11 December 2017
As the first Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, I have had the opportunity of defining the mandate and the methodology. I have produced six reports for the Human Rights Council and six reports for the General Assembly, all covering issues of international order including tax havens, investor-state-dispute settlement, bilateral investment treaties, free trade agreements, World Bank projects, the International Monetary Fund and its loan conditionalities, disarmament for development, the self-determination of peoples and the reform of the Security Council. The object and purpose of my mandate is laid down in resolution 18/6 of the Human Rights Council, and the parameters of my visit are described in a media statement issued on 27 November 20171.
The function of rapporteurs and independent experts is to ask questions, listen to all stakeholders, evaluate documents, and issue constructive recommendations to States. We come in order to help populations better realize their human rights. In order to do so, we try to convince governments that it is in their own interest to cooperate with the United Nations, and we offer them our advisory services and technical assistance. Our function cannot be reduced to condemning governments.
As one of the few Special Procedures given access to Venezuela and Ecuador, expectations for my visit were high. While I could not fulfil the expectations of some sectors of civil society and remain within the parameters of my mandate, I did assure my interlocutors that I would transmit their concerns to the pertinent rapporteurs. In particular, issues have been raised which could be examined in more depth by the rapporteurs on freedom of expression, on the right of peaceful assembly and association, on the independence of judges and lawyers, on food, health and on arbitrary detention. I also endeavoured to incorporate some of the concerns mentioned into the narrative of my preliminary recommendations to the States. Where relevant, I will reflect their input in the final report to the submitted to the Council in 2018.
I have listened to hundreds of stakeholders and received a wealth of information from them, which I still must study and digest before I give final form to the reports. One thing should be clear, my approach has always been, and will be, to listen and offer constructive suggestions about how to reform legislation, regulations and practices that result in violations of human rights.
I have endeavoured to give a fresh look at the realities of Venezuela and Ecuador, two countries that are trying to address economic and social problems in different and innovative ways. I am aware of problems of poverty, corruption, financial constraints, the fall in the price of oil, and certain para-institutional failures. In both countries I have learned of the failure to ensure free, prior and informed consent in the extractive field, in particular concerning indigenous communities. In Venezuela I have observed the adverse impacts of inflation, price controls, contraband, inefficient distribution and repression of dissent. There are many diagnoses of the problems and many causes. My intention is to recommend viable solutions, within the limits of my mandate, and my approach has always been result-oriented.
This visit included a very high number of meetings with ministers of both countries, ambassadors, diplomats, church leaders, academics, economists, professors, students, civil society organizations, individual victims, who told heart-rending stories, with relatives of persons in detention, who delivered petitions for transmittal to pertinent actors. I have made an effort to balance my meetings between different groups and was not only passive in receiving information but proactive in the search of truth and demanding targeted information.
The mission has focused on examining joint efforts to promote social progress and better standards of living consistent with the provisions of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the agendas of the world social forums since Porto Alegre.
It bears repeating that the World Summit in September 2005 reaffirmed that “democracy is a universal value based on the freely expressed will of people to determine their political, economic, social and cultural systems and their full participation in all aspects of their lives.” The Summit Outcome Document also stressed that “democracy, development and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms are interdependent and mutually reinforcing,” and pointed out that “while democracies share common features, there is no single model of democracy.” Accordingly, the Venezuelan and Ecuadorian models deserve attention.
The impacts of social models prevalent in both countries, as well as in Bolivia, Nicaragua and Cuba, on the international order reveal possibilities of greater regional integration and cooperation with international organizations, particularly the United Nations system, which can offer advisory services and technical assistance to States to ensure that social progress is not achieved at the expense of civil liberties. I looked at progress in the field of the elimination of illiteracy, free education from primary schools to university, programmes to reduce extreme poverty, provide housing to the homeless and vulnerable, phase-out privilege and discrimination, expand medical care for all, including the very young and the elderly.
Among the obstacles to the enjoyment of human rights I inquired about the adverse economic measures adopted by several states aimed at directly and indirectly affecting the good functioning of the targeted State or restricting its regulatory space. The United Nations has condemned unilateral coercive measures since decades, notably since the landmark study of the Sub-commission on Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in the year 2000. Currency speculation has been one of the preferred tools to destabilize targeted economies, so too the activities of credit rating organizations, which, although they have no democratic legitimacy, do severely impact the financial ability of States to issue bonds and obtain financing. The escape of national funds into tax havens has negatively impacted the ability of States to meet their financial obligations, and international cooperation is necessary to ensure the repatriation of funds that were illicitly taken out of the respective countries. It also appears that international criminal groups are responsible for theft of public resources, food items and medicines, which have found their way into neighbouring countries, affecting the enjoyment of human rights by populations for whom these resources were originally intended. The UN Office on Drug and Crime can help states tackle some of these problems. In Venezuela there has been widespread sabotage of public property, arson against public buildings, hospitals and other institutions, destruction of electricity and telephone lines, etc., sometimes associated with electoral campaigns. I am concerned about reports I have received about these acts of sabotage, which could even be considered under the rubric “terrorism”.
While the Venezuelan government tends to blame outside causes like sanctions and the drop in the price of petroleum, it is also important to understand the multiple errors made by government in trying to tackle these problems. Many observers have pointed out that there are too many ideologues and too few technocrats in public administration. Some are worried about the weight of the military. The lack of regular, publicly available data on nutritional status, epidemiology, inflation and the budget has complicated efforts to provide humanitarian support and increased negative speculation about the state of the overall economy and about food and health sectors. The government could also exercise more flexibility with monetary policies and provide incentives to the private sector—as has been done in other countries that have maintained social models while easing exchange and loosening price controls—in order to ensure that entrepreneurs are not driven out of business by high replacement costs and feelings of insecurity. I also hope that, in both countries, government will engage more with a diverse group of non-governmental actors, and work together to resolve social and political problems.
I must express my appreciation to the Venezuelan and Ecuadorian governments, which made every effort to answer my questions and provided documentation and statistics, including through power-point presentations, which I am in the process to evaluate and compare with other sources of information.
Civil society organizations also provided very useful documentation, and I met with NGOs, indigenous persons, individuals and families of persons in detention and persons whose relatives died in connection with the scarcity of medicines.
Regrettably, it appears that a campaign was launched against my mission weeks before my arrival in Caracas and some even called the mission a “fake investigation”. Similarly, in the social media the credibility of my person was put into question and I was subjected to ad hominem attacks, including insults and all sorts of accusations, even before I had spoken to a single journalist or given a press conference. This reflects a high level of polarization and refusal to accept that an independent expert is independent, and that he comes to listen and evaluate, not to grandstand and condemn.
There is a worrying media campaign to force observers into a preconceived view, e.g. that there is a “humanitarian crisis” in Venezuela. We should be wary of hyperbole and exaggeration, bearing in mind that “humanitarian crisis” is a terminus technicus and could be misused as a pretext for military intervention and regime change.
Of course, there should be free flow of food and medicines into Venezuela in order to alleviate the current scarcity of food and medicines. But such help should be truly humanitarian and should not have ulterior political purposes. The International Committee of the Red Cross, Caritas and other organizations could surely help in coordinating the importation and distributions of aid.
The situation in Venezuela definitely does not reach the threshold of humanitarian crisis, even though there is suffering caused by internal and external reasons. Any observer will recognize that there is scarcity in some sectors, malnutrition, insecurity, anguish. When in Venezuela, I inquired from many stakeholders about the reasons and I also learned of the measures taken by the government to address these problems, making relevant recommendations to the government how to improve on those measures. I have also recommended that the government intensify its cooperation and seek additional assistance from international and regional organizations, and that it welcome the advisory services of international economists and other experts who could provide advice on how to solve persistent economic problems, including inflation. It is unhelpful simply to repeat that there is an unacceptable level of suffering in some sectors. What is crucial is to make constructive proposals. In order to formulate such proposals, it is important to study the many causes of the problems. It is important to know the impact of sabotage, hoarding, black market activities, induced inflation, and contraband in food and medicines.
Countries must not be isolated and boycotted. What is crucial is to demonstrate a level of international solidarity through measures of inclusion and a concerted effort through international organizations like UNDP, UNICEF, FAO, UNAIDS, etc. to help. I specifically requested Venezuela to seek advisory services and technical assistance from the United Nations, and it appears that this call has been listened to2. I also recommended that seven other rapporteurs be invited.
UN Rapporteurs can highlight good initiatives and recognize lessons learned. In the case of Venezuela, I think that the Venezuelan program of building low-cost housing has proven a good thing and have saved millions of persons from poverty and homelessness. In Ecuador I admire the Plan Nacional de Desarrollo 2017-2021 and the initiatives to adopt a United Nations Treaty on the Social Responsibility of Transnational Corporations, and the creation of a United Nations Tax body that would coordinate tax policies with a view to phase out tax competition, tax havens and tax evasion. The initiative for a financial transactions tax deserves universal support.
I also recognize that both countries are making a considerable effort to achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals ahead of the 2030 deadline, and both devote a considerable percentage of national budgets to social services.
Most important is to ensure that social peace is maintained. To promote dialogue among all sectors of the population, to reach out to the private sector and listen to their proposals. In both Venezuela and Ecuador, there is a great aspiration for peace and justice, what the Ecuadorians call buen vivir. This was reflected in the Interparliamentary Union’s 2014 Quito Declaration, which I wish to fully endorse, as I also endorse the CELAC 2014 resolution declaring Latin America and the Caribbean a “zone of peace”. These are good practices to follow. Pax optima rerum3.
3. Peace is the highest good. Motto of the Peace of Westphalia, 1648.