Venezuela and the Violation of Human Rights

By Daniela Flamini

On September 29th of 2016, 29 countries signed a joint statement on Venezuela at the 33rd Session of the UN Human Rights Council; amongst their major concerns were the “grave and repeated reports of repression of the voices of the opposition and members of the Venezuelan civil society.” Amnesty International’s most recent report on Venezuela focused specifically on the grave human rights abuses that began during the 2014 and 2015 protests against the government, and pointed out that these had resulted in the development of a National Human Rights Plan signed off by President Maduro in March of 2016. Several human rights NGOs consequently criticized the document for being overtly political and ideologically framed, and for excluding the participation of civil society.

How does one effectively study the aspects of a country such as this, where human rights are so obviously and grossly being violated without any consequences, from the standpoint of a human rights framework? It seems almost redundant to do so.

According to the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative, universality, indivisibility, participation, accountability and transparency are amongst the basic principles that are always part of human rights standards and implementation. These principles are practically nonexistent in Maduro’s corrupt regime, as political opponents are jailed and tortured regularly and without trials. According to Transparency International, the country ranks as the most corrupt in Latin America, and the ninth most corrupt in the world.

Even on a superficial level, it is easy to tell how the government has averted human rights NGOs and any international actors that have tried to approach the situation from a human rights vantage point. In 2012, the country denounced the American Convention on Human Rights and withdrew recognition of the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, and that decision stands today. Maduro’s own National Human Rights Plan entirely excluded UN experts.

Backdropped by live reconstructions and a painting of independence hero Simon Bolivar, Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro speaks during a press conference at Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas, Venezuela, Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017. The main opposition coalition marched to call on the Organization of American States to intervene in Venezuela's political crisis. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)

In the case of Venezuela, then, though it is easy to criticize the situation from a human rights perspective, it is extraordinarily difficult to implement policies and cause any real change. Joint statements, councils, documents and suggestions from organizations all over the world go ignored by the self-determining Maduro regime. Though it is important to outline the problems that are plaguing the Venezuelan people and bring awareness to these issues on a worldwide scale, the effectiveness of this approach is questionable.

A political-economic study of Venezuela brings to light many of the factors that a human rights frame overshadows, including the important storyline of how the country came to be in such a terrible situation in the first place. By looking at the political and economic tensions that have been present in the country since the presence of Chavez, and analyzing the strategies and actions of his regime, one can come to a greater understanding of the spectrum of corruption that leads to human rights abuses.

In many cases, a human rights framework is necessary to prescribe what is wrong, what is functioning and what is not, what needs to change for the sake of those who are suffering, and how these processes can be monitored and change implemented. Where this perspective falls short is in its ability to tangibly cause improvement for the situations it assesses. Whereas political and economic frameworks find patterns in failed governments, identify the root causes of big problems, and hold people and groups accountable for the issues they create, a human rights perspective can only suggest and hope for the best.

As seen with the situation in Venezuela, sometimes merely pointing out the occurrence of devastating human rights abuses is not enough to aid the situation. In order to ensure that the same sad story does not repeat itself, the human rights framework is not enough; in circumstances as severe as these, there needs to be political and economic accountability.