Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of)
Latin America & Caribbean

Venezuela | Human rights defenders call on the United Nations to keep pressure on

Lea la versión en español aquí

UPDATE: States take historic action and decide to investigate human rights situation in Venezuela. 

UPDATE: The Human Rights Council (HRC) has adopted a resolution calling on the UN High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet to investigate the grave situation in Venezuela. The resolution – led by members of the Lima Group and co-sponsored by at least 42 countries – expresses deepest concern at the serious human rights violations committed in a context of a political, economic, social and humanitarian crisis. It is the first resolution of the HRC ever to focus on Venezuela, a State that has put huge effort over the years into avoiding scrutiny at the international level, while actively seeking to weaken the UN human rights mechanisms. 

The resolution requests that the High Commissioner update the HRC on the human rights situation in Venezuela in March 2018, present a comprehensive report in June, and then provide a further update in September. In line with calls made by civil society, the HRC is urging the government to cooperate with the High Commissioner and mechanisms of the HRC, also calling upon Venezuela to accept humanitarian assistance in order to address the scarcity of food, medicine and medical supplies, the rise of malnutrition, especially among children, and the outbreak of diseases. ISHR welcomes the leadership shown by Latin American countries on this issue, and congratulates the human rights defenders who have worked so hard for this outcome, despite serious risks and the daily impact of the humanitarian crisis. Read the full text of the resolution here.


A first, significant step to get Venezuela on the agenda of the #HRC Resolution passes calling for official report on hr situation in country. Given crisis in the country and HRC mandate, shame on those abstained or voted against.

— eleanor openshaw (@eleanoropenshaw) September 27, 2018


Over the last couple of years, criticism of the human rights situation in Venezuela within UN and regional fora has significantly increased, but a lack of cooperation by Venezuela with UN experts has limited the opportunities for discussion. Seizing an opportunity presented by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions’ spotlight on cases in Venezuela, a group of leading defenders have highlighted the context in which such detentions are taking place and called for action.

In a statement to the Working Group, the Venezuelan defenders note that cases of arbitrary detentions of human rights defenders and others, including social activists, students, academics, and journalists, were aimed, in part, to ‘intimidate, repress and inhibit the rest of society’. 

They are, however, just one example of attempts to crush dissent in the country.                                                       

‘Other verified practices include cases of enforced disappearance, torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment; the use of military courts to try civilians; violations of due process, and the illegitimate deprivation of liberty to people in receipt of a prison release form,’ note the defenders.

Defending human rights in Venezuela is taking place in a context of ‘persecution and discrimination’ of the population as a whole and ‘a complex humanitarian emergency’ informed by a lack of functioning democratic institutions and unrestrained impunity. 

The group of defenders call on the Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions to follow up on their request to visit Venezuela, and on the Venezuelan State to accept and facilitate such a visit. 

Following the interactive dialogue the Working Group held at the current Human Rights Council session, ISHR’s Helen Nolan noted how essential it is that UN human rights experts request a visit to the country.

‘Venezuela has a very poor record of cooperation with UN experts – demonstrated yet again by its statement during the interactive dialogue. This should not deter parts of the UN system from demanding access to Venezuela to allow for the monitoring of the human rights situation there,’ said Nolan. 

Since 2003, eleven Special Procedures have put in requests to visit Venezuela, several reiterating their request up to four times. Recently Venezuela did permit access to the Independent Expert on the Promotion of a Democratic and Equitable International Order.  However, in a statement delivered by ISHR, 82 NGOs publicly criticised the realisation of the visit for a lack of ‘time, transparency and balance’, indicating that this undermined the credibility of the conclusions. 



The Focus on Venezuela within the UN and regionally: 

The focus on Venezuela within the UN has increased considerably over the last couple of years, in response to the humanitarian and migration crisis, and a series of high-level human rights reports.  

Two reports by the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) on Venezuela over the last two years have been influential, but have not been produced at the request of a UN political body.  This week, members of the Human Rights Council are negotiating a draft resolution calling for an official report from OHCHR the on the human rights situation in Venezuela.  

‘This resolution would allow the Council to include discussion on Venezuela in their formal agenda as a means to keep pressure up on Venezuela,’ said Nolan.   

Whether the resolution is adopted or not will be decided by 28th September.  



In regard to OHCHR, hearing the views of the new UN High Commissioner Bachelet – a Latin American – on the situation in Venezuela has been much anticipated.  Meeting with NGOs in the context of the Human Rights Council, Bachelet noted, 

‘We’ll continue working strongly on this.  We’ll share info with the government even if they may criticise it. If there’s a need to speak out, it will be done.’ 

On a parallel track, earlier this month the Security Council held an informal discussion on Venezuela- the second convened by the US in two years – connecting corruption in the country with the issue of peace and security.  Several speakers stressed the importance of pursuing peaceful means to address the situation. 

At a regional level the focus on Venezuela has also significantly increased recently.  A recent Organisation of American States report finds ‘reasonable grounds’ for crimes against humanity committed by members of the Maduro regime. The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) has opened preliminary examinations into such alleged crimes

‘Whilst these initiatives have all provided an essential focus on Venezuela, none necessarily offer hope of a response to the human rights crises in the short term,’ said ISHR’s Eleanor Openshaw. ‘So many – including human rights defenders – remain at great risk.’  

‘UN and regional human rights mechanisms and State parties must take every opportunity to examine the situation in Venezuela and keep encouraging a larger and larger group of States to push the Venezuelan government toward positive change.’ 

Contact:  Helen Nolan  [email protected] (Geneva);  Eleanor Openshaw [email protected] (New York).

Photo:  Efecto Eco




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