UN Human Rights Chief Calls for Suspension of Sanctions on Venezuela

“We ratify our commitment to the defense of human rights and the will to advance in the improvement of the justice system,” said Maduro.
Nicolas Maduro, wearing a dark suit, shakes the hand of Volker Türk, who has his back to the camera
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro welcomes UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk ahead of a meeting in the Miraflores Presidential Palace.

Mexico City, Mexico, January 31, 2023 (venezuelanalysis.com) – United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk called on member states to suspend measures such as sanctions that undermine human rights and aggravate the economic crisis in Venezuela.

“It is clear that the sectorial sanctions imposed since August 2017 have exacerbated the economic crisis and hindered human rights,” Türk told reporters upon the conclusion of his visit to the Caribbean country.

Venezuela has been under a wide-reaching sanctions regime first imposed by former US President Donald Trump and largely kept in place by his successor Joe Biden. The unilateral coercive measures have been previously condemned by the UN Human Rights Council. UN Special Rapporteur Alena Douhan has also called for sanctions against Venezuela to be lifted due to their impact on the most fundamental human rights.

As part of his three-day visit, Türk held a face-to-face meeting with Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, as well as Vice-President Delcy Rodriguez, among other high-ranking officials.

The UN human rights head likewise emphasized the need for reforms to the country’s justice and security sector and made an explicit call for people “arbitrarily detained” to be released.

For his part, Maduro reiterated his government’s willingness to address issues in the judicial system.

“We ratify our commitment to the defense of human rights and the will to advance in the improvement of the justice system,” wrote Maduro on Twitter following his meeting with Türk.

The Maduro administration and the National Assembly made justice reforms one of the main legislative priorities last year. Former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, who was replaced by Türk last year, previously recognized Venezuela’s advances to improve the judicial system while criticizing an alleged lack of judicial independence.

“Following my meeting with President Maduro, he publicly expressed his readiness to work towards improving the justice system. This is a key area for reform, and I offer the support and expertise of my Office to pursue this,” said Türk in a press conference.

The changes to the country’s judicial system are also due in part to International Criminal Court (ICC) chief prosecutor Karim Khan’s investigation into alleged human rights abuses committed by Venezuelan security forces during the 2017 violent opposition protests. Khan announced in November his decision to resume a formal investigation despite Caracas’ efforts to uphold its human rights record and prosecute offenders, as well as facilitate cooperation with the ICC.

During his meeting with Vice-President Rodríguez, Türk went on to sign a renewed Memorandum of Understanding between the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and Venezuela. The memorandum was first agreed to in 2019 and has been renewed yearly. It provides the framework for cooperation and facilitates the ongoing presence in the country of a team of UN officers.

Rodríguez met with Türk in Geneva late last year to discuss the impact of US sanctions on the enjoyment of human rights in countries under unilateral coercive measures. Caracas had previously criticized the work of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights for downplaying the impact of US sanctions. Türk’s comments placing special emphasis on the impact of sanctions on the quality of life enjoyed by Venezuelans suggests that the issue is higher on the OHCHR agenda.

“The economic and social challenges Venezuela faces, including with respect to the minimum wage and pensions, and the impact this has on people’s daily lives by curtailing their rights to food, water, healthcare, education, and other economic and social rights, were powerfully conveyed to me in my meetings with civil society, trade unionists and pensioners, among others,” said the UN official.

The High Commissioner, who met with opposition figures and NGOs as well, reiterated support for the ongoing dialogue between government and opposition representatives. Last year both sides agreed to secure the release of US $3 billion Venezuelan funds seized by Washington to create a social fund, to be managed by the United Nations, that would address the Venezuelan people’s basic needs.

Bureaucratic issues have allegedly delayed the release of the funds, leading Venezuelan National Assembly President Jorge Rodríguez to warn that the Mexico-based talks could face an imminent end unless the resources were made available soon.

Edited by Ricardo Vaz in Caracas.