(Geneva) – The United Nations Human Rights Council has taken a crucial step to ensure that Venezuelan victims have access to justice and that those responsible for serious abuses are held accountable for their crimes, Human Rights Watch said today.
On September 27, 2019, the Human Rights Council adopted a resolution to create an independent fact-finding body to investigate extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests, torture, and other cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment committed in Venezuela since 2014. The resolution was presented by the Lima Group – composed of states from the region including Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Paraguay, and Peru. It was approved by a clear vote of 19 to 7.
“The creation of an independent investigative body to gather evidence of serious violations is an important step toward establishing responsibility for the horrendous suffering of the Venezuelan people since 2014,” said Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “The action by the Human Rights Council sends a clear message to the Venezuelan authorities that they will eventually be held accountable for their crimes. This is a victory for victims, who are one step closer to seeing those responsible for years of abuse brought to justice.”
The Venezuelan government is conducting a brutal crackdown on dissent with arbitrary arrests, torture of opponents, and abusive policing practices, including extrajudicial killings. At the same time, the government is failing to address a devastating humanitarian emergency. The judiciary does not operate independently, and impunity for systematic violations is the norm. The result is a profound human rights crisis that has caused more than four million people to flee the country, the largest exodus in recent Latin American history.
The Human Rights Council resolution acknowledges the severity of Venezuela’s crisis and condemns human rights violations by the government of Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela. It creates an independent fact-finding mission tasked with documenting egregious abuses “with a view to ensuring full accountability for perpetrators and justice for victims.” The resolution calls on Venezuelan authorities to cooperate with the fact-finding mission, as well as with the UN experts whom they have agreed to allow into the country.
The council president will appoint the fact-finding mission and is to become operational immediately. The resolution authorizes the creation of a full commission of inquiry if Venezuelan authorities fail to meaningfully cooperate with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). An additional resolution, adopted by the Human Rights Council on September 26, with Venezuela’s support, commits Venezuela to provide the high commissioner with “unlimited access to all regions and detention centres” and facilitate a “permanent presence” of OHCHR in the country, and asks the high commissioner to report on investigations “to ensure the accountability of perpetrators and redress for victims.”
The fact-finding mission could complement other international avenues for accountability, Human Rights Watch said.
In February 2018, the International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, announced the opening of a preliminary examination into the situation in Venezuela to determine whether a full investigation by the court is merited. In September 2018, the governments of Argentina, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay, and Peru asked the ICC prosecutor to investigate potential crimes against humanity in Venezuela since February 12, 2014. Costa Rica, France, and Germany later added their support to the submission.
The fact-finding mission should share information with the ICC prosecutor to assist in her evaluation of the situation in Venezuela. The fact-finding mission should support the Office of the Prosecutor’s efforts to the fullest extent possible, including by sharing relevant evidence, testimony, and other information collected and documented by the fact-finding mission, if the Office of the Prosecutor proceeds with a full investigation. This should include leads that would enable the prosecutor’s office to gather evidence that is admissible in court.
In addition, other countries could use the information that the fact-finding mission gathers and its analysis to support efforts, where consistent with domestic laws, to prosecute torture cases under the principle of universal jurisdiction.
“The Lima Group’s leadership has been critical to redoubling the pressure on Venezuelan authorities and to establishing this independent investigative body,” Vivanco said. “The message sent by the UN’s top human rights body makes it clear to Venezuela that if it doesn’t make good on its commitments and end abuses, the international community will take even stronger measures to hold those responsible to account.”