Alena Douhan, in her capacity as UN Special Rapporteur, visited Venezuela for two weeks in early February, 2021 to assess the impact of the US-imposed unilateral coercive measures on the Venezuelan economy and the living conditions of the Venezuelan people.
She met officials of the government as well as members of the opposition, representatives of public and private sectors, social organizations and trade unions, and national and international NGO’s working in Venezuela.
One cannot claim to protect human rights by violating human rights,” asserted Alena Douhan, on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights, while detailing the human cost of the unilateral sanctions imposed on Venezuela by the USA and its collaborating allies.
She submitted a preliminary report on February 12, detailing the “devastating effect” of the sanctions on the Venezuelan economy, health, education, industry, social programs, and other sectors. The final report will be submitted in September 2021.
In the international sphere, sanctions are generally discussed politically, while their legal and human effects are not considered [a] priority,” said Prof. Douhan.
Yet, both targeted sanctions and general sanctions violate international law, like the sovereign equality of states, the policy of non-intervention in internal affairs of countries, and principles of human rights, including the rights to life and to development.
Douhan stressed that targeted sanctions against individuals, although not as damaging as overarching sanctions against a country, are still in contravention of legal principles.
“Presumption of innocence is the starting point of law, and the burden of proof is on the accuser. Anyone facing any accusation has the right to a fair trial; that is an inherent human right.
However, unilateral coercive measures are imposed on the presumption of guilt of the accused, which violates the right to due process. You cannot have one set of rights for the so-called bad guys and another set for the so-called good guys; human rights are for everyone.
She noted that the first sanctions that Venezuela faced were targeted sanctions imposed by the US government in 2015, against Venezuelan officials and entities that, according to the US government, were involved in drug trafficking or corruption, or had violently repressed protests or persecuted political opponents.
Recently, several countries including the US even sanctioned members of the Venezuelan opposition who participated in the National Assembly elections of December 6, 2020.
This means that these individuals cannot represent Venezuela in court cases in the sanctioning countries, although they were elected by the people of their own country,” highlighted Douhan.
In many instances, sanctions were imposed on individuals for actions that do not constitute a crime. For example, captains of Iranian oil tankers supplying gasoline to Venezuela were sanctioned for ‘supporting and financing international terrorism’ because in 2015 the US regime declared Venezuela ‘an unprecedented threat to US security and foreign policy.
In her report, the Special Rapporteur described in detail the impact of the unilateral coercive measures amounting to a total blockade against the Venezuelan economy, generating a humanitarian crisis in the South American nation. At the conference she explained.
Over a century, Venezuela has been dependent on oil trade, particularly with the United States and Europe. Having the largest oil reserves on the planet, naturally it was the main source of foreign exchange.
Although the economy had started facing downturns since oil prices began falling in 2014, the situation was exacerbated with the imposition of increasingly harsher sanctions since 2015.
The oil revenue has dropped by 99%, and the country is currently living on only 1% of its pre-sanctions income. In addition, Venezuelan assets abroad, worth about US$ 6 billion, remain seized or frozen in various countries.
Together, these factors in combination with IMF efforts, have resulted in hyperinflation and severe devaluation of the Bolívar, “which has led to public sector salaries dropping from the equivalent of US$ 150–500 a month in 2015 to US$ 2–10 in 2020, and a steep rise in poverty levels.
Further, the state-owned oil company PdVSA, the mining sector, transport, aircraft, cryptocurrency—all are under sanctions. Many people working in these sectors either lost their jobs or were forced to quit because of salaries decimated by the sanctions.
The hardest hit has been the public sector, that has lost 30-50% of its qualified staff, leading to disorganization, overburden, and reduced quality of services.
Before the sanctions, Venezuela had money to buy everything necessary for maintaining its infrastructure and social development projects. Most products, like machinery, spare parts, technology, even food, medicine and medical equipment were imported mainly from Europe and the USA.
Venezuelan oil deposits are mostly heavy crude, requiring intensive refining processes to be usable. The necessary chemicals were imported from USA or Switzerland, now it is impossible.
Also, due to lack of spare parts and new machinery, the refineries cannot be maintained, so at present Venezuela is not able to produce enough gasoline, diesel and cooking gas to meet even its domestic demand.
Fuel shortages have severely curtailed movement of people for daily activities including going to hospitals, jobs or schools.
State supply of subsidized cooking gas is not enough, and prices are tremendous in ‘free markets,’ so people have to use wood to cook in the open, which is an environmental concern,” continued Prof. Douhan.
Electricity lines are presently able to function at about 20% of their capacity, again due to shortages of fuel, machinery and qualified staff.
The national water supply system is unstable because of power outages, and water can be supplied only in rotation to ensure distribution to the entire country.
This means that most households can get water for a few hours every five to seven days, and that water has to be boiled to make it potable, because the government is not able to import all the chemicals needed for proper purification.
Even hospitals lack continuous supply of water. Now, during the Covid-19 pandemic, when we are instructed to wash our hands frequently, how can it be possible for people in Venezuela?
The Special Rapporteur found that impediments to food imports and high prices of available items have resulted in reduced food intake and rising malnutrition over the past six years.
People are increasingly dependent on the government-subsidised food supply program (CLAP), but that too has been forced to reduce the diversity of items.
School meal programs have been reduced or entirely suspended, as well as other school supplies like books, computers, uniforms, backpacks and so on?
As a result of the devastation of national economy and degradation of state programs, 40% of the working population is involved in the ‘gray economy’—insecure jobs or even criminal activities including drug and human trafficking.
Between one and five million people have migrated from the country in search of better living conditions, with a corresponding rise in family separations, violence, child labor, and prostitution.
Girls as young as 12-13 years of age have gone into prostitution, with deleterious effects like rise in teenage pregnancies and opportunistic infections.
This has overburdened a healthcare system already reeling from shortages. The Venezuelan government used to provide excellent healthcare to the population, including transplants and services for chronic and life-threatening conditions like diabetes, cancer, HIV—all either free or highly subsidized.
This was paralyzed by the seizure of state assets abroad. In 2017-2018, the country faced serious shortages of HIV tests and medicines, syringes, vaccines against measles, yellow fever, malaria, leading to [a] steep rise in death rates.
In this crisis, the government increased cooperation with UNDP, UNICEF, UNAIDS, PAHO, other international agencies, private sector, churches, NGOs, which has improved the health sector. But conditions of other sectors remain as distressing as ever.
The problem gets compounded due to sanctions on third parties—public and private sector companies of countries that recognize the Venezuelan government, and over-compliance with sanctions by companies fearing sanctions on themselves,” stated Douhan.
This fear is not unfounded, as traders get regularly threatened with seizure of assets and blocking of funds by US authorities. PdVSA’s Russian and Italian partners have been sanctioned.
These sanctions are actually illegal as well as immoral, added Canadian MP Don Davies. The sanctions are causing enormous amount of suffering to the Venezuelan people, particularly the most marginalized and vulnerable groups.
Recalling the long, documented history of colonization of Latin America by European powers and the USA, the parliamentarian remarked, I find it not coincidental that the USA is one of the countries of the world that almost exclusively refuses to ever submit to international jurisdiction.
According to him, the USA and its capitalist allies simply cannot and will not tolerate the development of a different model other than the neo-liberal, capitalist, pro-business market economy that they seem to insist has to be the path for countries in Central and South America, and around the world.
Regarding Canada’s role in the situation in Venezuela, Davies referred to an informal partnership between Canada (gold) and the USA (oil) formed in 2017,” which has been used by the Trudeau government to justify its decision to join the US administration in the blockade against Venezuela.
Canada is part of Five Eyes, NATO, and a number of political organizations, formally and otherwise,” elaborated the MP. He characterized the Lima Group, which his own country initiated in 2017 as a hostile political front against the Venezuelan government.
Also just a discredited group of right-wing countries, after the withdrawal of Bolivia and Argentina, where leftist—leftist governments have returned.
Both the Lima Group and the OAS [Organization of American States] are used as political cover by the Canadian government, so that the Canadian people would consider the illegal agenda as legitimate.
Special Rapporteur Douhan also pointed out that the seizure of Venezuelan foreign assets violates the norms of immunity of state property.
The assets of the Central Bank of Venezuela, CITGO [PdVSA’s US subsidiary], other funds frozen in international banks, these belong to the State of Venezuela, not to its government.
Blocking or seizing state assets on the grounds of non-recognition of a government is illegal in international law.
She highlighted that the application of sanctions to nationals and companies of third countries for cooperating with public authorities, companies and nationals of Venezuela, is outside the jurisdiction of the USA, Canada and other sanctioning countries.
She also underlined that the existing humanitarian exemptions are ineffective and insufficient, and do not cover the delivery of spare parts or machinery required for maintenance and restoration of public services.
While commending the measures adopted by the Venezuelan government to combat the crisis, the Special Rapporteur stated that the sanctions are undermining potential positive impacts of the measures.
She expressed that all disputes between countries should be resolved within the framework of international law, and not with unilateral measures.
In this regard, she mentioned the referral submitted by Venezuela to the International Criminal Court in 2020, considering the deaths caused by the blockade as “aggression” against the nation.
It is estimated that the sanctions have already caused over 100,000 deaths in Venezuela.
Global Research California / ABC Flash Point Development News 2021.