UN Human Rights Rapporteur’s alarming findings on the effects of sanctions against Venezuela

UN Human Rights Rapporteur’s alarming findings on the effects of sanctions against Venezuela

The government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela extended an invitation to an expert in International Law and International Relations, Ms. Alena Douhan, in her role as Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on human rights. This is the name of the Mandate that, in 2014, the UN Human Rights Council resolved to establish due to the alarming consequences on the populations of those countries that have been the colonial, interventionist and imperialist objective of the United States, England, and part of the European Union, as well as other countries and regional blocs that have slavishly agreed to these sanctions.

The United Nations has reacted to human rights violations, creating bodies such as the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Human Rights Council and nine other bodies that address problems related to vulnerability and the violation of these fundamental rights, including economic rights, the rights of the children, migrant workers, and persons with disabilities, as well as against racial discrimination, discrimination against women, torture, and the forced disappearance of persons. This extensive multilateral network oversees the application and compliance of the main international human rights treaties.

Despite these efforts, on a daily basis the peoples of the world are witnessing a dramatic increase in violations of their most essential Human Rights. This is why there is great urgency to continue to evidence the abuses of the global hegemonic powers against the nations and peoples that defend their independence and sovereign interests. This is the framework for the visit of the Special Rapporteur to Venezuela to verify, from the widest and diverse sectors of Venezuelan society and the State, the negative repercussions that these illegally imposed sanctions have had on the country. We will now present some of the most important points made by the UN expert.

From February 1 to 12, 2021, Ms. Douhan toured the Venezuelan national territory maintaining a totally autonomous agenda that included meetings with different actors and heads of government entities, as well as with representatives of the opposition, the private sector, the academic world, business, non-governmental organizations and victims of human rights violations. At the end of her visit, the Special Rapporteur had the following to say:

“During my visit I met with the President of the Republic, with the Executive Vice President and with the sectorial Vice Presidents; with the heads of the Executive, Legislative, Judicial, Citizen and Electoral Powers; among them: ministers of Foreign Affairs, Health, Education, Planning, Economy, Finance, Oil, Mining, Food, Women and Gender Equality, Blockade, Housing, Social Work, Science, Technology, Transportation, Culture and Indigenous Peoples; the Coordinator of the Food Production and Supply Committees (CLAP); the Secretary General of the Human Rights Committee; the president of Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA); the President of the Central Bank of Venezuela (BCV), the Director of Telecommunications; the President of the Supreme Court, Attorney General; President and members of the National Assembly; the Ombudsman; the Executive Secretary of the ALBA regional cooperation bloc; likewise, I had meetings with representatives of various political parties and unions; national and international humanitarian organizations; from the private sector; of the Catholic Church and other religious manifestations; as well as Venezuelan non-governmental actors who work in the fields of health, human rights, protection of children, women and the elderly; personal physician; University teachers; school teachers; and independent researchers.”

While visiting public hospitals, pharmaceutical plants, technology complexes, schools, public water, electricity, gas and telecommunications companies, Ms. Douhan also met with representatives of UNDP, PAHO, UNICEF, UNAIDS, UNHCR, among other United Nations agencies, funds and programs that are in Venezuela, all of which has allowed her to take a deep and sensitive “X-ray” of the current state of the country, emphasizing the “complex and alarming” situation of human rights of the Venezuelan population as a result of the unilateral coercive measures.

The Special Rapporteur made a recount of the sanctions that have been imposed on Venezuela.

The United States and Canada

– Since 2005, the US has imposed unilateral coercive measures on Venezuela, specifically directed at natural and legal persons allegedly involved in drug trafficking;

– In 2006, it imposed an arms embargo claiming that the Venezuelan government was not cooperating in anti-terrorism efforts;

– In 2014, it sanctioned Venezuelan officials accusing them of violently repressing social protests, persecuting political opponents and restricting press freedom;

– In 2015, it declared Venezuela an “unusual and extraordinary threat” to US national security and foreign policy;

– In 2017, it denounced as illegitimate the election of the Constituent Assembly of Venezuela and imposed sanctions on the Venezuelan government and its institutions, including the PDVSA, blocking their transactions and access to US financial entities;

– In 2018, after the presidential elections, the US government tightened its sanctions against Venezuela, alluding to poor economic management of the country and efforts to undermine democracy;

– In January 2019, after recognizing the newly elected president by the National Assembly as interim president of Venezuela, the United States imposed additional sanctions on PDVSA, the BCV, and officials;

– In August 2019, it established a total economic and financial embargo against the South American nation;

– The United States also granted Juan Guaido total control over the assets of the Venezuelan State, including money from PDVSA and the Venezuelan branch in the US: CITGO;

– Between 2018 and 2019, the US government targeted Venezuelan gold, the food sector, cryptocurrency and banking activities;

– In September 2020, it imposed sanctions on five members of the opposition Legislative Assembly for participating in elections and thus, US considered, they were collaborating with the Venezuelan government;

– The US has also tried to prevent Venezuela from receiving fuel from Iran, sanctioning the captains of oil tanks, prohibiting the use of airports and seaports;

– The US has blocked Venezuelan assets in the Russian oil company Rosneft;

– US officials have unofficially threatened third-country companies to prohibit them from transacting with Venezuela.

– Canada. Between 2017-2018, this country froze assets and prohibited any business with Venezuelan officials, under the same reasons referred to by the US.


– In 2017, the EU imposed an arms embargo, a ban on the export of other products that could be used for internal repression in the country, a ban on the export of technology and materials aimed at monitoring and interception of telecommunications. It banned travel and froze assets of natural persons whose actions, the EU considered, undermined democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights;

– These accusations have been challenged by Venezuela before the Court of Justice of the European Union;

– Portugal. In 2019, the Iberian country reported that a Portuguese bank froze 1.200 million dollars belonging to funds from the Venezuelan government;

– England froze 2 billion dollars in Venezuelan gold;

– Swiss. Between 2018 and 2019, Geneva imposed an arms embargo on Venezuela, froze assets and banned Venezuelan officials from travel.

Latin America and the Caribbean

– In 2018, Mexico froze Venezuela’s assets and imposed a travel ban on 13 senior Venezuelan officials;

– Panama imposed sanctions on natural and legal persons for considering them high risk in matters related to money laundering, money laundering, financing of terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction;

– In 2019, Colombia banned the entry of approximately 200 Venezuelans linked to the government;

– Lima Group: 13 of the 14 countries that make up the Group, prohibited the entry of Venezuelan officials and denied access to their financial systems.

– TIAR: the majority of the signatories of the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (TIAR), approved selective sanctions, including freezing of assets against Venezuelan officials allegedly involved in drug trafficking, terrorist activities, organized crime and / or human rights violations.

Before continuing with the impact of unilateral coercive measures, we are going to review what human rights are in order to eliminate or reduce the analysis biases that promote sanctions against Venezuela, alluding that they don’t affect the population, and at the same time, to be able to contrast these politically biased positions with the observations made by the Special Rapporteur.

Human rights are the rights that all human beings have to exist. These rights are universal, inalienable and inherent to each person, that is: to be respected as such, the approval of any State or international institution is not necessary, on the contrary, States and organizations at a global level must guarantee these rights and refrain from violating them or being forced to respect them regardless of nationality, gender, ethnic or national origin, color, religion, language or any other condition. Human rights range from the most fundamental, such as the right to life, to the right to food, education, work, health and freedom. According to the United Nations:

“All States have ratified at least 1 of the 9 basic human rights treaties, as well as at least 1 of the 9 optional protocols. 80% of the States have ratified 4 or more of them. This means that all States have obligations and duties under international law to respect, protect and fulfill human rights.”

During her work visit, Ms. Douhan has prioritized these thematic axes: the impact of unilateral coercive measures on human rights; on the development and achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals; the impact of sanctions in multilateral instances; and the impact of sanctions represented by figures and statistics. In this regard, the expert has reported the following critical situations:


It’s estimated that 90% of Venezuelan households are connected to the national water distribution system. However, many households report frequent power outages due to power issues affecting water pumps and infrastructure maintenance, and a shortage of qualified maintenance personnel. The distribution of water can only be done in shifts to guarantee its delivery to the entire population, and most households can only access water once or twice a week for a few hours. Due to commercial impediments, the use of chemical agents to treat and purify water to make it drinkable has been reduced by 30%. It has been reported that power lines can work at less than 20% of their capacity, which results in the violation of the right to water, which includes portable water, which generates diseases.


Impediments to the importation of food, which constitute more than 50% of food consumption in Venezuela, have caused the constant growth of malnutrition in the last 6 years, with more than 2.5 million people in a situation of serious food insecurity. Mechanisms to cope with this situation include reducing the number of meals per day (1 or 2 instead of 3). The government’s CLAP food program, started in 2017 and covering 6 million households across the country, has decreased the quantity, quality and diversity of products.


Before 2016, most public medical services were provided by the State for free. Impediments to healthcare include:

– The serious shortage of medicine and vaccines; the shortage of electricity to supply equipment; water scarcity and sanitation problems affecting hygiene; the deterioration of the infrastructure due to lack of maintenance, the absence of spare parts for medical machinery, the lack of availability of new equipment due to the scarcity of resources or the refusal to sell or deliver them; the degradation of working conditions and the lack of protective equipment against infectious diseases; the loss of personnel in all medical areas due to low salaries; and the completion of the construction of hospitals and primary care centers.

– The Children’s Cardiology Hospital of Caracas faces a 5-fold decrease in the number of surgeries (from an average of 1,000 interventions per year in the period 2010-2014, it has gone to 162 interventions in 2020).

– The positions of medical personnel in public hospitals are vacant by 50-70%. Only about 20% of medical equipment is currently in operation.

– Between 2017-2018, Venezuela faced a serious shortage of vaccines against measles, yellow fever and malaria. In the same period, the lack of HIV testing and treatment led to a severe increase in the death rate.

– The diversion of assets of PDVSA’s subsidiary in the United States, CITGO, has prevented at least 53 Venezuelan children from performing liver and bone marrow transplants; These transplants were carried out in Italy and Argentina before 2016, paid by the Venezuelan State.


School and university education has faced a severe decline in government support since 2016, including the termination or reduction of the supply of school uniforms, shoes, backpacks and office supplies; and the reduction of the number of daily meals at school (from 2 to 1), the decrease in the quantity and diversity of food or its total cancellation.

The unavailability of financial resources and the reluctance of foreign companies to trade with Venezuelan public institutions and, often, with private ones, has led to the suspension of the Canaima Program, started in 2015 to assemble compact laptops for educational purposes, of which 6.5 million have been distributed through the school system at no cost.

Technical incidents in 2019 disabled Venezuela’s public satellite, substantially reducing Internet coverage in the country and making distance learning difficult in the course of the pandemic.

Other devastating impacts on the Venezuelan economy and humanitarian situation

– The Venezuelan government’s income has been reduced by 99%. Currently, the country survives on 1% of pre-sanctions revenue and income.

– Remittances from abroad have decreased due to the blocking of State assets. Likewise, the Venezuelan population in general denounces the refusal of foreign banks to open or maintain their bank accounts.

– Four years of hyperinflation have caused the total devaluation of the national currency. This has led to declining public sector wages, a growing level of poverty and an increase in immigration.

– In 2018-2019, the Venezuelan government lifted price controls and allowed the private sector to re-enter the economy. However, the tightening of sanctions undermines the possible positive impact of the current reforms.

– Venezuelan assets frozen in banks in the United States, United Kingdom and Portugal amount to 6.000 million dollars.

The sanctions on the oil, gold and mining industries, the economic blockade of Venezuela and the freezing of the Central Bank’s assets have exacerbated the pre-existing economic and humanitarian situation by preventing the obtaining of income and the use of resources to develop and maintain infrastructure. and for social support programs, which has a devastating effect on the entire population of Venezuela, especially those living in extreme poverty, women, children, medical workers, people with disabilities or chronic illnesses. or that endanger life, and the indigenous population.

Sanctions violate International Law

The state of national emergency announced by the US government on March 8, 2015, as the basis for introducing sanctions against Venezuela doesn’t correspond to article 4 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (existence of a threat to life of the nation; the limitation of the measures and a limited duration; the prohibition of repealing the right to life and of punishing an activity that doesn’t constitute a crime).

Unilateral sanctions against the oil, gold, mining and other economic sectors, the state airline, and the television industry constitute a violation of international law.

The application of extraterritorial jurisdiction to nationals and companies of third States for cooperation with Venezuela, and the alleged threats to said third States, is not justified under international law.

The blocking of property, assets and bank accounts of citizens of Venezuela by foreign banks and correspondents, results in the violation of the right to property.

The US announced objective of the “maximum pressure” campaign to “change the Government of Venezuela” violates the principle of sovereign equality of the States and constitutes an intervention in the internal affairs of Venezuela that also affects its regional and international relations.

The assets of the Central Bank and the assets used for public functions belong to the State of Venezuela and not to its Government or to any individual. Therefore, the freezing of the BCV’s assets violates the country’s sovereign rights and prevents its government from guaranteeing the needs of the population.

The repeated refusals of the banks of the US, UK and Portugal to release Venezuelan assets even for the purchase of medicines, vaccines and protection kits, under the control of international organizations, violates the principle of sovereign equality of the States and prevents Venezuela’s ability to face the Covid-19 emergency.

The economic crisis increases the level of migration, facilitates the participation of people in the gray economy, affecting in the first-place high-level specialists from the public sector, including doctors, nurses, teachers, university professors, engineers, policemen, judges, technicians and many others, violating their economic rights, including the rights to work, to decent work, to social security, including social security, and to an adequate standard of living.

The lack of gasoline, with the consequent increase in transport prices, violates freedom of movement, prevents access to hospitals, schools and other public services, exacerbates the problems of delivery and distribution of food and medical supplies -especially in remote areas of the country, which affects, among other things, the indigenous population- and causes delays in public services, including criminal and civil justice.

The reported lack of diesel, mostly used for agricultural, industrial and transportation purposes, has a potential dramatic effect on food production and storage, with the risk of further exacerbating the food insecurity of the Venezuelan people, who are already facing a deterioration in the quantity and quality of food and increased malnutrition, thereby increasing health risks and threats to life.

The absence or insufficiency of school supplies, school uniforms and school food, which the government used to provide, transportation problems, the absence of electricity, and the reduced Internet and mobile phone coverage endanger the exercise of the right to education. The above reasons, as well as the reported inability to use online resources with Venezuelan IP addresses, affect access to information and freedom of expression.

Unilateral sanctions affect the rights of third-country nationals, in particular, the termination of contracts with companies has the potential risk of affecting the economic and property rights of their owners and employees; and the absence of contributions from Venezuela, which used to donate to regional assistance projects (for example, ALBA), is negatively affecting the right to humanitarian aid of its beneficiaries beyond the borders of Venezuela.

The Special Rapporteur concludes that the sanctions imposed against Venezuela, its citizens and companies affect people in Venezuela and outside its territory, both in the public and private sectors; to third-country nationals and employees of third-country companies affected by secondary sanctions or fear of them; to donors and international humanitarian NGOs; to the beneficiaries of assistance from international organizations traditionally financed by Venezuela; while low-income people, women, children and people with special needs or with chronic or serious illnesses are the most affected with respect to the entire field of human rights, including civil, political, economic, social rights and cultural and the right to development.

Some recommendations

It’s inadmissible to apply sanctions extraterritorially, the Special Rapporteur urges the US Government to put an end to the national emergency in relation to Venezuela, review and lift sanctions against the Venezuelan public sector, review and lift secondary sanctions against third States, and refrain from impose sanctions on the supply of oil and gas that would provoke a humanitarian crisis of unprecedented proportions.

The Special Rapporteur requests all States to review and lift the selective sanctions in accordance with the principles of international law, the rule of law, human rights, and refugee law, to guarantee the possibility for State officials to Venezuela represent the State on the basis of the principle of sovereign equality of the States, and guarantee the rights of the affected persons to the presumption of innocence, due process guarantees, access to justice and other fundamental rights.

The expert urges the governments of the UK, Portugal and the US, as well as the corresponding banks, to unfreeze the assets of the BCV to acquire medicines, vaccines, food, medical and other equipment, spare parts and other essential goods for guarantee the humanitarian needs of the people of Venezuela and the reestablishment of public services in collaboration with UNDP and other United Nations agencies, through mechanisms mutually agreed upon and supervised by them.

About the Final Report

The Special Rapporteur, Ms. Alane Douhan, will present the final report of her working visit, within the framework of the 48th session of the Human Rights Council, which will take place in September 2021. However, everything points to the fact that, from now on, the statistics or other reports that are added to the evaluation of the UN Human Rights expert will only ratify and reinforce what was previously expressed.

In addition to what has already been mentioned, this reveals several things, one of which has to do with the strong criticisms made by the Venezuelan government about the partiality and double standards of the Human Rights system, in particular of the Inter-American Commission (IACHR) when issuing decisions, opinions, agreeing precautionary measures or currently approving coercive measures against sovereign nations. It should be remembered that this was one of the main reasons why, in 2013, president Hugo Chávez denounced the Inter-American Convention and, with this, rejected the competence of the IACHR.

Similarly, it has been rigorously demonstrated that, while on the one hand, some States don’t respect even the most minimal foundations of International Law, including the most essential human rights, when they set political objectives to impose their colonial and imperialist interests; on the other hand, it fills us with great hope and satisfaction that the objectives, goals and resources of the Bolivarian Revolution have always been focused on bringing “the greatest amount of happiness possible, the greatest amount of social security and the greatest amount of political stability” for the Venezuelan people. And despite all the unilateral coercive measures that the imperial powers have carried out against Venezuela, this still continues to be the case.

Micaela Ovelar
Political scientist and international adviser, Argentine-Venezuelan scholar, feminist and social activist. Micaela has a B.A. in Political Science, a Masters in International Relations; with studies in issues of gender, government, democracy, and the state. She was the international relations adviser of president Hugo Chavez and has worked with the Venezuelan government for the last 15 years.She is also an independent journalist, producer, and in Film & TV Direction from EMPA (Venezuela). She was a producer and commentator at Radio Alba Ciudad (Caracas). Micaela worked as translator and transcriptionist on “South of the Border” by Oliver Stone, archival research on "Silvio Rodríguez. My first calling" by Catherine Murphy, and as a journalist for “Correo del Alba.” (Bolivia-Venezuela).

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May 2024