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Author Topic: De Zayas: UN Human Rights Council’s Report on Venezuela is ‘Unbalanced’  (Read 13353 times)
Posts: 1810

« on: July 23, 2019, 01:28:39 PM »

De Zayas: UN Human Rights Council’s Report on Venezuela is ‘Unbalanced’De Zayas: UN Human Rights Council’s Report on Venezuela is ‘Unbalanced’ (1/2)

July 12, 2019

Former lawyer for the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, Alfred de Zayas, says that High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet's report on human rights in Venezuela mostly ignores the severity and responsibility of US sanctions against Venezuela


Story Transcript

GREG WILPERT It’s The Real News Network and I’m GREG WILPERT in Baltimore. Last week, the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, released a report on the human rights situation in Venezuela. The report can safely be described as being quite scathing of the human rights situation. Here is an excerpt of Bachelet’s presentation of the report.

MICHELLE BACHELET, UN HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS As the report makes clear, essential institutions under the rule of law in Venezuela have been eroded. The exercise of freedom of opinion, expression, association, and assembly, and the right to participate in public life entails a risk of reprisals and repression. Our report notes attacks against actual or perceived political opponents and human rights defenders ranging from threats and smear campaigns to arbitrary detention, torture and ill treatment, sexual violence, killings, and forced disappearance.

GREG WILPERT The government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro slammed the report for being one-sided. The Foreign Ministry said the report mostly ignored the impact of US economic sanctions on Venezuela, as well as information presented by Venezuelan human rights NGOs that highlighted the violence committed by opposition supporters.

Joining me now to discuss the UN Human Rights report on Venezuela is ALFRED DE ZAYAS. He’s a retired senior lawyer with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights as well as a retired chief of the petitions department at the OHCHR. Back in late 2017, he visited Venezuela as an independent expert from the UN. So let’s start out with the report in general. What is your reaction to the report on Venezuela given what you know about the human rights situation there? Was it balanced?

ALFRED DE ZAYAS I’m rather disappointed because I had the opportunity of briefing Michelle Bachelet’s assistant for an hour and delivering a considerable amount of documentation. I also pointed out which were the conclusions, findings of my own report for the Human Rights Council, and how I thought that a constructive dialogue with the government of Venezuela should be conducted so as to help the Venezuelan people. It’s not a question of giving aid and comfort to the government. It’s a question of helping the people who are suffering. Why are they suffering? Primarily because there is a major economic crisis. What are the causes of the economic crisis? First of all, that drastic drop in the price of oil back in 2014. Venezuela has less than half the income that it used to have. But most importantly, the economic war, which is not new.

 The economic war started in 1999 when Chavez became President of Venezuela and there was, of course, a coup d’état of 2002. And then, the sanctions imposed by Obama and later by Trump. Now, these sanctions are the direct cause of death. The direct cause of death through malnutrition, death through lack of access to certain medicines. The government is bending over backwards to buy the necessary medicine, to buy the necessary food. Venezuela is not self-sufficient. This is not something that is the fault of the Chavez or the Maduro government. I mean, this has been the model of the Venezuelan economy for 100 years. They are dependent on the sale of oil. Now, if the United States confiscates or freezes billions and billions of dollars that belong to the Venezuelan people, if the bank in England similarly refuses to return $1.5 billion-worth of gold, and if some 40 bank institutions in the world have frozen more than $5 billion— how is Venezuela going to purchase the food and the medicines that it needs?

 It still does a remarkable job of doubling the available resources, but then, there is the problem of sanctions. Any businessman, any entrepreneur who wants to do business with Venezuela knows that he is risking major penalties. I’m not talking about $10,000. I’m talking about $50,000, $100,000, $200,000. So if you are an entrepreneur and you know it’s going to cost you that kind of money, why are you going to take the risk? So you pass over Venezuela. Going back to the report of Michelle Bachelet, on the optimistic side I can say bravo. She personally has been in Venezuela. She has spoken with both the opposition and the government, with many ministers. She has been given an enormous amount of information. Why is their report so deficient? And it is very deficient. It is very disappointing. Why? Because it was drafted by the same team that had drafted the reports of Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. Michelle Bachelet has inherited a team. In this team—

GREG WILPERT I want to get into that issue in a moment, but first, I just want to ask you something else about the report itself. I mean, one of the things, and you touched on this already, but I just want to quote from the report because I think it’s kind of interesting. One of the things that she says in the report, or I don’t know if it’s her, or her assistants say, “The government has not demonstrated that it has used all resources at its disposal to ensure the progressive realization of the right to food, nor that it has unsuccessfully sought international assistance to address gaps.” Then it goes on also to say that, “Violations of the right to health resulted from the Government’s failure to fulfill its core obligations, which are non-derogable, even for economic reasons.” And then finally, she does say something about the economic sanctions, but basically ends up dismissing them. Now one of the things, and I think it’s important to always keep in mind that the report also of course talks very scathingly about the political freedoms, and also about the 5,000 or plus people that have been killed in confrontations with the police, which it calls extrajudicial killings basically. Now that’s a very serious allegation, but on the other hand, from what I have just quoted, the report seems to ignore the sanctions for the most part. And according to one analysis that is by Mark Weisbrot and Jeffrey Sachs, as many as 40,000 people were killed or died due to a lack of access to medicine and to food. Now, given the—

ALFRED DE ZAYAS That was low in 2018. This year is much—

GREG WILPERT Right, right. Now given all of that, what would you say should actually be the UN’s role in dealing with this kind of a situation?

ALFRED DE ZAYAS Coordinating all the agencies. When I was in Venezuela, I called in the FAO, and WHO, UNHCR, UN Women, etc. to say, look, how can we help the Venezuelan people? Indeed, shortly after my visit, new arrangements were made between some of these United Nations agencies and the government, and they are helping the government. So do the International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, so there is some progress. But the report is unfortunately, fundamentally flawed. The major problem is methodology. When you are a researcher, it doesn’t even have to be a legal investigation, even if you are a historian, you have to listen to all sides. You have to evaluate all of the evidence, and then you have to reflect it professionally.

 What has happened here is that an enormous amount of information that was made available to the High Commissioner—And not just during her visit because her team was there already in March. She went now for three days, but at least 50 nongovernmental organizations on the ground in Venezuela—Such as, Fundalatin, which is a very old Venezuelan NGO. It’s not a GONGO. It’s not a government NGO. Fundalatin, Grupo Sures, and Red Nacional de Derechos Humanos did give Michelle Bachelet material. But when did she receive that material, and why was it not taken into account? Because you don’t find a footnote in her report to any of these sources, nor do you find a footnote to my own report, or to my findings and conclusions, so there’s something wrong. And I attribute that—Because I am a former staffer of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and I know how things work. There are people with prejudices. They have an axe to grind and they grind it and they omit information that just doesn’t fit the matrix that they want to put forward.

 Now this, of course, is not just a problem of methodology. This is also a problem of ethics. I find that the professional ethics of a staff member must include a true reproduction of the information received from all sources. Obviously you can discard information if you think this just comes from the press, this is fake news, this is not serious. But the information given to the High Commissioner, I have seen much of that information, which also dates back to 2017, and none of it was ever reflected by Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, and is also not reflected by this new report. So that my recommendation— and I’ve already put it in writing, and I’ve already informed the office of my opinion— I think it is necessary for the credibility of the office to change the team that has been doing these reports in the past because they have proven not to be objective. They have proven not to follow what I would consider the minimum requirements of any serious research.

I think that not giving appropriate weight to the violence of the guarimbas, of the opposition, not going into the dislocation, the disturbance of repeated attempts at overthrowing the government, the coup d’état, the unilateral declaration of the presidency of Guaido, followed by the so-called humanitarian aid that the United States was going to force from Colombia into Venezuela, followed by the call to the army to overthrow Maduro on the 30th of April last, etc., the attempts on the life of Maduro himself—All of these things have an impact on the functioning of any government. And you mentioned the figure of 5,000 persons who are said to have lost their lives in the context of resistance to state authority. My understanding is that that figure actually encompasses common criminals, encompasses persons engaged in sabotage, persons engaged in contraband who have of course resisted the government. But back in 2017, and I’ve seen the videos, the opposition used Molotov cocktails. The opposition used real bullets. The opposition burned alive seven human beings.

GREG WILPERT Okay. Well, we’re going to have to conclude this part one, this first part of our discussion with you. And I invite people to tune in for the second part where we will go into the details of why it is that this report has been flawed, according to you. So I was speaking to ALFRED DE ZAYAS, retired senior lawyer with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Thanks again, Alfred, for having joined us. And again, as I said, join us for part two.

Posts: 1810

« Reply #1 on: July 23, 2019, 01:34:27 PM »

UN Report on Venezuela Fails to Reflect the Causes and Severity of the Economic Crisis – Why? (2/2)

July 14, 2019

Alfred de Zayas says the UN Human Rights Council's report on Venezuela left out essential aspects in its otherwise damning report on Venezuela because the council has increasingly fallen under the sway of the demands of the US government


Story Transcript

GREG WILPERT It’s The Real News Network and I’m Greg Wilpert in Baltimore. You’re joining us for part two of our discussion about the UN human rights report that was recently released on Venezuela. And joining me to discuss this is Alfred de Zayas. He’s a retired senior lawyer with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights as well as a retired chief of the petitions department at the OHCHR. Thanks again, Alfred, for having joined us today.


GREG WILPERT So I think it’s very important, though, before we go onto the question of why this report has been so flawed, is to highlight again the issue of the degree of the severity of the situation in Venezuela. As a matter of fact, a recent opinion article by Francisco Rodriguez, who is an economist at Torino Capital, wrote an opinion article in The New York Times where he said, “Sanctions are now putting the country at risk of a humanitarian catastrophe. In the three months after sanctions were increased in January, Venezuela imported barely a third of what it imported in the same period last year and less than one-tenth of what it bought from the rest of the world back in 2012. Given that most of the population is already living at near-starvation levels and that the country depends on imports to feed itself, further cuts in foreign purchases risk producing the first Latin American famine in over a century. The risks of famine— and what needs to be done to stop it— are lost in the conversation among Washington policymakers and the Venezuelan opposition.”

Now that was Francisco Rodriguez highlighting the severity of the situation. Now, I find it a bit mind-boggling that I think the report itself— and you alluded to this in the first part— completely misses this severity of the sanctions. Now, what do you think about in terms of what the UN ought to be doing, first of all, and in terms of— and I’ve seen you say this before— in terms of the responsibility to protect? What does that mean in the context of Venezuela?

ALFRED DE ZAYAS Precisely, here we have a situation of an artificial crisis. A crisis that has been induced by the United States with the connivance of Canada, the European Union, other countries that have frozen Venezuelans’ money so Venezuela has no access to the money to buy food. Venezuela has billions and billions of dollars, but they’re frozen in the United States, in Great Britain, in European banks, in Portugal actually. In any event, responsibility to protect— that is the responsibility of all of us. The responsibility of all governments are to help a brother nation in trouble, a nation that is asking for help. Obviously, asking for help given without strings attached, without ulterior political purposes, because so-called American humanitarian aid is not humanitarian aid. It is a Trojan horse for regime change. And you cannot be the torturer, you cannot be the tormentor of the Venezuelan people, and suddenly be the benefactor, suddenly be the Good Samaritan who is offering humanitarian aid. Obviously, that humanitarian aid is not being given in good faith.

On the other hand, responsibility to protect means that all European countries and Canada and all countries engaged in the economic war against Venezuela, must end that economic war, must lift the sanctions. Now, the High Commissioner for Human Rights back in 2012— that was Navi Pillay— presented a very strong report which very strongly condemned sanctions. I can quote from that report. It is a report, I can show it there, and is a report of 2012. And among the conclusions we read very clearly, “States must refrain from adopting unilateral coercive measures that breach the human rights obligations under a treaty or customary international law.” Now, the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights specifically prohibits this kind of economic war because of its impact on the right to health, because of its impacts on the right food, etc., etc.

Now, The Human Rights Council has repeatedly condemned sanctions, including this year. Last month of March at the 40th session of the council, there was a resolution adopted condemning unilateral coercive measures. Not only those against Venezuela, but also those against Iran and those against Syria, etc., etc. because sanctions kill. And more and more professors of law, professors of political science have come to the conclusion, as I have, that if the victims of sanctions and financial blockades reaches a certain threshold, that would constitute crimes against humanity under Article 7 of the Statute of Rome. That is, the Statute of the International Criminal Court. And I had in my report already, back in September 2018, recommended that the issue be brought to the prosecutor. The prosecutor of the ICC should open an investigation into the deaths directly attributable to sanctions.

Mark Weisbrot and Professor Jeff Sachs concluded in their report that in the year 2018 alone, as many as 40,000 Venezuelans died as a result of the sanctions and financial blockade. Now, that has gotten worse since 2018. So responsibility to protect means responsibility to stop these artificial sanctions, which I compare with the siege of towns and cities in medieval times with the one purpose to starve them to death. To have them come out with the white flag and surrender. That is what the United States, that’s what Pompeo and Bolton and Abrams and Trump want. They—

GREG WILPERT Let me ask you something else though. I mean, you point out the difference between the 2012 report and that report that was just released. Now I’m wondering, what has happened to the office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights that such a report could be written? I mean, what kind of changes have happened there? I remember times when the United States was very critical of that commission, saying that they were coddling dictators and things like that. Now, it seems to have taken on a very different direction, even though the United States actually is officially withdrawing from the Human Rights Commission. So what’s going on there?

ALFRED DE ZAYAS Well, they twist a lot of arms behind the scenes. [laughs] Don’t think that the US has abandoned the Human Rights Council. They’re very much there, and they are very much bullying, and countries are afraid. There are consequences when you vote against the interests of the United States. There is a price to pay. Either you are going to suffer economic sanctions, or the United States will find a way to make you suffer for your independence, for your exercise of your sovereignty. But going back to the office, it’s not just the office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The OAS, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights— they’ve all been hijacked. They’ve all redefined human rights: human rights are the rights to make money, the right to profit, the right to—What? Do your thing no matter who suffers, no matter what the consequences of your actions are.

It’s very weird how the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Luis Almagro, how Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have sold out basically to the establishment. I see them as an alibi to maintain the neoliberal status quo. So if you attempt an alternative social-economic model as Salvador Allende did in 1970, you’re odd man out. And human rights have been weaponized in order to defame you, to demonize you, and to make it palatable that a military intervention under the guise of a humanitarian intervention could be carried out. Now, this is almost blasphemy— how you can take the noble concept of human rights, how you can take the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of Eleanor Roosevelt, and then use it as a weapon.

I would like to see a comparison of the situation in Honduras, and in Guatemala, and in Colombia, and in Brazil where [the] Indigenous have been massacred and are still being massacred, where social leaders are being murdered every day, where there’s a very high level of homicide or criminality in the streets. But we focus only on Venezuela so that it becomes palatable for world public opinion to say, “No that has to change. We have to get rid of the government.” Now, I applaud the fact that Michelle Bachelet went to Venezuela, and part of the problem with her report is that obviously it’s not her report. The report was written long, long, long before she went to Venezuela. And 82% of the interviews conducted were not conducted in Venezuela. They were conducted outside Venezuela from individuals who are obviously opposition leaders and people who oppose the current government of Venezuela.


ALFRED DE ZAYAS So the report is very unbalanced. It needs equilibrium. And if I want to see the silver lining: the High Commissioner has engaged, the High Commissioner has been there, the High Commissioner has left two of her staffers permanently in an office in Venezuela. Now, I am optimistic thanks to the reports of people like Jeffrey Sachs and Mark Weisbrot. Thanks to articles and books by Professor Tinker Salas and by Dan Kovalik and by Pasqualina Curcio. That gradually, people will come to understand that the situation is far more complex than we think, and that there is a responsibility to protect the Venezuelan people. To protect them from whom? From the United States. To protect them from sanctions. To protect them from the financial blockade.

GREG WILPERT Okay. On that note, unfortunately we’re going to have to leave it there for now. I was speaking to Alfred de Zayas, retired senior lawyer with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Thanks again, Alfred, for having joined us today.

ALFRED DE ZAYAS Thanks for having me.

GREG WILPERT And thank you for joining The Real News Network.

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