On Dec. 2, 2020, the Organization of American States (OAS) Secretary General Luis Almagro and OAS Special Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect Jared Genser released a report that reaffirms that there is a reasonable basis to conclude the regime of President Nicolás Maduro has been committing crimes against humanity in Venezuela since Feb. 12, 2014 and condemned the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) for inaction in the face of these crimes.
The new document notes that, since the publication of the original 2018 report, the crimes against humanity in Venezuela have increased in scale, scope and severity as the country faces a humanitarian crisis caused by unprecedented political and economic turmoil, along with food and medical shortages. Drawing on the work of the U.N. Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Venezuela, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, NGOs, independent scholars and other credible sources, the new report paints a vivid portrait of a Venezuela wracked by state-sponsored violence and in the throes of a humanitarian disaster.
Among other findings, the report identifies 18,093 extrajudicial executions carried out by state security forces since 2014, and that tens of millions of people have suffered or been subjected to serious injury due to the ongoing humanitarian crisis created by the regime. This includes reports, such as one by the United Nations, which found 7 million people in need and more than 100,000 children under the age of 5 affected by severe acute malnutrition. There have been outbreaks of measles, diphtheria and malaria, the highest in Latin America, with almost 1,000 reportedly dead because of a lack of anti-malaria medication.
The report identifies enforced disappearances in 2018 and 2019, documented cases of torture since 2014, and that rape and sexual violence have been weaponized by the regime, including as a method of torture.
The report highlights the failure of the Prosecutor of the ICC Fatou Bensouda (the prosecutor that has decided that there is a “Palestinian State” according to International Law and accused Israel of “war crimes”) to conduct her preliminary examination expeditiously and to open an investigation despite overwhelming evidence of crimes within the court’s jurisdiction.
The OAS report recommends the prosecutor proceed as rapidly as possible to open an investigation into the situation in Venezuela and, in the meantime, has requested immediate, full and open access to Venezuela, issued a detailed public statement about the deteriorating situation in Venezuela, and highlighted the true scope and severity of the situation in Venezuela in the forthcoming “2020 Report on Preliminary Examination Activities.” Bensouda has never responded.
The report also presents actions by the Maduro regime that have facilitated and prolonged Venezuela’s worsening humanitarian disaster.
Government institutions, including the security forces and the Judiciary, have been used as weapons against citizens. For the people of Venezuela, the rule of law domestically no longer exists. For members of the regime, the State empowers them to operate with total impunity. The pursuit of international justice is the only recourse left.
The secretary general of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, said “the Venezuelan regime has been allowed to operate with impunity. Every day of inaction from the international community increases the suffering of the Venezuela people. We call on the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to take action and show the world that crimes against humanity will not go unpunished.” But Bensouda did not listen.
Jared Genser, OAS special adviser on the responsibility to protect wrote: “It is therefore as inexplicable as it is shocking that after almost three years examining the situation, Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has still failed to even open an investigation into the alleged crimes.”
Bensouda began investigating the Venezuela case in February 2018 and, in the nearly three years since, has only completed two of four stages of her “preliminary examination.” Instead, contrary to her office’s stated goals of promoting prevention, deterrence and putting perpetrators on notice, she has failed to act, as she has repeatedly done in other cases. As a result, the regime has been emboldened to commit more crimes in the belief it can act with impunity.
“Crimes Against Humanity” are defined in Article 7 of the Rome Statute, which established the International Criminal Court, as the crimes specified there on the condition that they were “committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against a civilian population with knowledge of the attack.”
Venezuela signed and ratified the Rome Statute and, as a result, the International Criminal Court has jurisdiction over any crimes committed in the territory of Venezuela or by Venezuelan nationals since July 1, 2002.
Maduro and his proxies have felt that the inaction of the ICC and the world’s silence backed the regime to move forward in its alliance with Iran and the terrorists of Hezbollah. Most experts on Hezbollah in Latin America have concluded that it is primarily raising money, particularly in the tri-border area of Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil, through all sorts of illicit commercial activities—money that’s increasingly needed as Iran, as a result of sanctions and low oil prices, has less money available to subsidize its proxies worldwide.
The fact that Hezbollah has freedom to operate in Venezuela makes it presumably easier for its operatives to travel around Latin America. Iranian friendships in Latin America, particularly in Caracas, have facilitated Hezbollah’s presence in the Western Hemisphere, as well as that of Iranian officials who coordinate Hezbollah operations.
The Venezuelan regime is also a drug-trafficking organization. It not only harbors Colombian guerillas, but also meaningfully benefits from its role in the shipment of cocaine from South America abroad, including to the United States and Europe. In March 2020, the Justice Department indicted Maduro and other top-ranking officials for coordinating the transport of cocaine with Columbia’s FARC guerrillas. Two nephews of Maduro are in prison in the United States for their role in the export of cocaine. The Treasury Department has repeatedly designated senior officials—including Tarek El Aissami, the former vice president of Venezuela—as major drug dealers.
The pandemic has not changed the starvation, malnutrition, poverty and the violation of human rights. On the contrary, things are worse, and the 5.4 million Venezuelans that have fled in recent years to the United States and mostly to Colombia, Brazil, Peru, Chile, Argentina and Uruguay are increasing dramatically. According to experts, by the end of 2021 the number of Venezuelan refugees will rise to more than 6 million, outnumbering Syrian refugees.
On Feb. 22 the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) will start its forty-sixth regular session. Another round of shame will be the main input. Among the shameful behavior of the UNHRC, there will be another litany of alleged “resolutions” against Israel based in outrageous item 7. Venezuela today and for another year will be a member of the UNHRC. Venezuela will vote and speak against Israel, as other dictatorships like Cuba will do. Maduro will have the floor of the UNHRC. And Venezuela and the other dictatorships that are members of the UNHRC will again feel that the current hypocritical international system is protecting them.
History shows that impunity of dictators does not last forever. But meanwhile, millions of people keep suffering brutally and needlessly. It is the case of Venezuela, the dictatorship that enjoys the silence of the ICC Prosecutor and shameful UNHRC, which has no limits to hosting human rights abusers as full members.
In this last month of the year, the United Nations General Assembly established that “Israel must renounce to have nuclear weapons” in a vote of 153 for, 6 against and 25 abstentions.
Israel was asked not “to develop, produce, test or buy nuclear weapons.” Israel was also asked to “renounce possession of nuclear weapons and to submit all its nuclear facilities without safeguards to the U.N. requested safeguards as a step forward toward trust among the States in the region and as a step forward to improve peace and security.”
The U.N. presumes that Israel is one of the nine nuclear powers of the world, but Israel has never admitted any possession of nuclear weapons and nobody has ever demonstrated that the U.N.’s presumption is true. There are eight countries which are recognized as nuclear powers; five of them – China, France, Russia, United Kingdom and United States – have signed the Treaty of Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. India, North Korea and Pakistan have not signed the Treaty but have admitted having, and testing, nuclear weapons.
Those 153 countries voting “for” decided to make an exclusive call to Israel, asking Israel to sign the treaty under the accusation of “the risk of nuclear proliferation in Middle East.” The resolution is part of two U.N. packages. One, asking all the world globally and generally for a nuclear dismantling, but singling out by name only Israel. The other package is the endless litany of more then 20 resolutions per year singling out only one country: Israel. Meanwhile, chemical weapons can be used in Syria, millions of civilians are displaced by the Venezuelan dictatorship creating a hunger crisis in the region, the extent of which has never been known before; and except for useless reports which nobody pays attention, the U.N. agencies are not interested in such tragedies.
There were some more-than-disconcerting votes on these resolutions. While Egypt, Jordan, and the UAE (which have peace treaties with Israel) were among the sponsors of the resolutions, there are differing interpretations as to why — not the least of which is the need to play to a broader Arab constituency.
Perhaps more alarming were the abstentions of 15 European countries, Australia and some African countries. It is unacceptable that all Latin America voted for the resolution, with only Panama abstaining. It is a very serious mistake that Latin America, hidden under the alleged umbrella called GRULAC (Latin American Group) voted almost unanimously against Israel in such a sensitive question as nuclear weapons. It is indeed odd that Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Chile, Costa Rica, Paraguay or Uruguay voted together with Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua and Bolivia. No U.N. resolution supported by Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, Bolivia should ever be shared by democracies.
But the U.N. obsession with Israel is not new. The language about nuclear weapons, and presuming that Israel has those weapons, is the same for more than 30 years. Such a resolution was voted in 2019, and in 2018, and so on. Meanwhile the countries with nuclear weapons have increased their capabilities. North Korea has openly shown it is increasing its arsenal, and no resolution has come to the table. The United Nations General Assembly wants to show by these votes that the only danger in the Middle East and beyond is Israel.
Iran signed an agreement about the nuclear weapons that the Ayatollah´s regime wants and does not have yet. Iran regularly lies to the U.N. and to the International Atomic Energy Agency. Iran uses the U.N. stages to threaten Israel and to “promise” the destruction of Israel. The U.N. GA has never discussed the behavior and threats of Iran when once a year the almost 200 countries “discuss” the “dangers” in the Middle East.
The changes in the resolution about nuclear weapons in the last three decades have been ideological, but no country has even tried to show real concern for the main issue: nuclear advances put all the planet in danger. The resolution was not obsessed with Israel 30 years ago. And at that time, all of Latin America, without exception, abstained. But today Venezuela, as a Latin America host of Iran and Hezbollah, opens the windows of danger everyday.
Early Dec. 2nd, in one of the sessions with five votes against Israel, Latin America showed how its votes have changed in the last decade or so. And it happened almost all this year and will likely repeat in the next year.
How is Latin America divided today vis a vis Israel in U.N. agencies? Brazil, Colombia, Honduras and Guatemala are with Israel. Their governments do not believe in the litany of charges against Israel or in the harassment of Israel. Panama, Peru, Paraguay and Uruguay are abstaining in most of the resolutions and mainly in those that support the Palestinian offices which get a great amount of funds and use them to incite hatred instead of solving the problems of the Palestinian people. And the rest: Chile, Argentina, Mexico, Costa Rica? Some time they could abstain but in general, sadly, they vote together with Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, Iran and North Korea.
Maybe these Latin American democracies voting together with dictatorships against Israel believe that they may have sometimes some political or economic benefit. But these votes, irrelevant and noisy as they usually are, stay on the record and are well registered. And there are stains that can't be cleaned. As simple as that.
In the last days of June, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) decided to discuss and vote on “issues linked to human rights violations”. However, the council did not say a word about violations to human dignity and human freedom in Venezuela, Zimbabwe, Pakistan, Somalia, Argelia, Turkey, Russia, China or Iraq.
The UNHRC passed very soft and useless resolutions on North Korea, Myanmar, Libya, Syria and Iran. These will be forgotten soon.
Ignoring the egregious human rights violations of countless other countries, the UNHRC devoted most of its attention to one single country: Israel. The council passed five resolutions on Israel; one on Friday, June 19, and four on Monday, June 22.
This situation is not new. Unfortunately, it will happen again in the short-, mid- and long-term. This council is not doing anything different than its predecessor, the Human Rights Commission. In fact, it is worse. It has among its members the worst human rights abusers in modern times, and the council gives those countries the power to condemn democracies.
Last June 19th, the council decided to discuss one resolution against Israel. Some years ago, the council’s resolution used to focus on settlements; some short time ago, the council added to it the boycott of products made by Palestinian workers in Israeli factories. The goal of the resolution is to punish Israeli factories, but what would really be doing (if their resolutions were not toothless) would be leaving thousands of Palestinians unemployed.
Who cares that Palestinians become unemployed if the council can score points with a shameful resolution that attacks Israel? Almost nobody cares. The Palestinian Authority does not care; they promote the resolution. The “international community”?. It would be great to know what the term really means. What about the council, the high commissioner? Worst. The council is following dangerous paths on Israeliphobia and the high commissioner – believe it or not - has agreed to make a list of Israeli businesses which should be boycotted.
The resolution (not binding) passed with less votes than the Palestinians hoped. But there was more: the council decided to ask the high commissioner to present a full report on Israeli settlements…in March 2021. At a time when nobody in the world has a real idea when the pandemic and its consequences may end, in times of world economic recession and world unemployment, we can be sure that the UNHRC will ask for a useless report in nine months’ time.
The resolution had 22 votes in favor (which is less than half of the 47 members of the body), 8 votes against and 17 abstentions.
The Latin American members of the council overwhelmingly voted to unjustly condemn Israel.
Among the council’s 8 votes against the resolution, the only Latin American country included was Brazil.
The Bahamas and Uruguay abstained.
Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela voted for the resolution.
What are Argentina, Chile, Mexico and Peru thinking when they vote with undemocratic human rights violators like Qatar, Somalia, Eritrea, Sudan and, of course, Venezuela? That they are helping to achieve peace? That they are delivering a message of sanity to the Middle East? That they are really supporting and helping the Palestinian people? How is it possible that they do not see that pushing for boycotting Israeli products made by Palestinian workers is exactly the opposite of working towards peace?
Israeli Ambassador Aviva Raz Schechter was very clear: “This Council has an item which has been exclusively designed to condemn one state. Item 7 is a systematic mechanism of discrimination against Israel which is a feeling that is deeply rooted in the culture of this Council and several of its members. Let´s call Item 7 by its real name: it is the item of institutionalized antisemitism.”
Not one Latin American country answered the Israeli ambassador. Australia and the Czech Republic loudly and clearly rejected Item 7and the litany of votes against Israel.
Venezuela is ruled by a dictatorship which allies itself with Iran, violates human rights and has created a health turmoil in the region. We can expect nothing from such a regime, especially because it is also institutionally anti-Semitic. However, it is unacceptable that democracies join dictatorships and human rights abusers to single out Israel.
But it happens all the time in the U.N. agencies. It is time for those democracies to decide on which side of history they want to stand, because they can´t be in two places at the same time. If they keep standing together with Venezuela, Qatar, Somalia and others, it will be very difficult to see what differentiates these democracies from noted human rights violators.
Eduardo Kohn, Ph.D., has been the B’nai B’rith executive vice president in Uruguay since 1981 and the B’nai B’rith International Director of Latin American Affairs since 1984. Before joining B'nai B'rith, he worked for the Israeli embassy in Uruguay, the Israel-Uruguay Chamber of Commerce and Hebrew College in Montevideo. He is a published author of “Zionism, 100 years of Theodor Herzl,” and writes op-eds for publications throughout Latin America. He graduated from the State University of Uruguay with a doctorate in diplomacy and international affairs. To view some of his additional content, click here.
The United Nations is warning countries to undertake all possible efforts to protect civilian populations, cautioning that the spread of coronavirus must not be wielded as a weapon to abuse power.
“Emergency powers should not be a weapon governments can wield to quash dissent, control the population, and even perpetuate their time in power,” U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said in a statement. “They should be used to cope effectively with the pandemic – nothing more, nothing less.”
At the same time, Bachelet noted that countries are within their rights to implement restrictions to protect public health, but she argued they must be "necessary, proportionate, and non-discriminatory." But when the U.N. speaks of “proportionate,” it immediately calls to mind the disproportionate judgement and speeches replete with rhetorical flourishes that the body is known for.
Bachelet warned that the U.N. is aware of numerous reports that authorities across different regions have used excessive force by attempting to enforce lockdowns or curfews, and these situations have been happening in the poorest and most vulnerable segments of the population. She also called on states to safely release people who have been detained for violating emergency measures, arguing that putting people in jail for breaking curfew has the reverse effect.
Georgette Gagnon, the office's director of field operations, described in an online policy briefing with reporters how many countries are responding excessively to the virus.
In particular, she pointed to the “heavy-handed” and “highly militarized” security response to the virus in places like South Africa, where they have seen authorities using rubber bullets, tear gas, water guns and whips to maintain social distancing in shopping lines.
Gagnon identified other places (the Philippines, Peru, Honduras, Sri Lanka and El Salvador) that are also displaying “highly militarized" responses to those who violate curfew or lockdown orders or excessive detention.
It may look encouraging that the High Comissioner and the Human Rights Office is concerned about the violation of human rights in the world today, and every day. But it is not real. The accusation of abuses does not include Venezuela, Cuba and Iran. So nothing is changing. The Human Rights Council (HRC) and the High Commissioner are again endorsing – this time with silence – what happens in those countries which are the greater abusers of human rights.
Moreover, there has not been one word from the Office of the High Commissioner about the ongoing campaign of accusations of conspiracy against Israel and against the Jewish people. When Bachelet speaks about violations against freedom, she should have condemned the vicious message of hatred from Iran, the Palestinians,and their proxies accusing the Jews of the pandemic. These accusations were spread in the Middle Ages for the “Black Death”.The silence of the High Commissioner is unacceptable.
Although it is one of the most brutal dictatorships in the world, and the most brutal in the Americas, Venezuela is a member of the HRC. Is this a reason why the High Commissioner did not mention Venezuela in her speech against those who are human rights abusers in this pandemic?.
In Venezuela, in mid-March, the country’s health system was collapsing. Hospitals have closed or are operating at a fraction of their capacity, many without regular access to electricity or water. The public health infrastructure is so weak that in 2019, Venezuela had the world’s steepest rise in malaria cases. Vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles and diphtheria have already returned long before the epidemic hit.
It is difficult to know how many coronavirus cases are in Venezuela. Maduro´s regime announced on April 30th that there have been only 10 coronavirus deaths and only several hundred cases. It is hard to believe, but both U.N. political agencies and the World Health Organization accept Venezuela’s official numbers as truthful.
In such a dangerous context, every country neighboring Venezuela is concerned with its own battle against the epidemic, and the Venezuelan humanitarian tragedy is not the main issue. Instead, Colombia and Ecuador are focused on protecting their own interests and closing their borders.
Venezuela’s health care infrastructure is so weak that the most basic recommendation—handwashing—is difficult even for health care providers, who work under difficult conditions. The Venezuelan doctors and nurses say that soap and disinfectants are virtually nonexistent in their clinics and hospitals. Public hospitals in Caracas, the capital, are also suffering regular water shortages. In remote hospitals, the shortages have lasted weeks to months. Patients and personnel are required to bring their own water for drinking and sometimes for flushing toilets.
This is the country that holds a seat in the HRC, and this is the country that the High Commissioner “forgets.” The High Commissioner’s omission is even more egregious because today Venezuela is worse than ever in its humanitarian crisis.
Bloomberg reported this week that “Out of cash and desperate for help in propping up its oil industry, Venezuela is raiding its gold vaults and handing tons of gold bars to its long-time ally Iran, according to people with direct knowledge of the matter. Government officials piled some 9 tons of gold -- an amount equal to about $500 million -- on Tehran-bound jets this month as payment for Iran’s assistance in reviving Venezuela’s crippled gasoline refineries, For Iran, the deals provide a fresh source of revenue. For Venezuela, they ensure that its supply of gasoline doesn’t totally run out.The sanctioned Tehran-based carrier Mahan Air has flown more than half a dozen jets to the South American nation in the past week alone. Most delivered gasoline additives, parts and technicians to help repair a key refinery along Venezuela’s northwestern coast. Meanwhile, Mahan has sent other planes to the international airport outside of Caracas, where they are loaded with the gold bars to take back to Tehran.”
What benefit does a collapsed Venezuela provide (health, economy, insecurity) to the HRC? Of course, none. Just a confirmation of the unfortunate role of the commission and those who silently accept the unacceptable.
Anti-Semitism has not vanished due to the pandemic. It can still be seen on social media and in several countries. The Iranians traveling every week to South America through the open doors of Venezuela is not new, and it is not the first time it has happened. But in the time of pandemic, the Iranian presence and Hezbollah´s presence present a clear and present danger of more anti-Semitism.
Unfortunately, this is another issue that the High Commissioner is not speaking about when she says she is worried with increasing dangers to freedom in Latin America.
More than 100 countries are celebrating that the U.N. General Assembly voted for dictatorships to become members of the Human Rights Council (HRC) in the next two years. Democracies have been defeated again, and from now on, Venezuela, Mauritania and Sudan will join more dictatorships in the shameful HRC. All three countries are serial violators of human rights. Slavery is still alive in Mauritania. Sudan is experiencing a reign of terror. Both will judge human rights.
Though outrageous, it is unsurprising that Venezuela has secured a seat in the HRC. It will be an excellent shelter for Maduro to hide the ongoing violation of all human rights in Venezuela. Venezuela got its seat through lobbying by Russia and Cuba and the global support of the Non-Aligned countries - a very peculiar name these days, when at the end of the day they are only aligned to dictators.
Less than a month ago, the high commissioner for human rights, former Chilean President Michele Bachelet, denounced more than seven thousand killings in Venezuela and an ongoing violation of human rights against civilians. It looks like a contradiction that a month later, Venezuela is seated in the HRC.
Well, it is not. Hypocrisy usually is associated with these political movements. The high commissioner told the truth: Venezuela is a dictatorship that violates human rights. On the other hand, seats in U.N. agencies are the result of negotiations and bargaining. And Venezuela will be a safe vote for those powers that backed its seating in the HRC.
The high commissioner has asked for an investigation on the ground in Venezuela into killings, illegal imprisonments and hunger. Maduro insulted Mrs. Bachelet by not accepting any U.N. mission and now, a month after the request, he has received total impunity with Venezuela’s membership in the HRC.
The political alliances made by Venezuela in the last 20 years with Iran, Russia and the Arab League have brought these results: Venezuela is a dictatorship and there is no international system able to stop it. Venezuela’s alliances create a clear and present danger across Latin America; Hezbollah has free access to everywhere in the region that allows entry to Venezuelan passports. Argentina and Paraguay have established that Hezbollah is a terrorist organization, but no other country has yet dared to follow them. And when we watch hesitation from the vast majority of Latin American countries to condemn terrorism clearly, the danger becomes greater.
Social unrest is advancing these days in several South American countries. Chile is experiencing ongoing protests with thousands of people rallying in the streets. There has been destruction of public buildings and the Santiago metro. The unrest is not being calmed down either by the government or by the other political parties, and the future is uncertain. Bolivia has had elections, but the opposition does not accept the results and there is violence in the streets. Venezuela always supports unrest in other Latin American countries. Its government has publicly celebrated violence in the streets, no matter which country is going through that violence.
Each country has its own problems, and there is no doubt that many Latin American countries have a lot of unrest. The Venezuelan dictatorship always claims that it will not accept interference and that Venezuela will solve its problems. But Maduro and his ministers want to intervene in other countries. If any country and its government are weak enough to succumb to any sort of intervention, Iranian influence and the threat Hezbollah poses will spread more and more.
Latin American countries will be able to keep democracy in the countries where there are still serious democracies if the international community reacts and stops forgetting what is happening on a continent of 600 million people. If indifference prevails, as is happening now, regimes like the Venezuelan or Cuban governments will be replicated. And if this happens, it will be too late to go back.
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