Unprecedented Human Rights Crisis: Venezuela’s Interim Government Calls on International Community for Help

October 22, 2020 Updated: October 22, 2020

Amid what Amnesty International describes as an unprecedented human rights crisis in Venezuela due to the Maduro regime’s wide-ranging policy of repression, Juan Guaidó’s interim government is calling for help from the international community.

Specifically, the interim government is urging Canada and other countries to sanction Nicolás Maduro and his officials using Magnitsky legislation, and to take steps in line with the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) principle to safeguard the Venezuelan people, according to an online forum held on Oct. 21.

Organized by the Embassy of Venezuela in Ottawa, the panel consisted of five speakers. It was hosted by Ambassador Orlando Viera Blanco, with an address by Guaidó in Spanish.

One of the speakers was former MP and justice minister Irwin Cotler, now the chair of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights. One of Canada’s foremost experts on human rights, Cotler outlined 10 initiatives that can be taken as part of what he called an international justice agenda that would “secure justice and accountability for Venezuela.”

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Venezuelan opposition leader and interim president of Venezuela Juan Guaidó speaks to the press in Caracas, Venezuela, on Oct. 17, 2019. (Ariana Cubillos/The Associated Press)

Also speaking was Bill Browder, who Cotler called “the global father of Magnitsky sanctions.” Browder’s lawyer Sergei Magnitsky died from torture and mistreatment while in custody in Russia in 2009 after accusing officials of a $230-million tax fraud. Browder subsequently began advocating for countries to implement Magnitsky legislation, and several have done so.

Magnitsky laws enable countries to impose economic and travel restrictions on any individuals involved in mass human rights violations such as torture, extrajudicial killing, enforced disappearance, and kleptocracy. As of April 2019, Canada has sanctioned over 100 officials of the Maduro regime.

“I’m very happy that the Magnitsky Act at least scratches the surface of the terrible injustices that the Venezuelan people have suffered from these crooks who have taken over the country illegally,” Browder told the panel.

“Going forward, Venezuela will continue to be one of the countries that gets more people sanctioned in all of these jurisdictions, and I’ll certainly do whatever I can to support your cause in my conversations with these governments around the world, because I can’t think of a more extreme situation than the one you’re facing.”

Vanessa Neumann, Ambassador of Venezuela to the United Kingdom, said that the Maduro regime has failed in both legitimacy and autonomy as a government, and thus international intervention is justifiable.

She said Maduro stole the election in 2018, resulting in more than 60 countries not recognizing his legitimacy as a president.

When it comes to autonomy, Neumann said that the Maduro regime “has made the Venezuelan people kneel to foreign masters” instead of serving its citizens.

“They’re appealing to foreign masters in Iran, in Russia, and Cuba … and they have become puppets for transnational criminal organizations. They have sold out the interests of the people in order for them to just stay there and continue to serve these masters.”

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Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) shakes hands with Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro during a meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow on Oct. 4, 2017. (Yuri Kadobnov/The Canadian Press)

Cotler suggested utilizing the International Criminal Court (ICC) to bring the Maduro regime to justice.

He said the Organization of American States (OAS), founded to seek peace and justice among its member states, reported in 2018 there were reasonable grounds to believe Maduro and his officials committed seven major crimes against humanity which included “state-orchestrated humanitarian suffering, the weaponization of food and medicine.”

However, even after Canada and other Latin American and European countries made a collective referral to the ICC to investigate these crimes, the court has yet to act.

“I believe that the seven countries that then initiated that collective referral should reaffirm this, even get other countries on board to combat the culture of impunity and utilize the ICC for that purpose,” he said.

Cotler also stressed the need to initiate a “procedure and process under the International Court of Justice” so that the court can apply the convention against torture to the Venezuelan regime for its “horrific acts of torture” against its people.

Jared Genser, special adviser on R2P to the OAS, said the Maduro regime has failed to protect the Venezeulan people from mass atrocity crimes. He said he will advise OAS on the design and creation of regional mechanisms, and how to adopt R2P practice—a principle that seeks to ensure the international community halt such crimes as genocide and crimes against humanity—in order to respond to the situation in Venezuela.

To make the international communities hold the Maduro regime accountable for its human rights abuse and breach of international laws, Cotler recommended setting up an interparliamentary alliance on Venezuela similar to the one Canada has on China.

In addition, he said countries should apply universal jurisdiction to prosecute any of the regime officials who may escape so that they cannot enjoy any impunity.

Cotler also urged enhanced humanitarian relief, assistance, and providing “a safe harbour for Venezuelan refugees in our respective countries and utilize our refugee laws and immigration laws for that purpose.”

In a report last year, Amnesty International said the human rights crisis in Venezuela was worsening, as “extrajudicial executions, arbitrary detentions, excessive use of force, and unlawful killings by the security forces continued as part of a policy of repression to silence dissent.”

“Prisoners of conscience faced unfair criminal proceedings. Freedom of assembly and expression remained under constant threat. Human rights defenders were stigmatized and faced increasing obstacles in carrying out their work,” Amnesty said.