The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, spoke on the ongoing Venezuelan crisis today at the 35th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland. The high commissioner told delegates that according to his office’s investigations, it was “possible” that Maduro regime officials have committed crimes against humanity in their desperate attempt to hold on to power in Venezuela.
The high commissioner also suggested that an international penal organization would have to get involved in the investigation in order to make that determination:
My investigation suggests the possibility that crimes against humanity may have been committed, which can only be confirmed by a subsequent criminal investigation.
On August 31, the Office of the High Commissioner released a scathing report in which it outlined some of the Maduro regime’s human rights abuses during the summer protests, including widespread allegations of torture, arbitrary arrests, and extra-judicial killings of opposition demonstrators.
The high commissioner also told delegates today that there is a “real risk” that the political crisis in Venezuela will continue to intensify as the regime continues to rely on tyrannical measures to remain in power. He explained:
[The Maduro regime could continue could] crush democracy institutions and critical voices, including through penal processes against opposition leaders, [as well as] resorting to arbitrary detentions, the excessive use of force and the ill-treatment of prisoners which in some cases amounts to torture.
Regime Attacks High Commissioner
Foreign Affairs Minister Jorge Arreaza spoke at the Human Rights Council following the intervention by the high commissioner, and used his ten minutes at the microphone largely to attack the organization, calling it “biased” and unprofessional.
Speaking specifically on the August report that outlined some of the Maduro regime’s latest abuses against human rights, Arreaza said:
The recent report against Venezuela lack methodological value, are unfounded and biased (…) [The report] is plagued with lies and is offensive to our country.
Arreaza did not provide a substantive rebuttal to the report, choosing instead to issue blanket dismissals.
The foreign minister did claim that “the majority” of the approximately 135 deaths recorded during the anti-regime violence that shook the country between April 1 and July 31 “are directly attributable to violent acts by anti-government groups”.
In fact, at least 57 people were killed either by state security forces or armed pro-regime militias known locally as colectivos armados, while at least 17 were killed –directly or indirectly–by anti-regime protests. The remaining 61 fatalities are attributed to “neutral” causes (i.e., electrocution while looting an establishment during unrest), or the details of their deaths are too scarce to make any kind determination regarding the party(ies) responsible.
Arreaza also accused the Human Rights Council of engaging “selective, partial and politicized” behaviour by condemning the Maduro regime’s human rights violations, and said that the organization’s comments only served to “disturb the peace, sovereignty and stability” of Venezuela.
A group of Venezuelans staged a protest outside of the United Nations building in Geneva while today’s meeting took place. The protesters carried flags, shouted anti-regime slogans and carried a sign that read “Arreaza, you are a puppet of the regime”:
Delcy Rodriguez, the president of the Constituent Assembly, reacted to the high commissioner’s statements today by calling him “cynical”, and saying that he was “breaking every moral and ethical guideline” through his behaviour.
AD Wins Big in Opposition Primaries
Yesterday, the Mesa de la Unidad Democratica (MUD) held primaries in 19 of the country’s 24 states for the upcoming gubernatorial elections, which are scheduled to take place in October. Following the vote tally, the MUD published a partial list of the opposition candidates who will run against the PSUV in the October vote.
Earlier today, the organization released an updated list of primary winners. The MUD primary winners are:
- Amazonas: Antonio Barreto Sira
- Anzoátegui: Luis Carlos Padilla
- Apure: José Montilla
- Carabobo: Alejandro Feo La Cruz
- Cojedes: Alberto Galindez
- Delta Amacuro: Larisa Martinez
- Falcón: Eliézer Sirit
- Guárico: Pedro Loreto
- Lara: Henri Falcón
- Mérida: Ramón Guevara
- Miranda: Carlos Ocariz
- Monagas: Guillermo Call
- Nueva Esparta: Alfredo Díaz
- Portuguesa: María Beatriz Martínez
- Sucre: Robert Alcala
- Táchira: Laidy Gómez
- Trujillo: Carlos Andrés González
- Vargas: José Manuel Olivares
The primary winners in the following states have not yet been announced as of the typing of this update: Aragua, Barinas, Bolivar, Yaracuy, Zulia.
The MUD candidates in the remaining states (Vargas, Carabobo, Nueva Esparta and Anzoategui) were appointed previously by the organization.
The Accion Democratica (AD) party, the nation’s oldest existing political party, was the clear winner of yesterday’s primary vote, taking at least eight of the candidate spots for next month’s gubernatorial vote. The party is also running two candidates chosen by the MUD prior to yesterday’s vote, in Anzoategui and Nueva Esparta states.
Maduro Makes Surprise Visit to Algeria
Maduro made a surprise visit to Algeria today on his way back from Kazakhstan, where he attended the summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation over the weekend. Maduro is expected to be in Algeria for 24 hours.
Maduro’s schedule for the visit was not made public, and it is not clear with whom he met. However, Maduro told reporters after a set of meetings with Algerian officials that they had discussed matters related to oil prices.
Pope Francis Calls for Peace in Venezuela
Speaking on the last day of his visit to Colombia, Pope Francis briefly addressed the Venezuelan crisis while speaking at the San Pedro Claver church in Cartagena.
The Pope–whom some in the opposition have criticized for his refusal to take a definitive stance on the Venezuelan crisis–said:
From this place, I want to assure [that I pray] for each one of the Latin American countries, and specially for our neighbour, Venezuela. I want to express how close I feel to each one of her sons and daughters, as well as all those who have found refuge in Colombia (…) I call for a rejection of any kind of political violence, and for a solution to the serious crisis that is affecting everyone, specially the poorest and most marginalized, to be found.
The Vatican attempted to broker a dialogue between the opposition and the ruling PSUV last year, but abandoned the effort in January after it became clear that the Maduro regime was not willing to adhere to the promises that it was making at the talks.
The pontiff also reacted to the activity at the United Nations Human Rights Council activity in Geneva today, and called on the organization to take a leading role in looking for a solution to the crisis. Pope Francis said:
So many have escaped [Venezuela] or suffer there. There is a humanitarian with which we have to help, and respond. I think that the United Nations must make itself heard in order to help.
Pope Francis also defended the Vatican’s response to the crisis, telling reporters that the Catholic Church had always “spoken loudly and clearly” on the crisis.
European Parliament Voices Support for National Assembly, Rejects Constituent Assembly
Antonio Tajani, the president of the European Parliament, issued a statement today addressed to National Assembly president Julio Borges in which he expressed his complete support for the National Assembly, and hinted at the possibility at sanctions by the European Union against the Maduro regime.
In the same statement, Tajani again rejected the Constituent Assembly, echoing previous statements to the same effect. The letter reads:
You [Borges] know that I have denounced, as president of the European Parliament, the National Constituent Assembly which we do not recognize, as well as its actions. At the same time, I always have given and will continue to give my full support and solidarity with the democratically-elected National Assembly which you lead.
La Patilla reports that last week, Federica Mogherini–the European Union’s top diplomat–suggested that the European Parliament could begin to debate the possibility of sanctioning the Maduro regime and its officials as early as this week.
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