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 main issues in the 49th Organization of American States (OAS) General Assembly, which just took place in Medellín, Colombia, have been the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela and the political crisis in Nicaragua.
The OAS is trying to find wide consensus to reverse the political, social and economic crises in Venezuela and face Maduro’s increasing contempt for human rights. The OAS is again approving strong resolutions and sanctions and calling the world to help oust Maduro's regime.
But Bolivia, Nicaragua, Mexico and Uruguay still recognize Maduro as the legitimate president of Venezuela. Uruguay decided to abandon the assembly, arguing that the inclusion of the vast majority of the body of Juan Guaidó's representatives in the assembly is illegal. Although Maduro retains power, Guaidó is recognized as the president of Venezuela by many countries around the world, including the United States and most Latin American countries.
This is a division among state members, which is damaging the OAS. Even worse, the division calls into question the definition of democracy and the quality of democracy if countries like Uruguay and Mexico still believe that a dictatorship like Maduro's regime must be "respected.” The crisis in Venezuela, which is a serious issue for the Americas since four million Venezuelans have fled the country for neighboring countries in South and Central America, will remain the core challenge for the region. In this 49th assembly, the vast majority of states showed their determination to apply sanctions to Maduro’s regime and move forward with all possible legal tools. Uruguay, Mexico, Bolivia and Nicaragua were the only four of the 34 countries present that still supported the Venezuelan dictatorship. Five years ago, the division between countries that supported Maduro and those that did not was evenly split. Now, fewer than 10 percent of countries participating in the OAS General Assembly still support Maduro.
The violation of human rights in Nicaragua is also a difficult issue under discussion, because Nicaragua should be warned that it may be suspended under the Democratic Charter, but there are still conversations to try to ease the situation and secure the release of political prisoners. It is a challenge for the OAS, because Daniel Ortega, the president of Nicaragua, is not delivering on the commitments he made to release the prisoners and is challenging the OAS and the inter-American system.
B'nai B'rith participated in this OAS General Assembly and in sideline meetings with high officers, foreign ministers and ambassadors of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Panama, the United States, Venezuela, Uruguay and Costa Rica. Secretary General Luis Almagro and his staff, confirmed to B’nai B’rith that July 18th, which marks the 25th anniversary of the bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, will be designated as the Inter-American Day of Combating Terrorism.
The OAS Secretary General has adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism. B'nai B'rith discussed the issue in every meeting, and foreign ministers have committed to follow the decision taken by Secretary General Almagro. B'nai B'rith also met with the director of the Latin American Bureau of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, Modi Ephraim. Ephraim attended the General Assembly as an observer.
Venezuela, once Latin America’s richest nation, is today a devastated country. Its democratic system has been destroyed as a result of years of authoritarian rule and government corruption. Political opponents are persecuted and jailed and there is no free press. The economic mismanagement has sparked shortages of food, medicines and the most basic supplies, with a resulting humanitarian crisis of unprecedented proportions. There is also a severe energy crisis and galloping inflation. And the number of pople leaving the country to escape their desperate situation is alarming.
Nicolas Maduro’s permanence in power is deemed illegitimate by most of the world’s democratic nations, as his re-election in May 2018 was clearly perceived as fraudulent. And at least 54 nations have recognized Juan Guaidó, the president of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, as Venezuela’s acting president.
But, despite all this, Maduro is still clinging to power. While many analysts, especially in Latin America, believe that the United States intends to remove Maduro from power by force, the truth is that, despite its strong statements, the U.S. government does not seem to have any appetite to enter into a military conflict in Latin America. And the same can be said of the governments of the region, even when some of them are disproportionately shouldering the burden of Venezuela's refugee crisis, as is the case of Brazil and Colombia.
There are two diplomatic initiatives today that are trying to find a peaceful solution to Venezuela’s catastrophic situation. The first one is conducted by the so-called International Contact Group on Venezuela (composed of envoys of the European Union: Spain, France, Italy, Germany, Great Britain, Sweden, the Netherlands and Portugal, plus Uruguay, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Bolivia). This group is trying to reach a negotiated solution between the government and the opposition in Caracas.
The second initiative is an attempt by the Norwegian government to mediate the crisis. Several meetings were held recently between representatives of the Maduro regime and members of the opposition in Oslo. They were supposed to be secret but were apparently leaked by people close to Maduro. So far, none of these initiatives have yielded any results.
Even though it would be highly desirable for Maduro to agree to leave power and call for free and democratic elections through peaceful dialogue, the truth is that all the previous attempts to find a negotiated solution to the crisis that were held so far (including the one promoted by the Vatican in 2016) have failed. This is so because the regime has used these conversations to gain time, divide and weaken the opposition, and secure its permanence in power. Maduro's main interest in welcoming the current diplomatic initiatives is probably to improve his international image and curb the economic sanctions that have been imposed against his regime.
Given this background, it was a mistake for the contact group to publicly state that peaceful negotiations are "the only possible solution" to the Venezuelan crisis (clearly ruling out the possibility of a foreign intervention). The only way for any of these diplomatic initiatives to have a chance is for a credible threat of military intervention to be on the table. Otherwise, as in the past, these talks will only serve to extend the suffering of the population and the growing deterioration of the country.
Adriana Camisar is B’nai B’rith International's Special Advisor on Latin American Affairs. A native of Argentina, Camisar is an attorney by training and holds a Master’s degree in international affairs from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University.
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