The name place sign of Venezuela is pictured on the country's desk at the 36th Session of the Human Rights Council at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland September 11, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters

At the UN Human Rights Council session that ended last week, member states, including from Latin America, spoke up clearly and forcefully about the profound human rights and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, placing the issue on the council’s agenda in unprecedented ways. But the real work still lies ahead – the challenge now is to keep up the multilateral pressure on the Venezuelan government.

Governments subjected Venezuela to a barrage of criticism at the September council session for its increasingly brutal crackdown on dissent. Meanwhile, there are signs even allies are wavering in support.

Before the session, 115 NGOs, including 81 from Venezuela, called on the council to address the country’s human rights situation. Human Rights Watch and the other groups highlighted a range of issues, including the brutal crackdown on massive anti-government protests since early April by security forces and armed pro-government groups called “colectivos,” the prosecution of hundreds of opponents in military courts, the frighteningly broad powers of the government’s Constituent Assembly, and ongoing severe shortages of medicine and food.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights opened the session saying the findings of his office’s investigation  report “suggests the possibility that crimes against humanity may have been committed” in Venezuela. The “Lima 12” – a group of 11 Latin American governments and Canada – collectively condemned the breakdown of democratic order and the systematic violation of human rights in Venezuela, stating they will not recognize the Constituent Assembly nor its resolutions, expressing concern about the government’s alleged refusal to accept international humanitarian aid, and agreeing to impose an embargo on arms sales to Venezuela. Several others, including the European Union, the United States, South Korea, and Japan, expressed similar concerns.

Meanwhile, support for Venezuela is dwindling. A year ago, when Cuba pushed for a statement in support of Venezuela, 88 states signed on. This time, a similar statement was supported by only 57 states.

It is now time for UN member states to build on this momentum and request the UN High Commissioner to carry out a briefing to follow up on his August report prior to the Council’s next session in March. Such input will be critical to increase the pressure on the Maduro regime so that the Human Rights Council can act on the High Commissioner’s call to establish an international investigation into the human rights violations in Venezuela.