Venezuelan Human Rights Group Casts Doubt on UN International Fact-Finding Mission and Methodology

The Fact-finding Mission has been repeatedly accused by the Venezuelan government and human rights collectives of being politically driven.
SURES Director María Lucrecia Hernández addresses the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. (Screen Capture / UN)

Mexico City, Mexico, September 26, 2023 ( – Venezuelan human rights advocacy group SURES questioned the repeated renewal of the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council’s Independent International Fact-finding Mission on Venezuela.

“We view with concern the continuous renewal of the mandate of this mission since 2019, which establishes additional procedures beyond those responsible for monitoring the implementation of international treaties signed by Venezuela,” SURES Director María Lucrecia Hernández told the Human Rights Council in Geneva during its 54th session on Monday.

Since its inception in 2019, the Independent International Fact-finding Mission has been repeatedly criticized by the Venezuelan government and human rights advocates working inside the country as having a politically driven mandate and flawed methodology.

The Venezuelan government maintains that the initiative forms part of a broader effort by the United States and its allies to promote regime change in Venezuela.

“The intemperate presentation of the [Mission’s] report is part of the strategy against Venezuela to tarnish its image and legitimize the imposition of criminal and illegal unilateral coercive measures based […] on the false and manipulated use of the human rights situation in the country,” read a statement by Venezuelan Foreign Minister Yván Gil.

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro emphasized the communique’s criticisms, calling the Mission’s latest report “grotesque” and linking its work to the now defunct Lima Group, the alliance of US-allied countries that sought to diplomatically isolate his government and prop up the so-called “interim government” led by Juan Guaidó.

“This report is the legacy of the disappeared, forgotten, and failed Lima Group,” said Maduro during his weekly television program.

The call to establish a fact-finding mission followed accusations by the country’s right-wing opposition, echoed by the Lima Group, that the Maduro government had committed crimes against humanity as a result of the state’s response to the violent anti-government protests known as “guarimbas” in 2014 and 2017 that saw US-backed opposition groups block roads, burn people alive, and attack security forces. Both spurts of violence more than a hundred dead.

The Independent International Fact-finding Mission was established by UN Human Rights Council resolution 42/25 for a period of one year and received a mandate “to assess alleged human rights violations committed since 2014.” 

Since 2019, the mission has been continually renewed, had its mandate expanded in specific ways, and has enjoyed ample financial support.

“We believe that the financial resources allocated to this mission could be redirected towards conducting agreed-upon visits to the country with special rapporteurs,” said Hernández.

The SURES director further highlighted the cooperative and collaborative relationship that the government of Venezuela enjoys with the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. 

“We believe that this collaborative approach with the country is the most appropriate way to monitor and make progress in the promotion of human rights,” she added.

‘Questionable’ Methodology

Due to its objections to the mandate and work of the Mission, the Venezuelan government has opted not to facilitate the participation of the Mission’s members inside the country. As a result, the conclusions drawn by its members are just the product of interviews with people outside Venezuela or by telephone or messaging services.

In an interview with Unión Radio, Hernández reiterated her organization’s concerns over the Mission’s methodology.

“The methodology for appointing the commission and renewing its mandate is quite questionable,” she said.

The International Fact-finding Mission’s first report, presented before the Human Rights Council at its 45th session in 2020, made serious accusations, concluding that there were “reasonable grounds to believe” that crimes against humanity had been committed by the Venezuelan state.

The mission claims that it “conducts its investigations in accordance with established methodologies, best practices, and standards recognised by the United Nations.” However, in the tradition of international law, accusations rising to the level of crimes against humanity demand the highest standards of proof, and serious claims must withstand forensic psychological exams, polygraph tests, and the right to confront witnesses.

The Mission’s reliance on anonymous interviews makes its claims impossible to independently verify. 

The latest report again states that it seeks only “reasonable grounds to believe” and by its own admission, it accepts that the “threshold is lower than that required for a conviction beyond reasonable doubt.” 

The findings, nonetheless, have been frequently cited by political actors inside and outside Venezuela in their effort to justify punishing sanctions on the country. 

The Mission’s inclusion of the political impact of its work lends credence to the Venezuelan government’s argument that its work is part of a strategy to undermine the Maduro government.

“The pseudo report presented follows the same fate as the previous ones: lacking the methodology to sustain [its conclusions] nor knowledge of the reality of the country,” the Foreign Minister’s communique went on to state. “It seeks to continue attacking Venezuelan institutions as part of the criminal and interventionist ‘regime change’ policy promoted by the US government.”.

Although the report makes mention of the “continuing economic and humanitarian crisis” in Venezuela, it does not address the role played by the US’ unilateral coercive measures in perpetuating the crisis. Meanwhile in a previous session, the Human Rights Council adopted a resolution condemning the use of unilateral coercive measures as means to exert political and economic pressure.

The latest findings likewise mentioned the social protection fund that was agreed upon by the government and opposition as part of negotiations held in Mexico, but failed to acknowledge that bureaucratic obstacles imposed by the US have kept those funds inaccessible, despite repeated claims they would be released.

Similarly, the latest report acknowledges “a reduction in the practice of massive arrests of demonstrators … and the end of largescale counter-insurgency operations” but attributes this to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. This section of the documents is the only instance where the Mission admits that there have been “initiatives to overthrow or destabilize” the Maduro government, a context that Caracas has repeatedly emphasized.

“Venezuela reiterates its absolute rejection and ignorance of this type of parallel, unnecessary and aggressive mechanisms that violate the UN Charter and encourage the most extremist national and international sectors to repeat the massive violation of human rights of Venezuelans and the destabilization of the country,” concluded Gil in his statement.

Gil addressed the UN General Assembly Saturday and he emphasized his country’s rejection of unilateral coercive measures. He denounced efforts by the US to intervene in a territorial dispute between Venezuela and Guyana over what is known as the Essequibo Strip. 

The foreign minister’s intervention followed a bevy of activity at the UN, which included the launch of a digital tool dubbed the “Geopolitical Map of Sanctions” as part of an effort to document and denounce the use of unilateral coercive measures.

Edited by Ricardo Vaz in Caracas.