Venezuelan NGOs expect more help from UN in defending human rights

By Genesis Carrero Soto

Caracas, Feb 7 (EFE).- Venezuela’s civil society and non-governmental organizations expressed cautious optimism about the government’s recent decision to extend the presence of the United Nations’ human rights office for two more years.

They said, however, that they expect that department to be more outspoken in the future about rights abuses in the South American nation.

A recent visit to Caracas by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk and the upcoming presentation of a new report by his office on Venezuela have raised expectations among the country’s NGOs, which are united in demanding greater protection for ordinary citizens and for the work of human rights advocacy groups.

In late January, activists and alleged human rights victims told Turk of numerous instances of purported crimes by the Venezuelan government.

Lexys Rendon, general coordinator of the citizen initiative Laboratorio de Paz, told Efe that NGOs are calling on the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to “speak loudly and clearly” and make “much stronger demands” of Venezuela’s government.

Civil society organizations want that UN department to fulfill its mandate to promote and protect human rights and act in a much more public and outspoken capacity than it has to date, the sociologist said.

Rendon told Efe that OHCHR personnel established a presence in the country in September 2019 after a memorandum of understanding was signed between that UN office and Venezuela.

But she said the government has closely monitored those officials and impeded them from exercising their mandate with “total independence.”

“The office needs to be formally constituted (and cease) operating via a letter of agreement that is very discretionary .. and could be revoked at any moment. We instead need an office that has all the freedoms, the institutionality of the United Nations in the country and can act with complete independence,” Rendon said.

That will ensure its work is not limited to providing technical assistance with the training of government personnel, enabling it to act freely in cases where it is needed and forcefully express its concerns through public statements, she added.

Eduardo Trujillo Ariza, the director of the Andres Bello Catholic University’s Human Rights Center, echoed those remarks, telling Efe that the government monitors that UN office to “distract” its personnel from Venezuela’s real human rights problems.

“There’s an intent on the part of the government … to instrumentalize the office’s functionaries, to divert their attention to the technical assistance component and sideline them somewhat from the protection component, which is undoubtedly what’s most important in a society with a human rights crisis,” he said.

But with Turk now at the helm of the OHCHR, expectations are high among civil society organizations ahead of the release in March of that office’s latest update on Venezuela’s human rights situation and the release in June of its new annual report.

Venezuelans hope that during the Austrian lawyer’s tenure the office more tightly adheres to human rights “standards,” said Rendon, who added that his predecessor, former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, adopted a more political approach and also had contacts within Venezuela’s long-ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela.

“This is an opportunity for there to be an office … that defends human rights standards, democratic freedoms,” the activist said, adding that Venezuela needs a free and vibrant civic space in which protection is assured for those exercising their rights. EFE


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