Human Rights Council Holds Interactive Dialogue with Fact-finding Mission on Venezuela

OHCHR

The Human Rights Council this morning held an interactive dialogue with the Fact-finding Mission on the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, heard an oral update by the Acting High Commissioner on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, then started a general debate on human rights situations that require the Council’s attention.

Marta Valiñas, Chair of the Independent International Fact-finding Mission on the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, said that the Mission had conducted 246 in-person and remote interviews and had carried out three missions to areas near the border, as they were not permitted to conduct investigations in Venezuela. Two State intelligence agencies, the military agency, DGCIM, and the civilian agency, SEBIN, were identified for their role in the selective repression of people perceived as opponents of the Government. The Mission’s investigations also focused on the situation in the mining regions of southern Venezuela, in the state of Bolívar. The Mission had documented in depth several attacks by State forces against indigenous persons living in the region.

Venezuela, speaking as a country concerned, said it regretted having to come again to the Council to confirm its terrible politicisation, highlighted by the so-called report, which was roundly rejected in form and substance. The so-called Fact-finding Mission had surpassed itself, creating a fiction about the country, aiming to please the international media circus, whose vultures just wanted to feed, and not reflect what was really happening. Everything was invented – millions of phantom migrants, so-called terrorist camps, and even a parallel President, whose existence was improbable. They struck low, but had failed in the criminal aim of regime change, as desired by the United States. Venezuela would take the relevant diplomatic measures if this interventionist mandate continued.

In the ensuing interactive dialogue, some speakers supported the work and essential tasks conducted by the Fact-Finding Mission and strongly supported the extension of the Mission’s mandate by two years. They were seriously concerned about the human rights situation in Venezuela, including the abuse of power by law enforcement and national intelligence services, which had committed torture, cruel treatment, and sexual- and gender-based violence. Some States rejected the dialogue being held, describing it as interfering and diplomatically motivated, saying that the report contained unsubstantiated information and lacked impartiality.

Nada Al-Nashif, Acting United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, in an oral update on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, said since the last update to the Council in June, the people of Myanmar had been caught in a rapid downward spiral, with growing suffering, fear, and insecurity. Urgent action was needed to reverse this catastrophic situation and to restore peace, democracy, and sustainable development. Military tactics increasingly involved indiscriminate attacks and weaponry. Since February 2021, at least 2,316 people had been killed. The humanitarian crisis now brought fears of starvation, with the military largely denying humanitarian access, including recent orders to halt humanitarian operations in northern and central Rakhine state.

In the general debate on human rights situations that require the Council’s attention, the situation of human rights in many countries and regions were raised. Many speakers said that the situation of women was a concern in many areas of the world, calling for the strengthening of women’s rights. Many speakers were also concerned about armed conflicts, which had impacted life in developing countries, resulting in rising prices and alarmingly low food supply levels. Some speakers were also concerned about violence against protestors, calling on States to respect the right to peaceful assembly, and to end crackdowns against political opponents and human rights defenders. A number of speakers said human rights should not be politicised; impartiality and objectivity were crucial to promoting the sound development of the international human rights cause. It was important that the Council focused on creating a conducive environment, under which States were encouraged to fulfil their human rights operations.

Speaking in the interactive discussion on Venezuela were European Union, Canada on behalf of a group of countries, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Ecuador, France, Germany, Ireland, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Australia, Luxembourg, Cuba, Austria, Russian Federation, China, Netherlands, United States, Nicaragua, Sri Lanka, United Kingdom, Argentina, Belarus, Yemen, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Spain, Belgium, Bolivia, Uruguay, New Zealand, Portugal, Sweden, Georgia, Malawi, Iran, Cambodia, Paraguay, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, South Sudan, Algeria, and Syrian Arab Republic.

Also speaking were Freedom House, Aula Abierta, International Commission of Jurists, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, International Service for Human Rights, CIVICUS – World Alliance for Citizen Participation, International Federation for Human Rights Leagues, and World Organization Against Torture.

Speaking in the general debate were Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Czech Republic on behalf of the European Union, Venezuela on behalf of the Like-Minded Group, Azerbaijan on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, Germany, Finland, France, China, Lithuania, Venezuela, Republic of Korea, India, Japan, Luxembourg, Cuba, Netherlands, Armenia, Czech Republic, Indonesia, United Kingdom, Pakistan, Malaysia, Malawi, Ukraine, and United States.

The webcast of the Human Rights Council meetings can be found here. All meeting summaries can be found here. Documents and reports related to the Human Rights Council’s fifty-first regular session can be found here.

The next meeting of the Human Rights Council is scheduled to be held at 3 p.m., when it will continue the general debate on human rights situations that require the Council’s attention. At 4 p.m., the Council will then hold its annual discussion on the integration of a gender perspective throughout its work.

Interactive Dialogue with the Independent International Fact-finding Mission on the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela

Report

The Council has before it the report of the Independent International Fact-finding Mission on the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (A/HRC/51/43).

Presentation of Report

MARTA VALIÑAS, Chair of the Independent International Fact-finding Mission on the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, said that the Mission had conducted 246 in-person and remote interviews and had carried out three missions to areas near the border, as they were not permitted to conduct investigations in Venezuela. In the Mission’s 2020 report, six State structures were identified as primarily responsible for a variety of crimes and human rights violations. Two State intelligence agencies, the military agency, DGCIM, and the civilian agency, SEBIN, were among the six identified, particularly for their role in the selective repression of people perceived as opponents of the Government.

Regarding the DGCIM, the Mission had documented 122 cases of victims who were detained, 77 of whom were subjected to torture, sexual violence and other cruel treatment perpetrated by DGCIM officials. SEBIN, Venezuela’s civilian intelligence service, had played a key role in the surveillance, arrest and detention of people opposed to members of the political opposition, journalists, human rights defenders, and protesters. Both SEBIN and DGCIM used sexual- and gender-based violence against detainees, through electric shocks and beatings to their genitals, rape, or threats of rape.

DGCIM and SEBIN were part of a Government plan that aimed to repress those it perceived as its opponents; the plan was orchestrated from the highest political level. As a result of the investigations, solid information had been gathered, regarding the involvement of officials from both the DGCIM and SEBIN and authorities in the documented violations and crimes. There were grounds to believe that these individuals should be investigated.

Ms. Valiñas said that the Mission’s investigations also focused on the situation in the mining regions of southern Venezuela, in the state of Bolívar. In 2016, in response to a crisis in the national oil industry, the Venezuelan Government had announced the establishment of the Orinoco Mining Arc, to formalise and expand its control over the gold industry. Since 2016, the militarisation of the Arco Minero region had been progressive. Criminal armed groups, including so-called trade unions, operated openly: controlling mining areas and towns. State and non-State actors had committed crimes and human rights violations, including killings, enforced disappearances, extortion, corporal punishment, and sexual and gender-based violence. The authorities have not taken sufficient steps to prevent and investigate such abuses.

The Mission had documented in-depth several attacks by State forces against indigenous persons living in the region. Research also found that sexual- and gender-based violence was prevalent in Bolívar, particularly affecting women, girls, and other marginalised groups. The Mission regretted that, despite the repeated calls of the Council, the Venezuelan authorities continued to prevent the Mission from conducting investigations in Venezuela. The Mission remained concerned at the continuing allegations of serious human rights violations in Venezuela. It was essential that the international community renewed its efforts to address the worrying human rights situation in Venezuela, to prevent future violations, and ensure justice and reparation for the victims.

Statement by Country Concerned

Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, speaking as a country concerned, said Venezuela regretted having to come again to the Council to confirm its terrible politicisation, highlighted by the so-called report, which was roundly rejected in form and substance. The so-called Fact-finding Mission had surpassed itself, creating a fiction about the country, aiming to please the international media circus, whose vultures just wanted to feed, and not reflect what was really happening.

Everything was invented – millions of phantom migrants, so-called terrorist camps, and even a parallel President, whose existence was improbable. They had struck low, but had failed in the criminal aim of regime change, as desired by the United States. The report submitted and the statements made therein were a sad proof of how banal international law had become. It was a perverse media alliance, making such unsubstantiated allegations, bandied about without any proof; a laboratory report, beggaring belief, and aiming to incriminate the President. The Mission used anonymous sources which could not be proved, and were unreliable. This was a testament of fake news. These tactics were often used against countries of the South.

Venezuela was moving forward with freedom and determination, despite its persecution from all these quarters, and in a climate of unilateral coercive measures imposed by the United States and the European Union, which was the real crime against humanity. Venezuela would always condemn the practice of imposing mandates against countries of the South, when genuine dialogue and cooperation should be the pillars of the work of the Human Rights Council, instead of privileging constant attacks, which Venezuela would always reject. Venezuela protected human rights and did not recognise these parallel mechanisms which sought to destabilise the country, but would always fail. These hegemonic agendas did not foster dialogue nor human rights. Venezuela would take the relevant diplomatic measures if this interventionist mandate continued.

Discussion

Many speakers supported the work and essential tasks conducted by the Fact-finding Mission. The Mission was commended on its valuable work and factual assessment of human rights violations in Venezuela. Some speakers strongly supported the extension of the Mission’s mandate by two years and urged Venezuela to cooperate constructively with the Mission. They urged all parties to return to the negotiating table in Mexico to find a peaceful and democratic solution to the crisis, namely by peaceful, transparent, and democratic elections. Some speakers called on Venezuela to allow the Mission unhindered access to the country, and to cooperate with all human rights mechanisms.

Some speakers expressed serious concern about the human rights situation in Venezuela, including the abuse of power by law enforcement and national intelligence services, which used torture, cruel treatment, and sexual- and gender-based violence. Great concern was expressed about the report’s findings about human rights violations in the Orinoco Mining Arc and other gold mining areas in Bolívar state, in particular the violent crackdowns, use of excessive force, torture and sexual- and gender-based violence against indigenous people in these areas. Some speakers called for an urgent end to the policy of repression, expressing concern about acts of intimidation carried out against human rights defenders, civil society organizations and journalists, and the subsequent attack on media freedom. All individuals arbitrarily detained should be released. Speakers called on Venezuela to launch independent investigations into these serious violations and abuses, with due process guaranteed and full reparations for the victims and their families.

Some speakers rejected the dialogue being held, describing it as interfering and diplomatically motivated, saying that the report contained unsubstantiated information and lacked impartiality. They condemned the criminal coercive measures against Venezuela by the United States and Great Britain, describing these as the main hinderances to the enjoyment of human rights in Venezuela. Speakers called for respect for the sovereignty of the Venezuelan people, noting that it was unacceptable to build a dialogue based on accusations and pressure. They rejected country-specific mandates which did not have the approval of the country concerned. A number of speakers also rejected the renewal of the mandate, saying that instead, the United Nations should focus on providing technical assistance to Venezuela, in coordination with the country’s Government.

Concluding Remarks

PATRICIA TAPPATÁ VALDE, Member of the Independent International Fact-finding Mission on the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, said many statements had been made and questions asked on the concerns referred to in the report. Questions were asked about progress made in the human rights sector since 2014, which was the period covered by the investigation. A large number of persons continued to be arbitrarily detained. Many countries had emphasised the need for these persons to be immediately freed. Torture was an ongoing practice. The structures and institutions allowing for this practise to occur remained unchanged; the covert detention centres and illegal detention cells had not been dismantled.

Threats and intimidation continued as a way to face dissent and opposition, Ms. Tappatá Valde said. In order to make accountability possible, it was essential to ensure the independence of the judiciary. There should be a ceasing of threats, and the hampering of human rights defenders and civil society must stop. Emphasis must be put on the independence of the judicial system, carrying out its role of investigating, sanctioning and protecting the lives of those accused. The international community must continue its oversight and scrutiny of the situation, as the emphasising of these responsibilities to the State was a reminder that accountability did exist and must be implemented through the administration of justice at the local level, and where this was denied at the global level.

The Fact-finding Mission welcomed that the international community continued to call upon the Government to show willingness to break the impunity prevailing today, offering a response and reply to victims and their family members – and, it was hoped, reparations. Bearing in mind the elections that would be happening soon, it was important for a climate to be fostered that ensured true democratic expression. The repression of the rights to freedom of expression and association should cease. The Government must broaden civic space, and ensure the human rights of all people.

FRANCISCO COX VIAL, Member of the Independent International Fact-finding Mission on the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, referring to the answer of the concerned country, said it was hard to have a dialogue when the representative had left the room. The statement was stuffed with adjectives, and made claims about the report, saying the sources in the report was anonymous. The view of the Fact-finding Mission was that although reforms had been put down on paper that seemed to pave the way to due process, they were not implemented in practice: there was, for example, an undue length to judicial processes. The Fact-finding Mission would continue to monitor the ongoing repression of civil society. The opposition was being silenced and crushed.

On recommendations to ensure that accountability was effective, the international community could definitely ensure the traceability of the origin of gold and mineral ores that came out of the country and were not connected to political issues. On judicial issues, there was a Ministry for Women and Gender Equality, but the issue of how victims accessed these was important. On collecting evidence, the Fact-finding Mission had information from within Venezuela through documentation and testimonials – there was information from insiders. The Mission would continue to investigate the repression of leaders, including social leaders.

Oral Update by the Acting High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar

NADA AL-NASHIF, Acting United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, in an oral update on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, said since the last update to this Council in June, the people of Myanmar had been caught in a rapid downward spiral, with growing suffering, fear, and insecurity. Urgent action was needed to reverse this catastrophic situation and to restore peace, democracy, and sustainable development. The Myanmar military’s offensives throughout the country were designed not only to target its opponents but also to punish any communities it deemed to be supporting them. Military tactics increasingly involved indiscriminate attacks and weaponry.

Ms. Al-Nashif said since February 2021, at least 2,316 people had been killed. Widespread fear and insecurity among the civilian population had forced over 1 million individuals to leave their homes and they now lived in precarious conditions without access to food, medical assistance, and other basic services. The humanitarian crisis now brought fears of starvation, with the military largely denying humanitarian access, including recent orders to halt humanitarian operations in northern and central Rakhine state. Over 15,607 people had been arrested with some 12,464 remaining in detention. The death toll of people in custody was steadily rising. Myanmar’s military-controlled judicial system had also been weaponised to execute opponents.

Since February 2021, civic space had been decimated. Last month marked the fifth anniversary of the military’s 2017 campaign of violence against the Rohingya, involving the killing of thousands and pushing over 740,000 Rohingya to Bangladesh. Despite widespread international condemnation, Myanmar was yet to address the root causes of Rohingya persecution. The cycle of violations must end. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations must reinvigorate its efforts to bring humanitarian support and promote a resolution to the crisis, in consultation with the people’s representatives, and with support from regional powers. The military should cease violence, including by imposing a moratorium on executions, free all political prisoners, ensure access to humanitarian aid, and return Myanmar to democracy based on respect for human rights and the rule of law. The Council should consider strengthening the Office of the High Commissioner’s existing documentation mandate in order to enhance monitoring of the situation and support accountability efforts, including the work of the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar.

General Debate on Human Rights Situations that Require the Council’s Attention

In the general debate, a number of speakers said the situation of women was a concern in many areas of the world, and called for the strengthening of women’s rights. Women and girls were increasingly being excluded from economic life. The Council must examine different options to demand accountability for all those who threatened the rights of women and girls. The use of sexual- and gender-based violence as a vehicle of war was condemned.

Many speakers were concerned about armed conflicts, which had impacted life in developing countries, resulting in rising prices and alarmingly low food supply levels. Conflict resulted in great violations of humanitarian law, with speakers deploring the loss of civilian lives and continuing attacks on civilian populations. War crimes committed against civilians were condemned, and perpetrators needed to be held to account. The borders of a sovereign State could not be changed; this was a breach of the United Nations Charter.

The situation of minorities was another concerning issue, and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was urged to remain seized on the matter. Groups were experiencing repression because of their distinct linguistic and cultural identity. People were being detained and tortured because they belonged to a minority group; these severe and systematic breaches of human rights could not be ignored. There was a clear connection between internal repression and external aggression.

Some speakers were concerned about violence against protestors, calling on States to respect the right to peaceful assembly, and to end crackdowns against political opponents and human rights defenders. They called for the release of all human rights defenders and journalists who were arbitrarily detained. It was important to ensure that civil society and the media could operate freely; non-discrimination and freedom of speech were cornerstone of societies.

Several speakers pointed out the negative effect of universal coercive measures on human rights. They said that in response to global challenges, States needed to stand together for democracy, human rights, and accountability. Human rights were a primary issue for all, ensuring happiness, and the respect of customs of habits was important. Human rights should not be politicised; impartiality and objectivity were crucial to promoting the sound development of the international human rights cause. The Council needed to function in a cooperative, objective, and non-politicised matter. It was important that the Council focused on creating a conducive environment, under which States were encouraged to fulfil their human rights operations. Capacity building with the States concerned was the best way to building human rights around the world. Some speakers said that dialogue with the country concerned should remain the preferred vehicle in addressing human rights concerns.

Link: https://www.ungeneva.org/en/news-media/meeting-summary/2022/09/morning-human-rights-council-holds-interactive-dialogue-fact

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