UN investigation into Venezuela results in accusations of human rights violations

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After six years of political and social injustice, following a steady decline in Venezuela’s economy and legitimate democratic leadership, the United Nations has released a report concluding that the government of President Nicolás Maduro has infringed on the rights of its citizens.

The United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner stated that “high-level State authorities held and exercised power and oversight over the security forces and intelligence agencies identified […] as responsible for these violations.”

It went on to say that “President Maduro and the Ministers of the Interior and of Defence were aware of the crimes. They gave orders, coordinated activities and supplied resources in furtherance of the plans and policies under which the crimes were committed.”

What motivated this investigation?

Venezuela has been significantly struggling for almost two decades mainly due to their economy being constantly on the verge of collapse. This can be attributed to President Maduro’s predecessor Hugo Chávez, who essentially rendered the bolivar (Venezuelan currency) worthless after his tight price control policies backfired.

For example, the price of a cup of coffee rose from 1,400,000 bolivars to 2,000,000 in just a week in 2018. When compared to the country’s minimum wage that year – around 1,308,00 bolivars (approximately $7) a month – you begin to understand why this crisis is so dire.

Along with hyperinflation and weak economic policy, Venezuelan politics moved towards the left with socialist leaders Chávez and Maduro. Democratic-practice seemed to be erased over Maduro’s first six-year term, and when it came time for the 2018 election most of the political opposition refused to partake. It seems most of the other candidates had been banned from or intimidated (after being threatened with prison sentences) into pulling from the race, meaning that any polls would be undemocratic.

These tactics led to Maduro’s second stint in power deemed invalid by the National Assembly and resulted in the leader of the opposition, Juan Guaidó, swearing himself in as acting president on 23rd January 2019. For the last two years, Venezuelans have been running in circles trying to determine who is the rightful leader, and it has split the nation in two.

How has the Presidential crisis affected Venezuelan people?

As a result of this constant political and economic unrest, the citizens of Venezuela have suffered immensely. With the few surviving businesses taking mainly dollars, shelves were rarely stocked and if they were, there were even fewer who could afford them. Shockingly, around 93% of the Venezuelan population cannot afford even the most basic products in supermarkets.

By 2019, over four million people had fled the country since the beginning of Chávez’s first term. The outrage of those who remained sparked peaceful protests that became an everyday occurrence in the country. But, these protesters were met with brute force from police using rubber bullets and tear gas. In 2016, around ninety people were killed by government forces after one hundred days of protests. Yet this was not the only violence occurring.

Hunger, anger and fear drove the people of Venezuela to desperate actions, such as ransom kidnappings. In 2018 alone, there were over eighteen thousand reported murders. However, none of this made headline news, as Maduro’s government censored all media outlets from reporting on such incidents.

What can the UN do?

After creating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, the United Nations have been the major spearhead in protecting human rights. Even though this document is not legally binding, it is understood worldwide that the UN is central in the fight against violations.

After the Human Rights Council were made aware of the actions of the Venezuelan government, they launched an investigation into whether it directly violated the rights of the country’s citizens.

Said investigation concluded that there have been clear violations committed by Maduro’s government, from systematic threats and murders of those who oppose him, ignoring rights to freedom of assembly by using government forces against protestors, infringing on people’s right to free speech and expression by censoring the media, torture and more.

Marta Valiñas, the investigation’s chairperson, stated “the mission found reasonable grounds to believe that Venezuelan authorities have since 2014 planned and executed serious human rights violations.”

What could this mean for Venezuela?

Because the Venezuelan government has violated fundamental human rights that are explicitly condemned by the UN, and thus most of the influential countries in the world, they will face great sanctions to be held accountable.

These consequences began with the United States, the leaders of the UN investigation, who sanctioned and continue to sanction Venezuelan businesses, particularly oil and gas companies, as these are central exports for the nation, valued at around $22,500 million. These sanctions stop state-owned companies profiting from these exports, meaning even greater financial losses for the country.

However, the UN has stated that these sanctions could be counter-intuitive, as Venezuela’s nationwide poverty is at the core of the crisis. They have discouraged similar action from other states.

To date, 96% of the population of Venezuela lives in poverty.