This paper seeks to explore the human rights violation situation in The Bolivian Republic of Venezuela by studying the human rights policies in place within the country as well as foreign and international policies that the country subscribes to and the level of implementation and observance of those policies. This paper will also address the activities of UN and other humanitarian entities in the country as well as the actions of the civil society within Venezuela and the International community to resolve the human rights crisis in the country. Finally, this paper will provide a critical evaluation of and engage in the debate concerning the universal application of human rights and their enforcement.
Bolivian Republic of Venezuela Country Profile
The Bolivian Republic of Venezuela is an independent country in South America with its capital in the city of Caracas. The country rests on close to a million square kilometres of territory of which 30,000 square kilometres is made up of water. The country is bordered to the North by the Caribbean Sea and North Atlantic Ocean, to the south by the country of Brazil, to the east by Guyana and to the west by Colombia. The country shares its largest stretch of border territory with Brazil (2200 km2), followed by Colombia (2050 km2) and finally, the shortest stretch of border territory is shared with Guyana.
According to a population census conducted in 2004. Venezuela has a total population of 26.2 million and a population density of 25 people per square kilometre. The country’s population is expected to double this number by 2025 with an estimated growth rate of 1.9%. The republic has a diverse population of whom 67% is mixed race, 21% is Caucasian, 10% is of African descent and 2% is composed of indigenous communities. The country’s official language is Spanish but it enjoys a diverse language mix due to its diversity of Spanish, German, Portuguese, Italian, Arab, African, Indigenous and Amerindian communities. The Roman Catholic religion was the official religion in the country for decades, but in recent years, the percentage of other religions in the country has been on the rise. In 2005, Venezuela enjoyed its biggest economy with its GDP increasing to 106 billion dollars and the per capita income increasing to 4,020 dollars. These figures ranked Venezuela 66th in the world rankings.
However, the country’s economy is largely dependent on oil export which contributes a significant 30% of its GDP and often falls victim to oil price fluctuations in international markets. Moreover, the country has suffered a devastating economic crisis offset by the political instability that has been present within the country in recent years. The gross national product of the country fell by 10% in 2016 and then again by 15% in 2017. Responses to the economic crisis by the authoritarian government such as printing new money have led to hyperinflation which hit a staggering 2616% in 2017 and a rise in minimum wage to close to a million Bolivares which is surprisingly not enough to buy more than a kilogram of cheese and a dozen eggs.
Ratification of Treaties
The Bolivian Republic of Venezuela is a signatory to a number of regional and International; treaties that protect its citizens from human rights violation. The republic is also a member of several international organizations including the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the International Criminal Court and regional entities such as the Organization .of American States (OAS). The country has submitted reservations, declarations and understanding that modify its obligations under international treaties such as: International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), Convention on Rights of the Child (CRC) as well as Convention on Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). It has also accepted complaint procedure of five treaty bodies and is a signatory in numerous regional and international treaties enacted to ensure the protection of human rights from violations such as; Convention Against Torture and other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), International Convention on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) as well as International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Apart from being a signatory in these treaties the country has also ratified optional protocols in the CRC, ICCPR that expand the scope of violation of children’s rights and the abolishment of the death penalty.
Human Rights Policies
The Bolivian Republic of Venezuela has several policies in its constitution that guarantee its commitment to pluralist views as well as democracy. Its commitment to guaranteeing the rights of indigenous peoples and commitment to upholding its obligation to international treaties and understandings regarding the treatment of its citizens with regard to economic and political rights. The country, through its constitution, has developed policies to guarantee its commitment to the Beijing action plan, enforcement of policies that enable gender equality and prevention of violence against women.
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The country is also subject to the policies set in place by International law to which it subscribes as well as the United Nations Human Rights policy. In spite the presence of these policies within its legal framework, their enforcement has often fallen below the acceptable standards of international organizations even before the political instability that has all but collapsed the legal framework under which they can begin to be implemented. The crisis in the country had led to the declaration of a state of emergency that has created an instability in the legal system which only hangs around to guarantee the powers of the executive.
Moreover, the enforcement of policies regarding human rights would require the presence of an Ombudsman’s office or at least an active office of the District Attorney, all of which are absent in Venezuela. This absence has enabled the gross violation of human rights that can be witnessed in the country today. The population’s economic rights have been neglected with most of its population living in poor and marginalized urban areas, plagued by food shortages and degrading conditions. Moreover, the country has become a destination for child labour, child trafficking, sex trafficking, forced labour and agrarian violence.
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Since the regime of Hugo Chavez, the citizens of the country have been subject to extrajudicial detentions and executions, police involvement in vigilante death squads that terrorized the inhabitants of states in Venezuela with murder and violent acts of aggression, arbitrary arrests and punishments, increasingly harsh conditions in prison characterized by acts of brutality, torture, violence, abuse, overcrowding, disease and degrading treatment. Moreover, the government has refused to punish acts of impunity committed by the police and has granted the military excessive control over the judiciary. This has facilitated the widespread corruption that has plagued the Venezuelan legal entities for decades, reduced the possibility of human rights violation crimes against the police proceeding to trial and increased the capacity of the government to interfere in the judiciary and reduce its power to provide fast and effective justice to the population.
Cases of judicial harassment, unfounded prosecution, false witnesses, false testimony, fabricated evidence, false charges, defying court orders, harassment of political activists, members of the opposition and Non -Governmental organizations, inefficient and prolonged investigation to human rights violations, protection of influential personalities, partisan appointment of members of the judicial assembly , government interference with the administration of justice, administrative delay of justice and many other bottlenecks to the resolution of the human rights crisis are ever so prevalent in the Venezuelan justice system. Moreover, the government has introduced specific clauses within its constitution that erode the freedom of the press, promote self-censorship and provide a basis for the harassment and detainment of journalist who speaks against the abuses of the government against the Venezuelan people. Journalists in Venezuela face constant intimidation, threats of arrest, police brutality and even the possibility of being found guilty of false charges in a court of law.
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The government has more authority over the judiciary than any other body in the country, this erodes the legislative oversight function of the judiciary and makes it a puppet that only exists to ensure that enemies of the government are imprisoned on whatever charge government officials can come up with. The number of political prisoners in Venezuela is in the thousands. The Venezuelan Human Rights group fore documented seven deaths, a hundred and seven arbitrary arrests, fifty-eight bullet injuries and numerous instances of the use of excessive force by law enforcement.
Involvement of Civil Society Humanitarian Entities And The International Community
The civil society has made an effort to define the characteristics of refugees and migrants in order to facilitate the profiling and of Venezuelan migrants who flee the unsafe conditions in the country. Through these definitions, a human rights approach can be incorporated into the migration crisis especially in the Colombian border where refugees are required to produce passports on arrival and tickets upon reentry into the country. The society has also been instrumental in encouraging regional states that had not ratified human rights treaties to ratify them and the development of best practices in the future management of a humanitarian crisis.
Many humanitarian agencies have been involved in providing humanitarian aid especially after Maduro rejected International assistance from foreign countries. UN humanitarian agencies have made significant progress in humanitarian activities through the doubling of staff numbers in the country. The United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has set up an action plan that is concerned with conducting investigations to the violation of human rights, and developing a humanitarian response that focuses on the provision of healthcare, provision of nutritious food, hygienic conditions in shelters, water, proper sanitation, development of agriculture and protection of children and other inhabitants of the country from violation of rights.
The IFRC is increasing its reach into Venezuela by expanding its scope of activities to almost the entire country through its coordination with the Red Cross with the consent of the government. The International Committee of the Red Cross is expanding its scope of activities in Venezuela to include areas such as migration, access to healthcare, clean drinking water, proper sanitation as well as the prevention of arbitrary arrest and detention. Moreover, organizations such as Amnesty International have been instrumental in raising awareness about the Venezuelan crisis and making recommendations to the International community on how best to approach the human rights crisis in Venezuela.
The international community has been divided on the best course of action to respond to this particular crisis. Maduro’s supporters such as China, Russia and Cuba have blocked efforts to initiate anti-Maduro in International organizations. All these countries have economic interests attached to the Maduro government. Venezuela forms the largest market for Russia’s arms, Russia is also heavily invested in Venezuela’s oil industry. China is anxious to continue importing its oil from Venezuela and Cuba wants to maintain the economic agreement it made with Venezuela to trade crude oil in return for technical support. Moreover, Russia is keen to ensure that the United States does not interfere in the affairs of the country and initiate a change in regime. Latin American countries that used to receive crude oil from Venezuela at subsidized prices are keen to stay out of the country’s internal affairs. These countries have been responsible for the division that exists between the Lima group and the International Contact Group (ICG).
The Lima group does not recognize Maduro as president after the highly disputed elections of May 2018 where Maduro’s government was re-elected for yet another term and won against an opposition led by Huan Guiado. This group aims to reassess its diplomatic relations with his regime and encourage its members to impose travel bans and sanctions against Maduro and his officials. The International Contact Groups advocates for dialogues to guarantee a credible electoral process through the establishment of a new electoral council. This group also wants to persuade the government to release the high number of people that are currently being held as political prisoners and remove the existing ban on multi-parties by sending political missions to the Venezuelan capital, Caracas.
The United States and 53 other countries, the European Union (EU), Canada and fourteen other countries in Latin America have begun mounting pressure on Maduro to leave the office of the president. They hope to accomplish this task through the use of economic sanctions and travel bans against Maduro and his officials as well as the use of targeted sanctions on reserves owned by the Maduro government. The United States, for instance, has shut down the flow of oil from Venezuela to Cuba by sanctioning shipping vessels and companies that transport crude oil from the county to Cuba.
The action of the civil society and academia has been limited by the likelihood of arrest, torture and execution. Members of society within Venezuela have been forced to flee the country and seek international protection. The government has already detained opposition lawmakers involved in the April 30th uprising and many more individuals who advocate for reforms within the country will be arrested. The divisions within the United Nations Security Council have impeded the action of the international community.
Despite its active involvement in the Venezuelan crisis, the United States government has refused to grant international protection to Venezuelan refugees and has not halted its deportation of Venezuelans found to be living illegally in the US. Moreover, the border town of Brazil that the majority of Venezuelan refugees are feeling to is one of the poorest areas in that country and lacks the resources to cater for the large influx of refugees. China, Russia and Cuba’s economic interests have given them the incentive to remain loyal to Maduro’s oppressive regime. Their perpetual efforts to block anti-Maduro decisions in International organizations have limited the extent to which these entities can get involved in the crisis. Although China has stated that it is willing to support dialogue, recent attempts at dialogue involving the Vatican have shown that Maduro will only use the process as a means of stalling.
Moreover, regional countries and organizations lack the capacity to deal with the crisis. This has contributed to the confusion about what qualities exactly define a refugee and how to tackle the migration crisis. Treating the migration as an immigration problem has exposed the refugees to risks that they would not have been exposed to if they were given protected status in their host countries.
The United States has expressed an interest to initiate an intervention into the Venezuelan crisis military action and enforcement of international law. Apart from the widespread regional imbalance, this kind of action is bound to offset, there has also been concern among regional parties as to the fate of the armed civilian militia in Venezuela who may not be under the control of the Maduro government. Moreover, the International community must be invited to intervene in crisis by the government as was the case in Gambia and Sierra Leone.
Apart from the fact that there has been no formal invitation from the government in Venezuela, there has been little consensus all over the world as to who exactly should extend this invitation with Maduro supporters claiming that it should be him since he did win the May 2018 election regardless of the circumstances under which he won and the Guiado supporters claiming that it should be him since they recognize him as the president of Venezuela. This division has curtailed the power of the UN Security Council and has impeded the process of deciding on the best cause of action. Universal law can only be enforced if the country requests and invites international organizations to do so, any other actions interfere with the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of the nation.
Moreover, Juan Guiado does not constitute a competent authority to invite the intervention of the international community, he neither enjoys the support of the people nor is he was he directly elected to office by the people. The next available option is for the international community to initiate and illegal but legitimate intervention into Venezuela that would enforce universal human rights and restore order in the country but such drastic action seems unlikely.
The crisis in Venezuela is yet to reach its culmination. The efforts of the international community have been curtailed by massive division and indecision and Maduro’s refusal of international aid. Moreover, his regime still enjoys the support of Venezuela’s economic allies who have blocked the efforts of International organizations to act against the Maduro government. Meanwhile, Maduro remains adamant, there seems to be no end to the impunity of his authoritarian regime in Venezuela. Millions of Venezuelans have been displaced, thousands serving sentences as political prisoners and many more have had their economic and political rights curtailed in a region where regional, sub-regional and hemispheric entities were unprepared for the challenges that come with a political crisis.
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