UN Human Rights Chief Acknowledges Judicial Reforms in New Report, Venezuela Criticizes ‘Imbalance’

Caracas blasted the latest UN human rights report for minimizing the harm caused by US sanctions.

Caracas, July 1, 2022 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Michelle Bachelet, United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights, recognized Venezuela’s advances to improve the judicial system while criticizing an alleged lack of judicial independence.

On Wednesday, the High Commissioner presented a new report on Venezuela in Geneva during the 50th session of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC). Bachelet welcomed the country’s recent police and judicial reforms following recommendations made by her office in recent years. The text praises the dissolution of the Venezuelan FAES special forces, which had been accused of alleged extrajudicial executions and torture.

“I want to encourage the authorities to take more measures to promote structural and long-term changes in the country,” said Bachelet while calling for legal reforms to prevent judicial delays and to shorten temporary custody to be implemented as soon as possible.

The former Chilean president likewise pointed to a reduction in the number of deaths in security operations and the improvement of penitentiary conditions documented by her team between May 2021 and April 2022 following visits to 21 detention centers and 259 prisoner interviews.

However, the UN human rights chief expressed concern over an alleged lack of “judicial independence and separation of powers” including supposed ties between justice officials and politicians.

In June 2021, the Venezuelan government committed to a “judicial revolution” in order to address the country’s slow and bureaucratic administration of justice as well as overcrowding in prisons.

The first step in wholesale reforms was taken in April with the appointment of new Supreme Court justices. This was followed by the National Assembly (AN) approving in June a reform of the country’s Judicial System Law aiming to fully restructure judicial institutions. Other laws concerning justice officials’ ethics code, careers and training, as well as the Penal Code, will reportedly be subject to reforms in the near future.

Caracas’ changes to the judicial system have coincided with International Criminal Court (ICC) chief prosecutor Karim Khan deciding last year to open a probe into alleged human rights abuses committed by Venezuelan security forces during the 2017 violent opposition protests. Known as “guarimbas,” the street rallies saw US-backed groups burn people alive, firebomb buildings and clash with police. Over 130 people died with 28 percent attributed to state officials, 42 percent to the opposition and the rest under different circumstances, according to Attorney General Tarek William Saab.

Despite Venezuela’s disagreement with the probe, President Maduro signed a cooperation deal with chief prosecutor Khan and welcomed the opening of an ICC office in Caracas. Bachelet’s latest report took note of the ongoing collaboration with The Hague and highlighted recent convictions against security state agents for their involvement in seven deaths during the 2017 events.

The High Commissioner went on to recognize the Venezuelan authorities’ open dialogue with her office following the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding in September 2019. The agreement has led to an ongoing presence of 16 UN human rights officials in the country as well as visits by UN Special Rapporteurs Alena Douhan and Alfred de Zayas.

For its part, Caracas welcomed Bachelet’s acknowledgment of the advances to improve its judicial and prison system but took exception to the report’s “imbalanced” assessment of the overall human rights situation by downplaying the severity of the US sanctions program levied against the Caribbean nation.

“We must insist that the human rights situation in Venezuela cannot be analyzed without referring to the terrible consequences of the unilateral measures imposed by the US and its allies,” stated Venezuela’s Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Héctor Constant Rosales.

Washington’s sanctions against Venezuela have been widely condemned by a number of multilateral organizations and international experts for amounting to “collective punishment.” Since 2017, the US Treasury Department has levied successive rounds of sanctions against various sectors of the Venezuelan economy, including mining, banking, food imports and especially the oil industry. As a result, the government’s foreign currency revenue was drastically reduced hampering social programs and basic infrastructure.

A 2019 study published by the Washington DC-based Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) estimated that 40,000 people died between 2017 and 2018 because of the US measures. Additionally, in September 2021, the UN Special Rapporteur Alena Douhan presented a report stating that sanctions have had a “devastating” effect on the entire population’s living conditions.

“What you call sectoral sanctions are really crimes against humanity. We regret that you are not moved by the Venezuelan children who have stopped receiving medical treatment because of these illegal measures,” Constant said at the UN HRC session.

For his part, National Assembly deputy Diosdado Cabello blasted Bachelet for “fixating on Venezuela” following “[political] orders.” He reproached the High Commissioner’s double standards for ignoring the case of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and the murder of Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.

Venezuela has rejected reports from Bachelet’s office in the past for being “politicized”. The former Chilean president will be leaving the UN High Commissioner’s Office on August 31.

Following Bachelet’s final report, Caracas presented the country’s Universal Periodic Review at the UN Human Rights Council on Friday, detailing progress and new commitments to guarantee the enjoyment of human rights. Venezuela’s Social Vice President Mervin Maldonado also held a “constructive” meeting with the outgoing human rights chief.

Edited by Ricardo Vaz from Caracas.