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Human Rights Council holds interactive dialogue with fact-finding mission on Venezuela and starts interactive dialogue with Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan

18 March 2022

Concludes Interactive Dialogue with the High Commissioner on the Situation of Human Rights in Venezuela

The Human Rights Council this morning held an interactive dialogue with the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, and started an interactive dialogue with the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan.  The Council also concluded its interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in Venezuela. 

Marta Valinas, President of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, presented an oral update on its work, focused on the response of the justice system to the human rights violations and crimes documented by the Mission.  It concluded that actors in this system, both by action and omission, played an important role in the State's repression of real and perceived Government opponents.  The Venezuelan Government had signed a memorandum of understanding with the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in which it pledged to take all necessary measures to ensure the effective administration of justice in the country, in accordance with international standards.  This process represented an opportunity for victims to obtain justice.  

Venezuela, speaking as the concerned country, said it was very difficult to once again waste the time of the Human Rights Council.  These were reports that had been prepared in media labs, trying to justify what was unjustifiable.  The Fact-Finding Mission would be remembered as a successful example of a waste of money during a crisis.  The conclusions were reached to satisfy the international media.  This was a hostile body, created by the Council through an increasingly smaller number of countries supporting it, and Venezuela did not recognise it.  This took place against the backdrop of trying to politicise the situation in Venezuela.  The information presented was completely unfounded. 

In the discussion, speakers noted with deep concerns that Venezuela had not adopted tangible measures to address human rights violations.  They called on the authorities to release unjustly detained prisoners for political reasons, and to cooperate with all human rights mechanisms.  Some speakers denounced the politicisation and double standards of the report that stemmed from a politically motivated resolution.  They further called for the respect of national sovereignty and renewed their rejection of addressing the situation of human rights in a specific country without the consent of the concerned Government.

Speaking in the dialogue with the Fact-Finding Mission on Venezuela were European Union, Germany, Israel, Canada, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Paraguay, Ecuador, Cuba, Syria, Japan, China, Spain, Sri Lanka, Russian Federation, France, Yemen, Sweden, Chile, Belarus, United States, United Kingdom, Czech Republic, Nicaragua, Colombia, Eritrea, Poland, Portugal, Georgia, Iran, Luxemburg, Switzerland, Organization of American States, Saudi Arabia, Bolivia, Peru and Guatemala.

Also speaking were Freedom House, Centre CCPR, International Service for Human Rights, UN Watch, International Commission of Jurists, International Bar Association, Amnesty International, Ingenieurs du monde, and Advocates for Human Rights.

The Council then held an interactive dialogue with Yasmin Sooka, Andrew Clapham, and Barney Afako, Members of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan.

Ms. Sooka said South Sudan was at a critical moment in its transition, where crucial provisions of the Revitalised Peace Agreement had still not been implemented and planned elections could plunge the country into massive violence.  Conflict-related sexual violence against women and girls was widespread and systematic throughout South Sudan, and was a result of the ongoing conflict.  South Sudan had reached a critical point in its transition timetable.  Yet massive political, humanitarian and human rights crises persisted, primarily driven by entrenched contestations between political elites, and the lack of political will to address impunity.

Ruben Madol Arol, Minister of Legal Affairs and Constitutional Development of South Sudan, speaking as the concerned country, said the Government considered the Revitalised Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (2018) as a significant milestone towards stability in the country and therefore was making positive progress in its implementation.  The permanent ceasefire continued to hold in spite of the doubts by some.  The challenge was the lack of support by the international community in the form of technical assistance and capacity building, especially to the rule of law institutions, based on the Government’s identified needs. 

In the discussion, some speakers were gravely concerned about the situation in South Sudan and reiterated calls for the end of gender related violence in the country.  The steps taken to implement the Peace Agreement were not enough.  Calls were made on the authorities to guarantee the freedom of expression and assembly, as well as credible and transparent elections.  Some speakers commended South Sudan's continuous efforts and denounced the double standards and politicisation.  The Commission did not have the consent of the country concerned and the Council should respect South Sudan's request and terminate its mandate.  

Speaking in the interactive debate on South Sudan were European Union, Norway on behalf of the Nordic-Baltic countries, Saudi Arabia on behalf of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Germany, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Libya, UN Women, France, Venezuela, Luxembourg, China, Sri Lanka, Russian Federation, Australia, Ireland, United States, United Kingdom, Czech Republic, Albania, Botswana and Belgium. 

At the beginning of the meeting, the Council concluded its interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in Venezuela.

In the discussion, some speakers regretted the ongoing restriction of the civic space and the cases of arbitrary detention, and encouraged Venezuela to deepen its cooperation with the Council.  They believed that the establishment of a more permanent presence of the Office of the High Commissioner could consolidate the promotion and protection of human rights in Venezuela.  Some speakers were against any specific mandate without the consent of the State concerned.  They called for the recognition of the progress made by Venezuela and regretted the prejudice, disinformation and double standards of the report.  They further deplored the weaponisation of human rights. 

Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, in concluding remarks, said she hoped that her Office would be able to open a country office as soon as possible in Venezuela.  The reforms that had just begun were a good opportunity to strengthen relationships with non-governmental organizations.  On civic space, there should be a genuine tangible dialogue between civil society and Governmental organizations, and there should be space for human rights defenders to work, as their participation was vital for full democracy.  She expressed concern about the displacement of Venezuelans, particularly indigenous people, and said the Office would investigate all allegations of human rights abuse.  The expansion of mining projects in some regions was affecting the rights of indigenous peoples, who must give their consent to future projects.

Speaking in the interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner on the situation of human rights in Venezuela were: Burundi, Laos People’s Democratic Republic, Peru, Iran, Netherlands, Zimbabwe, Organization of American States and Georgia.

Also speaking were: Instituto inernazionale Maria AusllatriceCentre pour les droits politiques et sociaux, International American Association of American Minorities, World Organization Against Torture, Federation International de Ligues des Droits Humains, United Nations Watch, CIVICUS, Amnesty International, and International Commission of Jurists and Hasteoir.org.

The webcast of the Human Rights Council meetings can be found here.  All meeting summaries can be found here.  Documents and reports related to the Human Rights Council’s forty-ninth regular session can be found here.

The Council will reconvene at 3 p.m. to conclude its interactive dialogue with the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, followed by an interactive dialogue with the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic and an enhanced interactive dialogue on the Secretary-General’s report on Myanmar.

Interactive Dialogue on the Oral Update of the High Commissioner on the Situation of Human Rights in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela

The interactive dialogue with Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, on her oral update on the situation of human rights in Venezuela started on Thursday, 17 March and a summary can be found here.

Discussion

In the discussion, some speakers said they were concerned about the alarming situation of human rights in Venezuela.  They regretted the ongoing restriction of the civic space and the cases of arbitrary detention, and they encouraged Venezuela to deepen its cooperation with the Council.  They believed that the establishment of a more permanent presence of the Office of the High Commissioner could consolidate the promotion and protection of human rights in Venezuela.  Calls were made for the strengthening of the judicial system as well as the respect of civic freedoms.  Speakers said they were closely following the situation of human rights in Venezuela.  There was no rule of law in the country due to the lack of checks and balances and the lack of independence of public authorities, as well as the high concentration of power in the hands of the head of the executive branch.  Speakers urged the State to implement the recommendations of the report.

Some speakers said they were against any specific mandate without the consent of the State concerned.  It was in contradiction of the principle of non-selectivity that should characterise the work of the Council.  They called for the recognition of the progress made by Venezuela and regretted the prejudice, disinformation and double standards of the report.  They further deplored the weaponisation of human rights.  Any country specific initiative without the consent of the concerned State was hardly conducive to an outcome promoting human rights.  Speakers said they were against measures meant to undermine the sovereignty of a State.

Concluding Remarks 

MICHELLE BACHELET, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said she hoped that her Office would be able to open a country office as soon as possible in Venezuela.  There were important signs of cooperation with the Office from Venezuela, and she hoped many Special Procedure mandate holders could visit the country soon.  Regarding the Office’s present presence in the country, there was a country coordinator who spoke with the Government on important issues such as prisons and torture, and was strengthening cooperation with civil society, including human rights defenders, who played a key role.  The reforms that had just begun were a good opportunity to strengthen relationships with non-governmental organizations.  There were nine human rights officers in the country, and they had visited a number of different states, aiming to improve the human rights situation even further.

On civic space, there should be a genuine tangible dialogue between civil society and Governmental organizations, and there should be space for human rights defenders to work, as their participation was vital for full democracy.  Peaceful discourse would help quell tensions: there must be an end to stigma, as this was an obstacle to people carrying out their legitimate work.  Up until now, the Office had carried out about 40 visits to detention facilities around the country, and it continued to maintain that reform was required, although there were positive steps and crowding had been reduced.  There must be shorter custodial sentences, medical care for inmates, and presumption of innocence.  She was concerned about the displacement of Venezuelans, particularly indigenous people, and the Office would investigate all allegations of human rights abuse.  The expansion of mining projects in some regions was affecting the rights of indigenous peoples, who must give their consent to future projects.

Judicial reforms were positive: they would strengthen the judiciary and make perpetrators of human rights violations more accountable.  In the area of justice, there must be actions to prevent further violations, and the openness to resume an open dialogue at a national level was welcome, and should have a human rights basis.

Interactive Dialogue with the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela

Presentation of Oral Update

MARTA VALINAS, President of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, presented an oral update of the Mission’s work, focused on the response of the justice system to the human rights violations and crimes documented by the Mission.  It concluded that actors in this system, both by action and omission, played an important role in the State's repression of real and perceived Government opponents.

The Venezuelan Government had signed a memorandum of understanding with the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in which it pledged to take all necessary measures to ensure the effective administration of justice in the country, in accordance with international standards.  This process represented an opportunity for victims to obtain justice.  However, the lack of disaggregated data and key information on the crimes charged or the rank or level of responsibility of the perpetrators continued to be an obstacle to assessing the State's real efforts to investigate and prosecute these violations.  Ms. Valinas reiterated the concern raised that domestic investigations, when conducted, were limited in scope and targeted low-level, material perpetrators.  Concerted efforts were needed to address the structural problems stemming from the lack of judicial independence and the interference of political actors in the justice system.  As of August 2021, the National Assembly had announced that it would carry out a package of reforms related to the justice system.

The Mission considered that a legal reform, in and of itself, was insufficient without proper implementation.  Some positive developments in cases investigated by the Mission were noted.  However, there were still dozens of people who had been detained for more than three years without trial, well beyond both the limits imposed by the previous and the reformed law.  The Mission was further concerned that individuals identified in previous reports had not received adequate medical attention, despite repeated requests to that effect, as well as the use of the justice system as a tool to persecute Government opponents. 

In conclusion, Ms. Valinas said that the daily lives of the Venezuelan people continued to be scarred.  They had endured a decade of deepening economic, humanitarian and human rights crises, as well as the breaking down of State institutions, all of this exacerbated, most recently, by the impact of COVID-19.  The clearest showing of this was the more than six million people who had had to leave the country.  

Statement by Country Concerned

Venezuela, speaking as the country concerned, said it was very difficult to once again waste the time of the Human Rights Council.  These were reports that had been prepared in media labs, trying to justify what was unjustifiable.  The Fact-Finding Mission would be remembered as a successful example of a waste of money during a crisis.  The conclusions were reached to satisfy the international media.  This was a hostile body, created by the Council through an increasingly smaller number of countries supporting it, and Venezuela did not recognise it.  This took place against the backdrop of trying to politicise the situation in Venezuela.  The information presented was completely unfounded.  Calumny was the basis of the Fact-Finding Mission.  Venezuela had strengthened its cooperation with the Office of the High Commissioner, and it was dreadful for the members of the Fact-Finding Mission to realise that the Office had a good dialogue with the authorities, as it put forward unfounded information, preferring calumny, as it was the only way to justify the immense financial resources it had received to criticise Venezuela. 

The report was a fabrication, it was fake news.  The work had been carried out at a distance, with no facts, and was selective.  It was amazing that the Fact-Finding Mission had more resources than the Office of the High Commissioner’s presence in Venezuela.  European policy favoured the creation of fake jobs - these jobs had been created to support the international media’s campaign to criminalise the country.  If the Fact-Finding Mission wanted to help human rights in Venezuela, it should donate its funding to the country so that it could import those goods that it currently could not, due to the unilateral economic coercive measures.  The Council should support cooperation between the High Commissioner’s team and the Government, which was renewed recently.  Universal coercive measures only harmed human rights in Venezuela.  The Fact-Finding Mission was trying to undermine the sovereignty and self-determination of Venezuelans.  Venezuelans enjoyed all human rights, and democratic freedoms were exercised every day, in accordance with the Constitution.

Discussion

In the ensuing discussion, speakers expressed concerns about human rights violations in Venezuela and commended the Fact-Finding Mission’s efforts to investigate those violations.  The efforts of the Mission were crucial.  The ever shrinking civic and democratic space was noted.  Speakers also noted with deep concern that Venezuela had not adopted tangible measures to address human rights violations.  They were very concerned about the continuing complaints of grave and systematic violations of due process, as well as forced disappearances and extrajudicial killings.  They called on the authorities to release unjustly detained prisoners for political reasons, and to cooperate with all human rights mechanisms.  Calls were made urging Venezuela to release all political prisoners immediately and conduct thorough investigations into deaths in prison.  

Concerns were expressed about conditions in detention centres, the dysfunctions of the justice system, as well as police brutality and harassment of human rights defenders and independent media.  Further concerns were expressed about the breakdown of the rule of law and security forces continuingly harassing and attacking anyone who opposed the Government.  One speaker urged Venezuela to implement measures against sexual and gender-based violence.  Further calls were made for Venezuela to facilitate the work of the Fact-Finding Mission.  Venezuela was a member of the Human Rights Council and as such should allow access to the country to the Mission.  Calls were made for Venezuela to provide adequate support to the Mission.  Speakers urged the immediate resumption of international dialogue to restore democracy in the country.  

Some speakers recognised the cooperation of Venezuela with the Council and denounced the politicisation and double standards of the report that stemmed from a politically motivated resolution.  They reiterated their support to the Venezuelan Government and its serious effort towards peace and security.  They further congratulated the Government for its protection of human rights despite the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the unilateral coercive measures imposed on the country.  The imposition of mandates that were complicit in aggression of countries of the global South would fail.  Speakers further called for the respect of national sovereignty and expressed their unwavering solidarity with the Government and people of Venezuela.  They renewed their rejection of addressing the situation of human rights in a specific country without the consent of the concerned Government.  This approach consistently proved its failure to improve the protection of human rights.  The methodology of the Fact-Finding Mission was continuously marked by various breaches that prevented the presentation of a balanced vision such as the lack of evidence and the failure to monitor the impact of the unilateral coercive measures, among others.  Speakers appreciated Venezuela’s participation in the Universal Periodic Review and stressed that this mechanism represented the ideal model for an objective dialogue with the concerned country.  Human rights must be based on national need and the respect of the human rights path chosen independently by the Venezuelan people should be respected. 

Concluding Remarks

PATRICIA TAPPATÁ VALDEZ, Member of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, said the mandate of the Mission was specific, and had been followed in the oral updates.  The situation was worrying, and there were serious violations that had not been properly detailed in the report.  International scrutiny was important in order to continue the Mission.  Accountability and justice for crimes had become standards in the field of human rights for everybody many years ago, but particularly for victims, so that they knew the justice system was operating: this required assistance and greater cooperation.

FRANCISCO COX VIAL, Member of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, said the sources were secondary sources, as direct victims of arbitrary detention and torture were secondary sources, as were witnesses.  The barrier of entry to the country also made the work difficult, and this barrier stemmed from the decision of the Government.  The condition was thus established and then used as an argument against the Mission.  However, the conditions were so clear and robust that they could be used for the International Criminal Court to move from a preliminary to an actual investigation.  The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court believed there was a basis for an argument.  The next six months would see an analysis of the structure and the chain of command of violations that had taken place.  Gender-based violence, sexual harassment and similar violations would continue to be documented.  On how the international community could help ensure justice and a fair trial, it should support the various mandates, in particular those in the Council.  This was a mandate that had been supported by the Council itself.  As an independent body, there was no formal cooperation with the International Criminal Court, but all documents were public.  In any process of reform, human rights needed to be kept at the centre of the discussion.

Interactive Dialogue with the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan

Documentation 

The Council has before it (A/HRC/49/78) report of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan.

Presentation of Report

YASMIN SOOKA, Member of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, presented the sixth report of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan.  South Sudan was at a critical moment in its transition, where crucial provisions of the Revitalised Peace Agreement had still not been implemented and planned elections could plunge the country into massive violence.  The Commission had documented the ongoing violent conflict that had been taking place at the local level in Tambura, Warrup, Jonglei, the Greater Pibor area and Bentiu.  While it appeared as if the violence taking place at this level posed little or no risk to the regime in Juba, it had serious consequences for civilians caught up in it, as the parties involved in these insurgencies engaged in the collective punishment of communities they believed to support the opposing side or ‘enemy’.  

Conflict-related sexual violence against women and girls was widespread and systematic throughout South Sudan and was a result of the ongoing conflict.  The lack of accountability for sexual and gender-based violence in the country, over decades, was responsible for the permissive conditions in which rape and sexual violence in conflict were carried out.  Sexual violence in South Sudan had been instrumentalised as a reward and entitlement for the participation of youth in conflict, and as a means of building ethnic solidarity, as well as constituting a form of retribution against the ‘enemy’.  A critical point in the timetable of the Revitalised Agreement had been reached, yet key areas of the Agreement remained unimplemented.  The signatories of the Agreement would need to demonstrate visionary leadership and renewed determination to complete the implementation of their commitments for the Transition. 

BARNEY AFAKO, Member of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, reading out the Commission’s recommendations, said South Sudan was urged to complete the integration of forces and agree on the ratio of commanders of the unified force and address other outstanding reforms of the sector.  It was also urged to urgently implement the steps identified by the December 2021 conference hosted by the Commission as well as resource the process of consultation and the preparation and enactment of legislation for the establishment of the Commission for Truth, Reconciliation and Healing.  It was urged to accelerate the establishment of the Compensation and Reparation Authority as well as strengthen national capacities for the collection and preservation of evidence to facilitate the work of the transitional justice mechanisms envisaged in Chapter V of the Revitalised Agreement. 

South Sudan was further urged to allocate sufficient resources, including to national courts and military and other tribunals and establish the institutions and systems for improving the management and equitable distribution of the national economic and other resources and finances.  Finally, South Sudan was urged to refrain from interference with the rights of peaceful association, assembly, and freedom of expression; develop a strategy and establish and strengthen national and community-level systems for addressing sub-national and inter-communal violence; and enact the Constitution-making legislation and equip the bodies responsible for carrying out the process.

ANDREW CLAPHAM, Member of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, said that the critical work of developing a permanent constitution was fundamental but had barely started although a bill had been prepared.  In a democratic society, the architecture and processes of the political system, in which human rights were respected and protected, should involve members of the public, civil society, and members of groups who had so far had little say in public life, including women.  The prevailing impunity for serious crimes in South Sudan fuelled and compounded conflict and insecurity; it also enabled and even encouraged the perpetration of killings, massacres, rape and sexual violence, including sexual slavery, and the theft and pillage of the country’s wealth from its suffering citizens.  Impunity was thus a root cause of South Sudan’s concurrent crises.

In conclusion, Ms. Sooka said that South Sudan had reached a critical point in its transition timetable.  Yet massive political, humanitarian and human rights crises persisted, primarily driven by entrenched contestations between political elites, and the lack of political will to address impunity.  Nevertheless, the Revitalised Peace Agreement offered a sound framework for addressing these serious challenges, but it could not do so if its implementation was selective, delayed or deferred.  Nearly all 14 of the United Nations’ risk factors for atrocity crimes were now present in South Sudan.  The potential to plunge South Sudan into complete conflict by rushing elections without implementing the necessary constitution-making provisions should be taken seriously, including the risk of further political violence. 

Statement by Country Concerned

RUBEN MADOL AROL, Minister of Legal Affairs and Constitutional Development of South Sudan, speaking as the concerned country, said this was an update on the statement he had made before this Council in September 2021 about the achievements of the Revitalised Government of National Unity in the improvement of the human rights situation in the country.  The institutions of the Revitalised Government of National Unity at the national, state and county levels had been reconstituted, including the Transitional National Legislature and the States Assemblies.  The Government considered the Revitalised Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (2018) as a significant milestone towards stability in the country and therefore was making positive progress in its implementation.  The permanent ceasefire continued to hold in spite of the doubts by some, including the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan. The conflict in Tambura, Western Equatoria State, which had received major attention in the media, had been resolved by the Joint Defence Board.

On the constitutional making process, a bill had been drafted and had been submitted to the Transitional Legislative Assembly for enactment.  The Government was committed to the full implementation of the Revitalised Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan.  However, the challenge was the lack of support by the international community in the form of technical assistance and capacity building, especially to the rule of law institutions, based on the Government’s identified needs.  The Council and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights should provide the necessary tools in the form of technical assistance and capacity building in accordance with the item 10 resolution, so as to enable the Government to deliver services to its citizens.

Discussion

In the ensuing discussion, some speakers welcomed the report and thanked the Commission for placing the spotlight on gender-based violence.  They were gravely concerned by the situation and reiterated calls for the end of gender-related violence in South Sudan and to ensure that the 35 per cent quota for women participation in the peace process, including in transitional justice mechanisms, was respected.  The rights of women and girls needed advancement.  The Government’s abuse was affecting a population already affected by the pandemic and climate change.  The fact that the population was at risk of hunger was appalling.  The steps taken to implement the Peace Agreement were not enough.  Peace could not be established if reprisals against civil society were not held accountable.  Calls were made for accountability for violence against journalists and humanitarian workers.  Further calls were made on the authorities to guarantee the freedom of expression and assembly, as well as credible and transparent elections.  The reopening of the transitional assembly and South Sudan's intention to establish a hybrid court were recognised as important steps; however, the slow progress in implementing the Revitalised Peace Agreement was concerning.  Speakers remained gravely concerned at the use of children by armed groups.  Support for the renewal of the Human Rights Commission was expressed. 

Some speakers highly appreciated the cooperation of South Sudan with the Council and commended its continuous efforts and the reduced level of violence as well as the implementation of fifth and sixth chapters of the Peace Agreement.  South Sudan had shown its commitment to human rights and had ratified the majority of the treaties.  Double standards and politicisation were unacceptable.  South Sudan had made major progress, which was conducive to peace and stability.  Speakers renewed their commitment to support South Sudan and urged the international community to continue to provide constructive technical and humanitarian support to South Sudan while respecting its sovereignty.  Pressure would not help reach any positive outcome.  The Commission had not obtained the consent of the country concerned and the Council should respect South Sudan’s request and terminate the mandate of the Commission.  

Link: https://www.ungeneva.org/en/news-media/meeting-summary/2022/03/le-conseil-des-droits-de-lhomme-se-penche-sur-les-situations-au

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Produced by the United Nations Information Service in Geneva for use of the information media; not an official record.