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Don’t Be Fooled by Venezuela’s Seeming Change of Heart

UN Human Rights Council Should Create an Independent Fact-Finding Mission

Riot police clash with anti-government demonstrators in the neighborhood of Los Mecedores, in Caracas, on January 21, 2019. © 2019 FEDERICO PARRA/AFP/Getty Images

The Venezuelan government is trying hard to convince the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) members that it is committed to working with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet to improve human rights in Venezuela. Its astute political maneuvering should not be a substitute for genuine accountability for Venezuelan victims.

This week, two draft resolutions on Venezuela will be considered by the HRC.

One was tabled on Venezuela’s behalf by Iran – hardly a credible partner – and calls on Venezuela to fully implement recommendations in Bachelet’s damning July report and provide her office access to all regions and detention centers. It also asks Bachelet to report back to the council on “allegations of possible human rights violations.”

This resolution is not a sufficient or credible response to the severe human rights and humanitarian crisis facing Venezuela. 

It fails to acknowledge the severity of the brutal crackdown and the humanitarian emergency in Venezuela. It highlights “strengthening the judicial system” in a country where the judiciary is used to prosecuting critics instead of investigating crimes. And it overstates the relevance of a memorandum of understanding signed this week between the OHCHR and Venezuela. In a statement, Bachelet’s office said the memorandum only provides a “framework for future discussion” and that the OHCHR will negotiate “a future work plan” with authorities within 30 days – after the council session is over.

Venezuela recently dismissed the high commissioner’s report as “biased.” In the very unlikely scenario Nicolás Maduro’s government has suddenly decided to fulfill its international human rights commitments, engagement with the high commissioner should not be an excuse to delay the urgent need for accountability for serious violations committed by Venezuelan security forces, including arbitrary arrests, torture, extrajudicial executions, and violations of the rights to food and health.

This is why all HRC members should support a second resolution presented by the Lima Group to create an independent fact-finding mission to investigate executions, disappearances, arbitrary arrests, and torture. Repeated reports by the high commissioner’s office have laid bare the serious abuses of the Maduro government. It is now time to create an independent international mechanism to take steps towards determining responsibility for these egregious crimes.

The only reason Venezuelan authorities are saying they are open to OHCHR scrutiny is the international pressure that states are putting on them. This is not the time to relax that pressure. The Council should put in place this week an independent international accountability mechanism. Anything less would be a slap in the face to victims.

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