Yesterday, Monday, September 14th, 2020, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) presented an update on the situation of human rights in Venezuela within the framework of the 45th period of sessions of the United Nations Human Rights Council.
The High Commissioner’s oral presentation focused on the cooperation and technical assistance provided by her office to the de facto authorities of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.
The dialogues between Venezuela and the United Nations have not eluded the Interim Government of our country. Not only has Commissioner Miguel Pizarro been permanently present to manage all matters pertaining to the relationship between the UN and the Interim Government, but Commissioner Humberto Prado has also maintained sustained contact with OHCHR officials regarding the process of monitoring guarantees, respect for fundamental rights, and acting as a liaison between OHCHR and victims.
In her oral report the High Commissioner clarified that this update dealt with matters that strictly speaking, were related to technical cooperation, since the substantial results of a Letter of Understanding that was signed in September 2019 on the human rights situation in the country has not yet been published one (1) year after the signing. It will be submitted on September 23rd, 2020.
The Presidential Commission for Human Rights highlights the importance of the report that will be orally commented upon in the next few days: unlike previous update reports, these will not address what has happened in two (2) or (3) months, but will fortunately include a diagnosis of what has happened during an entire year since the start of this monitoring mandate on Venezuela by the OHCHR.
Ms. Michelle Bachelet affirmed that progress has been made in the revision of police protocols on the use of force, as well as with respect to a diagnosis on the factors that influence overcrowding within preventive detention centers, better described as “dungeons” which are currently administered, to the misfortune of the prison population by the usurpation.
Although we welcome the efforts of the High Commissioner in this regard, it cannot be ignored that they have concentrated their efforts more than a year after since the report on our country was issued in July 2019 by the OHCHR.
That report, it is worth remembering, provided that the recommendations set out therein should be adopted “immediately” however, to date that immediacy has more than a year of delay with respect to the victims and violations of their inherent rights.
This conduct of the regime of “defiance” and “contempt” towards the recommendations of the international protection bodies makes it very difficult to apply the pacta sunt servanda clause in Venezuela, as the Presidential Commission for Human Rights detailed in its July 2020 report entitled “Institutional Contumacies: One year after Michelle Bachelet’s Report on Venezuela”.
The conclusion is clear: until the de facto authorities stop their assault on the nation’s democratic institutions, there will be no full compliance with the obligations assumed by the usurpation in the area of human rights. Notwithstanding the above, there are some elements to highlight from the High Commissioner’s comments:
Firstly, thanks to the efforts of the OHCHR, some prisoners have been able to contact their families by telephone since visits were suspended by the COVID-19. However, it should be noted that, in the case of many prisoners, especially those being help for political reasons, the de facto suspension of family visits had been in place long before the pandemic reached the levels of March 2020. The office of the Presidential Commission is also conducting an investigation to ascertain whether this measure reported by the OHCHR is indeed being implemented.
Secondly, the OHCHR stated that they have encouraged the continued investigation of 58 cases of extrajudicial executions committed by state security forces, which, as this Presidential Commission has rightly pointed out since February 2020, are materially functioning as execution squads.
Unfortunately, these investigations would be in the hands of the Attorney General of the National Constituent Assembly however, these 58 cases were duly documented by Ms. Bachelet’s office, so we appeal to the importance of what this implies in national and international jurisdiction in case this is not fulfilled.
Thirdly, we welcome the efforts of the OHCHR to implement two (2) on-site visits by UN special protection mechanisms by 2021. It would be relevant to this effect if the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Assembly and Association, the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions, as well as the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention were to come to Venezuela
Fourth, we acknowledge that fifteen (15) visits have been made to fourteen (14) prisons since the signing of the memorandum of understanding.
Particularly noteworthy are the visits made last week to the main detention centers of the DGCIM and SEBIN where, in a confidential manner, it was possible to interview some 39 people linked to significant cases.
These visits are fundamental because they represent the progressive fulfillment of a demand that the Presidential Commission for Human Rights of the Interim Government has been insisting on since March of this year.
But we must stress that these visits, while valuable, are far from sufficient. According to estimates by this Presidential Commission, in Venezuela there are some 169 detention centers, including police cells, judicial internment centers and penitentiaries. It is difficult to make an exact calculation given the existence of clandestine prisons.
It would be unrealistic to issue a demand that the UNHCHR visit all such prisons, but if anything, it is true that allegations of torture in national prisons are not reduced to only fourteen (14) prisons, and that visits must above all be repeated and sustained over time.
This is particularly true for women prisoners. Many of them give birth inside the prisons, and the children who grow up there become institutionalized. In addition, there is the problem of the so-called “mules” who are forced to carry goods within the organization.
It is no small thing that OHCHR officials have finally been allowed to enter the DGCIM and SEBIN headquarters, but we hope that in the future they will be allowed to do so not only the week before the OHCHR is due to issue an update report to the Human Rights Council, and that they will need to be regularly repeated.
The above cannot be ignored if we take into account that still 70% of political prisoners are deprived of their liberty. For this reason, we welcome the increase in the number of officials present on Venezuelan soil in order to increase the coverage of detention centers.
In this sense, we welcome the repeated request of the High Commissioner calling for the liberation of political prisoners, since it should not be restricted only to those who are civilians, but also to the military.
We hope that the subscription of a new Letter of Understanding, renewable for one (1) additional year, will favor a more efficient supervision of the national penitentiaries, hoping that at the same time all the actors involved will have as a priority the protection of the rights of Venezuelans, trying to make this new agreement public for the purposes of a better follow-up by the civil society and the international community on the due fulfillment of this agreement.
We have no doubt that this is true of the OHCHR, but the institutional recalcitrance of the usurpation weakens any agreement or measure to be adopted.
We invite the public, human rights organizations and human rights defenders to be attentive to the next report of the OHCHR to be presented next Wednesday, September 23rd, in the hope that the human rights violations that take place in Venezuela day after day will continue to be made visible.
The Presidential Commission will continue to document and send them to the OHCHR, to whom we thank for their cooperation.
I take this opportunity to reiterate to the people of Venezuela the assurances of my highest and most distinguished consideration and esteem.