Speeches and other documents by the Secretary General


February 24, 2021 - Washington, DC

Colleagues, Ambassadors, Friends,

Thank you to UN Watch and to the Permanent Mission of Honduras to the UN for hosting today’s event. It’s always a pleasure to speak on a panel with my esteemed colleagues. Irwin, Diego, Maria Corina, Ambassador Flores, hello. I am glad to be joining you.

The track record of the Venezuelan regime is well established. Murder. Extrajudicial Executions. Arbitrary Detention and Forced Disappearances. Torture. Rape and other forces of sexual violence. Wide scale persecution and the forced displacement of millions of its citizens. These are the tools used by the regime in Venezuela, a member of the UN Human Rights Council, to maintain power and social control over its population.

Basic rights and fundamental freedoms have been stripped away, leaving citizens defenseless.

Grand corruption and gross mismanagement by the regime has created a humanitarian crisis of unprecedented scale in our hemisphere. More than 5 million Venezuelans forcibly displaced from their homes, whether running for their lives as political exiles or in search of the most basic necessities for survival because their government has stolen their prosperity and left them without access to medicines, basic healthcare, or even food.

We may never know the full toll this regime has taken on its citizens. Countless Venezuelans have lost their lives because they could not access basic healthcare, or shelter, or running water. Add to this the cost of a lost generation of youth whose development has been forever harmed by malnutrition and lack of access to education.

All the while, those in power continue to amass personal wealth through grand corruption schemes, syphoning off wealth that should have been used for the Venezuelan people and profiting off the very programs intended to provide humanitarian assistance to their citizens.

At the OAS, we have long been concerned with the deterioration that has taken place in Venezuela. A decade ago its conditions were not altogether unique in the region. Yes, there were human rights challenges. Yes, there were issues with corruption. But the quality of life for those living in the country was not dramatically outside the norm.

This collapse was as deliberate as it was steady. When the regime lost the hearts and the minds of the people, it resorted to increasingly authoritarian practices. Independent, democratic institutions were co-opted, corrupted and dismantled in order to consolidate power in the hands of the regime.

The military had to be owned; its loyalty bought and paid for, first through bribes, payouts, and shared control over state resources and assets, and then by making them complicit in the crimes of the regime, culpable for the perpetration of gross human rights violations and crimes against humanity against the Venezuelan people.

It also makes a peaceful and democratic solution more complicated, as those with the most power to bring about positive change have been incentivized to prevent change at all costs.

The abuses carried out by the regime in Venezuela are well documented. In 2016, I fulfilled my duties as Secretary General of the Organization and invoked the Inter-American Democratic Charter. Between 2016 and 2017, I produced a series of reports documenting the deterioration of democracy, the alteration of the constitutional order and the corruption of the regime that has fostered the humanitarian crisis that exists today.

At this stage, there was little discussion of the situation in Venezuela outside the region. When the protests in the spring of 2017 demonstrated an increasingly violent and systematized pattern of abuses, it became apparent that we had to do more. With the democratic institutions captured and the rule of law all but eliminated we needed to seek justice on the international stage.

This is why in 2017, with the assistance of former ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo, we established the OAS Independent Panel of Experts and created a new process at the regional level to look into the issue of crimes against humanity in Venezuela. When in 2018, the Independent Panel found reasonable grounds to believe that crimes against humanity had been perpetrated we had one recourse, to engage the International Criminal Court and call for them to open a full investigation into the situation.

In the time since, the abuses have only increased in scale and intensity. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed similar concerns in four reports produced in 2017, 2018, 2019, and most recently in 2020. These findings were, again, echoed in the September 2020 report of the UN Independent Fact-Finding Mission who also found that crimes against humanity have been perpetrated.

The figures documented are astounding. More than 18,000 extrajudicial executions. More than 15,000 cases of arbitrary detention. Hundreds of instances of enforced disappearances and hundreds of documented cases of torture. These are just what has been documented in a country that has criminalized the sharing of information that reflects negatively on the regime.

Despite the obvious crisis, the International Criminal Court is still pending to act, and we expect in the future stronger action against this regime and to act in order to stop these crimes against humanity.

The OAS Permanent Council has also taken a leading role in seeking a peaceful restoration of the constitutional and democratic order in the country and has passed 8 resolutions addressing situations of concern. In the wake of the overtly fraudulent Presidential elections at the end of 2018, the OAS Permanent Council refused to recognize the legitimacy of Maduro’s second term in June of that year. Moreover, the OAS General Assembly of 2019 voted to recognize the interim government as the legitimate authority in the country, and in turn recognized the body as the legitimate representative of Venezuela at the OAS.

The OAS has also tried to address the migration crisis through the creation of the Working Group to Address the Regional Crisis Caused by Venezuela’s Migrants.

Further, we are looking into the question of accountability.
This year marks the 25th Anniversary of the United Nations Human Rights Council. A Council that was created as a beacon of hope that every individual around the world would be able to live their lives freely; free to choose how they want to live, free from coercion and without threat to their life and safety.

This Council was created with one singular purpose: the promotion and protection of human rights around the world. Its membership obligations are laid out clearly. The very purpose of a seat on the Council is to champion an end to, and ensure accountability for human rights abuses taking place with its greatest tools being its investigative and Fact-Finding powers that document and shed the light of truth on many dark situations.

It is a mockery of these principles, it is a mockery to the victims, it is a mockery to those who have been tortured, to the relatives of those who have been extrajudicially executed, to have the regime sitting on the Human Rights Council.

Diplomats and political appointees sit around tables in Geneva talking about the importance of human rights, their colleagues back in Venezuela are perpetrating torture at Boleíta or Ramo Verde, Helicoide, falsely-named Operaciones de Liberación del Pueblo or Operaciones de Liberación Humanista del Pueblo carry out extrajudicial executions against those perceived as a threat. They are terrorizing the families of anyone who dares to speak up.

The only threat in Venezuela is the threat posed by the authoritarian leadership against its own people. These are individuals claiming to be human rights champions on the international stage and are some of the worst offenders within their own borders.

The Human Rights Council was created to prevent large-scale abuses from taking place. It was not created as a resting place for perpetrators or as a shield for human rights abusers. Yet, when Venezuela sought out its chair, this is exactly what it was looking for. Their presence is an affront to what the founders of the UN system envisioned.

The pursuit of justice for the people of Venezuela has been a long and arduous road. Any opportunity for recourse within its borders has been all but eliminated. At the regional level, we have been seized with the crisis and actively pursuing a peaceful path to restore democratic and constitutional order. For ends that fall outside of our mandate, we have sought the support and assistance from the international community.

We should not be alone in this, nor should we be the loudest voice. The loudest voice demanding an end to the abuse and justice for its victims should be coming from the members sitting on the Human Rights Council. From the countries that hold the privileged position of acting as a voice and champion of the fundamental rights and freedoms all peoples.

Listen to the victims; listen to the relatives of those who have been murdered; listen to those who have been tortured, listen to those voices, listen to those who have been disappeared. Otras voces cantan.

Thank you.