteur is concerned that the lack of gasoline, with the resulting rise in transportation prices, violates the freedom of movement, impedes access to hospitals, schools and other public services, exacerbates the challenges in delivering and distributing food and medical supplies – especially in remote areas of the country,” Douhan’s findings read.
“The reported lack of diesel fuel,” she continued, “has a potential dramatic effect on the production and storage of food, with the risk of further exacerbating the food insecurity of the Venezuelan people […], increasing therefore health risks and threats to life.”
While noting a range of economic initiatives introduced by Caracas in recent years, including the opening up of the economy to the private sector, the rapporteur noted that wide reaching sanctions “have exacerbated the pre-existing economic and humanitarian situation.”
She specifically explained how the blockade “prevents the earning of revenues and the use of resources to develop and maintain infrastructure and for social support programs, which has a devastating effect on the whole population of Venezuela, especially those in extreme poverty, women, children, medical workers, people with disabilities or life-threatening or chronic diseases, and the indigenous population.”
She equally made special reference to the state’s inability to pay public sector wages or maintain deteriorated public services, such as electricity, water, roadways and telecommunications.
The rapporteur was also vehement in criticizing international threats, pressure, and secondary sanctions against third parties trading with Caracas.
According to Douhan, “secondary sanctions [are] not justified under international law, preventing the government of Venezuela, its public sector and private companies from purchasing machinery, spare parts, medicine, food, agricultural supplies and other essential goods even within the licenses issued by the US government.”
In the financial field, she reported that Caracas suffers from “a growing number of bank transfer refusals, the extension of bank transfer periods (from 2 to 45 days), higher delivery, insurance and bank transfer costs, as well as reported price rises for all (especially imported) goods.” The Belarusian lawyer additionally mentioned related problems for Venezuelan migrants sending remittances home.
Finally, the UN official took note of a number of non-sanction related problems which contribute to the current crisis, including improper use of humanitarian aid funds, economic mismanagement and corruption.
“It is impossible to see to what extent or real percentage [this crisis] has been affected by the sanctions, but I can say that there is evidence that they have had an enormous impact on access to the right to life, to education, to food medicine, and in every other ambit of life,” she summarized upon presenting the report.
Douhan is the second UN human rights expert to visit the country in recent years. Fellow rapporteur Alfred de Zayas has likewise been very critical of sanctions against Venezuela and argued they constitute a crime against humanity. UN High Commission for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet also visited in 2020 and has since added her voice to calls for sanctions relief.
The Venezuelan government welcomed Douhan’s preliminary findings. In contrast, the opposition criticized the UN report, claiming that it was mere “regime propaganda” full of “imprecisions.”
Sanctions against Venezuela began in 2015, but were significantly increased in 2017 and again in 2019, when the US applied first an oil ban and later a fully-fledged embargo on all dealings with Caracas. Most recently, sectors including food import programs, airlines and oil-for-food swap deals have been targeted by Washington.
First published in Venezuela Analysis.