UN Expert: US Sanctions Undermine Venezuelan People’s Right to Health

Venezuela is currently unable to repair electron microscopes, crucial to diagnose diseases, due to US sanctions.

Caracas, September 21, 2022 (venezuelanalysis.com) – United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur Alena Douhan warned that US sanctions continue violating the Venezuelan people’s right to health.

In a statement released on Monday, Douhan explained that sanctions have blocked the Caribbean country from importing spare parts to repair electron microscopes, vital for detecting diseases, finding treatments and advanced medical research.

“Besides the legal obligation to comply with human rights law, the United States also has a moral obligation to the Venezuelan people to not deprive them of their basic human rights,” stated the UN expert. She added that sanctions are “legally dubious” under international law.

The Belarusian lawyer called on the US government to lift sanctions against Caracas or at least grant export licenses for medical supplies as soon as possible. According to Douhan, out of 14 electron microscopes in Venezuela, only three still work, and it has been nearly four years since two Venezuelan institutions ordered spare parts to repair the faulty equipment, with no response.

The electron microscopes were made by a unit of the US company Thermo Fisher Scientific but the firm has been unable to get export licenses from Washington. The US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) is in charge of enforcing extraterritorial economic and trade sanctions as well as issuing specific and fixed-term sanctions waivers to US corporations.

The UN expert went on to add that the “essential” electron microscopes are covered by the Florence Agreement, an international treaty to facilitate trade in scientific goods and to guarantee nations’ scientific progress.

“The US government has an obligation under international human rights law not to harm the ability of Venezuelan doctors to diagnose illnesses correctly. Without accurate diagnoses and treatment, people can die,” stressed the UN special rapporteur.

Since 2017, the US government has imposed crushing economic and trade sanctions, including an oil embargo, a blanket ban on all dealings with Caracas, secondary sanctions and freezing or seizing a number of Venezuelan assets abroad. As a result, the country’s revenues from oil exports were significantly reduced, severely exacerbating a pre-existing economic crisis.

In February 2021, UN Special Rapporteur Alena Douhan made a 12-day visit to Venezuela and later released a report detailing the “devastating” effects of the US wide-reaching sanctions program on the entire population’s living conditions, including a “food and nutrition crisis” and an unprecedented migration wave.

The investigation laid blame on the US coercive measures for blocking bank transactions aimed at acquiring basic medicines, antibiotics, anesthetics, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS treatments, as well as vaccines for several illnesses, including Covid-19. Hospitals reported that only 20 percent of their medical equipment was functioning due to the inability to acquire spare parts.

Furthermore, the report found that sanctions led to reduced social investment and the deterioration of “public services infrastructure.” The document concluded that sanctions against Venezuela were politically motivated and undermined human rights, calling for their immediate removal.

A previous study by the Washington DC-based Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) had revealed that the US sanctions program had caused at least 40,000 deaths between 2017-2018. Former UN Special Rapporteur, Alfred de Zayas, also estimated that sanctions had killed 100,000 Venezuelans until March 2020.

In June 2021, US Democratic representative and chair of the House Rules Committee, Jim McGovern, urged President Joe Biden to lift unilateral sanctions against Caracas, stating they were responsible for Venezuela’s worsening crisis. He followed a number of other Democrats in calling for sanctions relief.

Despite sanctions against Venezuela being widely condemned by a number of multilateral organizations, international experts and some US officials for amounting to “collective punishment,” Washington has not backed down on its economic aggression.

On September 15, US State Department official Brian Nichols threatened to intensify sanctions against Venezuela if the dialogue process between the Nicolás Maduro government and the hardline opposition is not resumed soon.

“We stand ready to snap back sanctions and ready to take comprehensive measures,” said Nichols to the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He added that the Biden administration would continue using coercive measures and working with allies around the world to ensure that Venezuela remains blocked from accessing its frozen assets.

President Maduro rejected the “arrogant” threats and called for a multipolar world. “Their threats are lost at the bottom of a sea of hatred and oblivion […] The time of empires is over, the time of the peoples has come,” said the mandatary.

Talks between the Venezuelan government and the US-backed opposition were held in Mexico last year for around two months but were suspended following the extradition to Florida of Venezuelan special envoy Alex Saab in October. Since then, President Maduro has had direct talks with White House officials about resuming oil shipments to the US and Europe in exchange for sanctions relief.

On Tuesday, Venezuelan Foreign Affairs Minister Carlos Faría exposed the consequences of US coercive measures during a meeting with the general secretary of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) Rebeca Grynspan on the sidelines of the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA 77) in New York.

“Venezuela and its people are victims of the cruelest sanctions and coercive measures imposed by the US empire and its allies,” tweeted Faría.

The Venezuelan official likewise conversed with UN Secretary-General António Guterres about Venezuela’s efforts to overcome US sanctions and held several meetings with presidents and foreign affairs ministers to strengthen bilateral ties.

Edited by Ricardo Vaz in Lisbon, Portugal.