UN expert reports no humanitarian crisis in Venezuela

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CARACAS, Venezuela — An independent expert for the UN’s top human rights body was allowed a rare visit to Venezuela. After spending a week in the country and assessing the situation, he reported that there is no humanitarian crisis.

Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza meets with UN expert. Image Courtesy of CancilleriaVE.

Alfred de Zayas, an independent expert on International Democratic and Equitable Order at the UN, made his visit in late November to assess the social and economic progress in Venezuela. He said he met with 16 government ministers, opposition groups, and “victims of repression,” and reported that the government did not give him any problems.

This was the first visit by a UN rights expert to Venezuela since 1996. De Zayas remarked, “I have succeeded in opening the door. After 21 years, Venezuela has accepted a UN expert to spend eight days there.”

During his visit, he pleaded with the government to release more than 20 people in custody. In addition, he gave a total of six pages of recommendations. Venezuela has already met one recommendation by agreeing to cooperate with some unspecified UN agencies.

While the country is being accused of undermining democracy, it also struggles with inflation and shortages of food and medicine. Its economy has taken severe hits since the decline in global oil prices in 2014. Contrary to most media reporting, De Zayas assured that there is no humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. He said he agrees with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN and the Economic Commission for Latin America who deny the humanitarian crisis.

However, he conceded that there are some shortages and delays in distribution. He has called on the international community to be aware of the monopolies, smuggling, and corruption that has emerged under the US-led economic and financial war. The conflict has resulted in pressures and sanctions. Last year, over 750 opposition-controlled offshore companies were accused of purposefully redirecting Venezuelan imports of raw food materials from the government to the private sector. On top of that, international sanctions have blocked millions of tons of food and other supplies from reaching the Venezuelan people.

De Zayas also remarked that the opposition and private media label the situation in Venezuela as a humanitarian crisis in an effort to promote international intervention. Opposition leaders made “the opening of a humanitarian channel” one of its chief demands in negotiations with the national government. He called the mainstream media coverage of the country “theatrical, hyperbole, and an exaggeration,” and said it does not help to resolve any problems. However, he said international solidarity is necessary to help them overcome the current crisis.

The UN expert will create recommendations to address Venezuela’s crisis and present them to the UN Human Rights Council in March 2018. He is now on his way to Ecuador for a similar investigative visit.

Finally, De Zayas has faced some criticism from advocacy groups. The UN Watch, among others,  alleged he was carrying out a “fake” investigation during his trip.

For more information, please see:

Washington Post – In rare visit, UN expert pleads with Venezuela – 12 December 2017

Chron – In rare visit, UN expert talks with Venezuela – 12 December 2017

Prensa Latina – UN Expert Notifies Social Progress in Venezuela and Ecuador – 12 December 2017

Venezuela Analysis – UN Expert: No Humanitarian Crisis in Venezuela – 6 December 2017

Telesur – No Humanitarian Crisis in Venezuela, says UN Expert, Condemning International Sanctions – 5 December 2017

Venezuelan President will not address UN after shocking human rights report

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CARACAS,Venezuela – After a scathing human rights report by the UN, Venezuelan President Maduro cancels plans to address the UN Human Rights Council on September 11, 2017. Maduro will send newly-appointed foreign minister, Jorge Arreaza, in his place to address the Council on its opening day.

Venezuelan President Maduro. Image Courtesy of Venezuelan Analysis.

Many see Maduro’s decision not to speak as a response to the U.N.’s human rights report and increased activism against his policies. The report calls for further investigation and accountability by the Venezuelan government. It also asks the UN Human Rights Council itself to take measures to prevent these human rights violations.

On August 30th, The UN reported extensive human rights violations and abuses in Venezuela. These come in the wake of anti-Government protests as tensions between the Government and the opposition increase. The report indicates a repressive policy with the use of excessive force and arbitrary detention against protesters. The government’s actions toward protesters, led by Maduro, point to “the existence of a policy to repress political dissent and instill fear in the population to curb demonstrations.”

The President, as one of the 47 current member states, planned to speak at this three-week UN Human Rights Council session. He last addressed this audience in November 2015. The Council does not invite dignitaries to participate in meetings, but it is protocol to honor member states’ requests to speak.

Although he was granted speaking time, a Council spokesman released a statement that Maduro would not address the council without giving a specific explanation.

The U.N. report paints a disturbing picture of the country. Reliable sources estimate the number of people detained since the beginning of April to be 5,000, including 410 children. Many detained victims have described it as “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.” Other detainees, both men and women, also reported threats of sexual violence and death perpetrated by the guards. Conditions in detention centers are alarming with accounts of over-crowded cells, rat and insect infestations, and lack of drinking water and bathroom facilities. The U.N. found these victims’ accounts to be consistent and corroborated by medical records.

President Maduro does not allow the U.N. investigation to enter the country, so this report is based on phone interviews with victims, families, NGOs, journalists, lawyers, first-responders and doctors. There are reported attacks to journalists and media workers to stop them from covering the demonstrations. These demonstrators and journalists have been designated “terrorists” and “enemies” by authorities.

Maduro’s spot at the podium was already being criticized. Critics were outraged and did not want to see the UN stage used by a dictator. Days earlier, 12 human rights activists called for an urgent Council meeting to discuss Venezuela’s membership and protest Maduro’s appearance.

For further information, please see:

CNS News – Maduro Cancels Plans to Address UN Human Rights Council; Activists Want Venezuela Expelled – 6 September 2017

Reuters – Venezuelan President Maduro will not go to U.N. rights forum – 5 September 2017

Fox News – UN rips Venezuelan human rights abuses, as government orders opposition leader’s wife to court – 2 September 2017

UN News Centre – Human rights violations indicate repressive policy of Venezuelan authorities – 30 August 2017

Myanmar Denies Human Rights Violations Against Rohingya Muslims

By: Brian Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia 

NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar – Myanmar’s government stated that it will not allow members of the United Nations to enter the country to investigate potential human rights violations against Rohingya Muslims.

Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s leader, led the National League for Democracy party to a majority win in 2015. Photo courtesy of Reuters.

The United Nations Human Rights Council report which was prepared in February stated that thousands of civilians are getting killed and raped by Myanmar’s soldiers. Then in March, three legal experts and human rights advocates were appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to lead the operation to investigate the alleged violations.

Myanmar’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, denied the Council’s request to investigate in May and stated that it is not in keeping “with what is actually happening on the ground.” She further denied “ethnic cleansing” of Rohingya Muslims and stated that “ethnic cleansing is too strong an expression to use for what is happening.” The government has previously denied human rights violations by stating that it was “propaganda.”

Aung San Suu Kyi has been condemned for failing to protect more than 1 million Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine. Historically, Myanmar has not recognized Rohingya Muslims as an ethnic group and treated them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. The Rohingya Muslim minority suffers from discrimination in Buddhist-majority Myanmar.  In 2012, around 140,000 – mostly Rohingya – were forced to leave their homes.

Myanmar officials maintains that a domestic investigation is being conducted under the leadership of the former lieutenant general and Vice President, Myint Swe. He has stated that the United Nations fact-finding mission will not contribute to their current internal investigation.

For more information, please see: 

Independent – Burma says it will not let outside world investigate Rohingya ‘genocide’ claims – 30 June, 2017

AP – Myanmar to bar UN human rights investigators from entering – 30 June, 2017

Reuters – Myanmar says it will refuse entry to U.N. investigators probing Rohingya abuses – 30 June, 2017

U.S. Considers Withdrawing from U.N. Human Rights Council

By Sarah Lafen
Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, North America


WASHINGTON D.C., United States — The United States is considering leaving the United Nations Human Rights Council.  A final decision to withdraw would most likely include Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley, and President Trump.

US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks at the Security Council meeting last week at at UN Headquarters in New York. (Photo Courtesy of The Times of Israel)

According to sources connected with current U.S. officials, the council has been accused of being biased against Israel by pushing critical resolutions and issuing “scathing” statements about the country.  The council drew criticism in 2012 for inviting a speaker from the Palestinian Hamas terror group to speak at a meeting.

Countries known for human rights violations, including China and Saudi Arabia, are members of the council.  Russia was also a member until last year when it lost its seat after the U.N. General Assembly voted to remove it due to Moscow’s role in the Syrian conflict.  A former U.S. State Department official commented that there are also questions regarding the council’s overall usefulness.  Tillerson recently expressed skepticism about the council in recent meetings with State Department officials.

Last week, Haley criticized the council for failing to discuss the buildup of illegal Hezbollah weapons, strategies for defeating the Islamic State terrorist organization, and holding Bashar Assad accountable for the deaths of Syrian civilians.

The State Department has not directly commented on the rumored withdrawal, however spokesman Mark Toner told reporters that the “delegation will be fully involved in the work of the HRC session which [started] Monday.”

The website Human Rights Watch issued a statement calling a hypothetical withdrawal by the U.S. from the council “misguided and short-sighted.”  U.N. Director of the website, Louis Charbonneau, predicted that the withdrawal might “significantly set back U.N. efforts to protect human rights around the world.”  Charbonneau noted the U.S.’s crucial role in encouraging the council to establish commissions that helped uncover violations in North Korea and Syria and commented that withdrawal would hinder the U.S.’s influence in the international community.

Former President George W. Bush refused to join the council after it was created following the termination of the U.N. Human Rights Commission.  Former President Barack Obama, however, joined the council once he was elected.


For more information, please see:

The Independent — U.S. ‘Considers Withdrawing from U.N. Human Rights Council — 27 February 2017

The Nation — U.S. Considers Quitting U.N. Human Rights Council — 27 February 2017

The Times of Israel — U.S. Considering Leaving Human Rights Council – Report — 26 February 2017

Politico — Sources: U.S. Considers Quitting U.N. Human Rights Council — 25 February 2017

UN to Discuss Report on US Police Killings of Black Americans

by Portia K. Skenandore-Wheelock
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

UNITED STATES — The United Nations Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent has released their final report based on a visit to the United States in January. A five-member group chaired by Filipino law professor Ricardo A. Sunga III made the trip to evaluate the human rights situation of African Americans. The report concludes that “Contemporary police killings and the trauma that they create are reminiscent of the past racial terror of lynching” during the 19th and 20th centuries and calls on the government to do more to protect its citizens. The Equal Justice Initiative, a non-profit organization, reported in 2015 that 3,959 black people were killed in lynchings between 1877 and 1950.

The report has been released while two days of protests and a riot over the shooting of Keith Scott are taking place in Charlotte, North Carolina. Last Friday another incident occurred in Tulsa, Oklahoma where an officer fatally shot an unarmed black man.

A UN Report on the state of the human rights of African Americans in the US has been released while demonstrations against police brutality take place in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo courtesy of AFP)

The report states, “the legacy of colonial history, enslavement, racial subordination and segregation, racial terrorism and racial inequality in the United States remains a serious challenge, as there has been no real commitment to reparations and to truth and reconciliation for people of African descent. Impunity for state violence has resulted in the current human rights crisis and must be addressed as a matter of urgency.” The UN group says these killings go unpunished due to a number of factors. The initial investigations are often conducted by the police departments where the alleged perpetrators are employed, prosecutors have wide discretion over the charges, and the use of force is only subject to domestic standards, not to international standards.

The UN group recommends that the US create a national system to track excessive use of force and killings by law enforcement officials, end racial profiling, and have federal and state laws that recognize the negative impact of enslavement and racial injustice. The report finds education accompanied by acts of reconciliation key to improving race relations and the trust between African Americans and law enforcement officials. The report is being debated at the UN Human Rights Council on Monday.

For further information, please see:

Mint Press News – UN: Police Killings of Black Men Are Modern-Day Lynchings – 24 September 2016

PressTV – US Police Killings Redolent of Lynching: Report – 23 September 2016

Reuters – U.S. Police Killings Reminiscent of Lynching, U.N. Group Says – 23 September 2016

RT – Police Killings of Black People Reminiscent of Lynchings – UN Working Group – 23 September 2016


UN Commissioner’s Statement Angers Venezuela’s Maduro

By Kaitlyn Degnan
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

GENEVA, Switzerland — The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein called for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to respect and defend human rights in Venezuela, even of those who oppose state policies. He also questioned the impartiality of the Venezuelan judicial system in political trials, such as that of opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, who was sentenced to 14 years in prison in September.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro addresses the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. (Photo courtesy of UNPhoto)

“The Human Rights Committee also recently expressed concerns, which I share, about intimidation, threats and attacks against journalists, human rights defenders and lawyers,” said the Commissioner. He also expressed concern regarding the declared state of emergency lingering in 24 municipalities.

The commentary came at the start of a special session of the United Nations Human Rights Council regarding the human rights situation in Venezuela.

President Maduro called the Commissioner’s comments “audacious accusations and imperialist attacks … taken from the agenda of global harassment.” He accused the Commissioner’s statement as a break in internal procedure, describing it as “absolutely biased conduct.” Commissioner Zeid’s comments were delivered via a pre-recorded video statement, which was screened prior to Maduro’s speech.

Venezuela, along with member states Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Algeria and Saudi Arabia have announced their intention to lodge a formal complaint.

Maduro also accused the United States of using human rights as a “political weapon” against Venezuela. “The West,” according to Maduro, seeks to “isolate our country.”

Paul Patin, U.S. Mission Geneva spokesperson, responded to Maduro’s accusations, calling the address an attempt to draw attention away from his government’s repressive policies before the national election.

Venezuela was recently re-elected to the Council despite criticism from around the globe. International activists had encouraged U.N. ambassadors to boycott the special session.


For more information, please see:

TeleSur – Maduro Slams US Misuse of Human Rights Discourse at United Nations – 12 November 2015

UN News Centre – Venezuela must uphold rights of ‘even those who disagree with state policies’ – UN human rights chief – 12 November 2015

Voice of America – UN Rights Council Criticized for Welcoming Venezuelan President – 12 November 2015

Venezuela Analysis – Venezuela’s Maduro Highlights Human Rights Advances at UNHRC, Slams Western Bias – 15 November 2015