No one was surprised when Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro was re-elected last May, or when the opposition alleged voting irregularities. Unofficial reports estimated low voter turnout, less than 40%, despite government officials’ frantic attempts to increase participation.
Upon hearing the results, Maduro sang victory, claiming “The whole of Venezuela has triumphed! Democracy has triumphed! Peace has triumphed!”. Yet the elections were rejected by democracies world-wide. The Lima Group – comprised now of 13 Latin American states together with Canada –condemned the elections the following day and refused to accept the result’s legitimacy. The Secretary General of the Organization of American States similarly issued a statement, titled “The Day after the Farce,” also condemning the elections.
These statements reflect the growing frustration in the region over the continued human rights and humanitarian spiral in Venezuela. Severe food shortages make it extremely difficult for many families to feed their children, and the ruthless government crackdown has led to thousands of arrests, hundreds of civilians prosecuted by military courts, and abuses against detainees, including torture. Around two million Venezuelans have fled, mostly to neighbouring countries.
Yet, while regional actors have made important steps to hold Maduro’s government to account, little has changed for the Venezuelans still in the country. Venezuela’s neighbours need to step up and make use of all avenues within the legal tool kit at their disposal to complement their efforts at the regional level.
Support for Venezuela in the broader international community has visibly decreased in recent years. In 2016, a joint statement of support engineered by Venezuela at the UN Human Rights Council had 88 signatories. In 2017 it was down to just 63. A failure to adequately address Venezuela’s crisis during the current Council’s session would leave space for Venezuela’s government to depict a distorted version of events.
Venezuela’s government needs to know the international community is watching - everywhere. Venezuela’s blatant disregard for the human rights of its people flies in the face of its obligations as a member of the Human Rights Council. The time has come for the Council to use its voice to speak out before this tragic downward spiral becomes irreversible.