On November 1, with Venezuela facing a dire political, economic, and social crisis, the UN Human Rights Council will meet to review the country’s deplorable human rights record. This is an ideal opportunity to put pressure on a government that has so miserably failed its people.

Patients in a hospital in Valencia, Carabobo State, share the last tank of oxygen; without oxygen supplies, doctors are unable to perform many surgeries, July 2016. 

© 2016 Human Rights Watch

Four years ago, at Venezuela’s previous Universal Periodic Review, the Venezuelan government rejected key recommendations by other UN member states to “fight against the misuse of power by security forces,” address the lack of judicial independence in the country, “abolish the practice of using the judicial system to silence critics,” and respect free speech, among others. Effectively, Venezuela’s government was denying that these very real problems existed.

Since then the situation in Venezuela has only become worse, according to Human Rights Watch’s submission to the UN Human Rights Council. The government has exploited the lack of judicial independence to arbitrarily prosecute and jail political opponents and critics, undermine the opposition-led National Assembly’s powers, and block a recall referendum on Nicolás Maduro’s presidency. Security forces have committed serious abuses against protesters and bystanders, including torture, which have gone unpunished. Government officials have intimidated or punished independent media outlets and human rights defenders. Venezuela is also facing a profound humanitarian crisis, with severe shortages of basic medicines, medical supplies, and food.

There are no independent state institutions left in Venezuela to protect citizens from a government that violates fundamental rights and disregards democratic principles. The Venezuelan ombudsman has failed to protect basic rights and has been silent in the face of government abuses. Meanwhile, the government has tried to limit scrutiny of its poor human rights record, refusing requests by UN human rights experts to visit the country for more than a decade and withdrawing from the American Convention on Human Rights, thus leaving Venezuelans without access to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights since 2013.

It is past time for leaders around the globe to forcefully raise their voices to stand by the Venezuelan people, and hold the government accountable for its authoritarian and abusive practices. The UN Human Rights Council session provides a golden opportunity that cannot be wasted.

The Venezuelan government has targeted critics of its ineffective efforts to alleviate severe shortages of essential medicines and food while the crisis persists.