Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Venezuela continues to face serious human rights challenges in the civil, political, economic and social spheres.
I met people who told me of their daily struggle to survive. They told me of regular power outages, of the lack of running water, of the unavailability of medicine and food, of how they were falling deeper and deeper into debt.

Video: Human Rights Observatory ULA https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=59KsoBzZVaw
Mr. President,
Distinguished delegates,
My visit to Venezuela in January provided an opportunity for an open and frank exchange, for which I am grateful, on the political, economic and human rights challenges facing the country.
I met with senior authorities, including the President and Vice President [along with the Minister of Interior, Justice and Peace, the Minister of Defense, the President of the National Assembly, the President of the Supreme Court, the Attorney General and the Ombudsman].
I also met with members of the Delegation of the Unitary Platform Delegation to the Mexico Dialogue, members of the Roman Catholic Church and more than 125 members of civil society, including human rights defenders and victims.
Since establishing a presence in 2019, my team in Venezuela has conducted 23 field visits throughout the country; visited 60 detention centers; and provided feedback on ten legislative initiatives; as well as increasingly accessing judicial archives and observing court hearings. Every month, my team meets with more than 100 members of civil society and victims to provide support. At least 312 people have been released from detention after sustained advocacy, including by my team.
We continue to strengthen targeted support to the authorities, listening to victims and supporting them in their quest for justice, and promoting human rights as central to all governance processes.
The recent renewal of the Letter of Understanding that allows my Office to continue its work in Venezuela for the next two years is most welcome.
Mr. President,
Venezuela continues to face serious human rights challenges in the civil, political, economic and social spheres.
I met people who told me of their daily struggle to survive. They told me of regular power outages, of the lack of running water, of the unavailability of medicine and food, of how they were falling deeper and deeper into debt. And they spoke of the direct mental health impacts of all these challenges, with many suffering from anxiety and depression. According to UN statistics, there are more than seven million people in need of humanitarian assistance in the country.
Mr. President,
I received a variety of commitments during my visit, which is an important indicator and requires constant follow-up.
The willingness expressed by the authorities to undertake judicial and security reforms is a positive step. I welcome the access my team has been granted to judicial hearings and look forward to further strengthening cooperation in this regard.
I also look forward to moving towards greater access to all detention facilities.
I remain deeply concerned about individuals who are arbitrarily detained. My team continues to document cases, including individuals who remain in detention after release orders were issued; individuals held in pre-trial detention beyond legally established limits; and situations determined by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention to meet the definition of arbitrary detention under international human rights law.
I reiterate my calls made in January for the immediate release of those arbitrarily detained.
Since our last report in July 2022, my team has documented five deaths in the context of security operations, and more allegations have been received. I took note of the commitments made during my visit to promptly investigate cases of death, as well as cases of torture and other forms of ill-treatment. I look forward to seeing the results of these consultations. While I am aware that investigations have been opened into allegations related to security operations, years later many remain unresolved and court hearings are systematically postponed. I echo the pleas for justice I heard from the victims. They and their families must enjoy their right to reparations and guarantees of non-repetition.
The prompt adoption and full implementation of the two national guidelines on the use of force that were drafted based on the Minnesota and Istanbul protocols, with the technical assistance of my team, would be another important step.
Mr. President,
On gender issues, the authorities committed to eliminate the provision of Article 565 of the Organic Code of Military Justice, which criminalized same-sex relationships in the armed forces. The annulment of this provision last week by the Supreme Court of Justice is an important step forward for the acceptance and safety of LGBTIQ+ people in Venezuela.
The authorities also resolved to begin work, with the support of my Office, on two protocols to investigate numerous alleged cases of femicides and discrimination against LGBTIQ+ persons.
The upcoming review before the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women will be an opportunity for Venezuela to align its restrictive abortion laws with the recommendations made by human rights mechanisms and my Office.
Mr. President,
In my interactions in January, I had several exchanges on civic space. I encouraged the authorities to engage in meaningful dialogue with victims and civil society organizations.
A free and vibrant space for people to express their views is vital.
However, human rights defenders and journalists continue to face attacks, intimidation and criminalization. For example, six union and labor leaders have been detained for more than nine months on charges of conspiracy and criminal association.
I am also concerned about restrictions on the media, with websites being blocked and programs and radio stations being shut down.
And the recent introduction of a bill to further regulate NGOs has raised serious concerns, which I share. I submitted detailed comments on this issue to the authorities and reiterate my call for any legislation to be in line with international human rights standards.
Peaceful protests for better working and living conditions, including higher wages and pensions, have increased throughout the country. The continuation of the Social Dialogue Forum, organized by the Government with the support of the International Labor Organization, will be an opportunity to address some of the country's social and economic challenges.
Peasants, farmers and other people working in rural areas have also been protesting in defense of their right to land. My team has received reports that unidentified individuals harassed and killed them. I note that some investigations have been initiated and emphasize the need for accountability.
The future of indigenous peoples also requires immediate attention. Their lands and territories must be demarcated as a matter of urgency in accordance with the Constitution and international human rights standards. Any measures that may affect their lives or livelihoods, especially in relation to extractive activities on their lands, must be preceded by their free, prior and informed consent.
Mr. President,
Signs of economic recovery bring some hope, but policies to support the country's economic growth must have human rights at the center. Free, transparent and equitable access to data and information of public interest will be key to achieving this.
I call - again - for the lifting of sectoral sanctions that have exacerbated pre-existing challenges and deepened peoples' daily struggles. In January, I heard more and more voices of concern - from humanitarian actors, civil society, public servants, the UN in the country and authorities - about the impact that sectoral sanctions have had.
As I said at the end of my visit, all parties must think about the future they want for Venezuela.
Dialogue and collaboration between the authorities and the opposition will be essential, including the resumption of political talks in Mexico.
I urge the international community to offer its full support to this process.
For reform and the restoration of confidence, the people of Venezuela require concrete and collective action. My Office stands ready to be a bridge between the institutions of the State and the people, and to continue to offer our expertise to accompany efforts to promote human rights in the country.
Thank you.
This speech was delivered partially in Spanish.

Tags: Speech, Volker Türk, Human Rights, Venezuela.