Dismantling the Report of the UN Independent Fact-Finding Mission to Venezuela

Misión Verdad
Image for postHuman Rights and Alliance of Civilizations Hall at the UN headquarters in Geneva. Photo: UN

The recent publication of a report issued by the Independent Mission to Determine the Facts in Venezuela of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) was positioned, in the media and international opinion, due to its remarks on the situation of human rights in Venezuela.

This report deals, with great specificity, on extrajudicial executions, forced disappearances, arbitrary arrests, torture “and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment committed since 2014.”

The Mission was approved by Resolution 42/25 of September 27, 2019, by the UN Human Rights Council, which was rejected by the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry in December 2019.

At that time, the resolution had votes in favor by: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Brazil, Bulgaria, Czech Republic (Czech Republic), Chile, Croatia, Denmark, Slovakia, Spain, Hungary, Northern Ireland, Iceland, Italy, Japan, Peru, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ukraine.

The resolution that gave rise to this commission was rejected by Venezuela at the time and today it adjoins with the collaborative instruments that the Bolivarian Republic has ratified with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, led by Michelle Bachelet, which has an office (recently opened) in Venezuela and has presented two reports to date that have clear differences with the one that has been published now.

Venezuela is working in coordination with the Office of the High Commissioner within the framework of the Letter of Understanding signed in September 2019, in accordance with the provisions of Resolution A/HRC/42/4, adopted by the Council of Human Rights in its 42nd session.

It is worth saying that, despite the good offices and auspices of the Office of the High Commissioner and the Venezuelan government, the existence of this parallel commission not ratified by Venezuela arises within the same contradictions of the institutional scaffolding of the United Nations system. These contradictions separate the efforts of the High Commissioner’s office from the efforts that the countries carry out on their own, even though they are part of the Human Rights Council.

This mechanism unrecognized by Venezuela were articulated by a group of countries that in 2019 were fully aligned with the US strategy of building a false dossier against Venezuela, in the open destituting agenda and construction of a “parallel” government and diplomacy that, in that moment and until today, has tried to isolate the legitimate institutions of Venezuela.

The report that has resulted from this parallel Commission and, we should repeat, has not been ratified by Venezuela, has its origin in the efforts of the United States government, but also in those of the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Lima Group, organizations that have played a key role in the criminalization of Venezuelan institutions and the Bolivarian government.

The Misión Verdad research and analysis team has conducted a detailed review of this report and outlines its most salient inconsistencies below.

The political purpose of the report

In context, the report is released in the prelude to the upcoming parliamentary elections in Venezuela. It was ratified by the International Contact Group organized by the European Union (EU) to deal with the political crisis in Venezuela and, after its publication, the EU has ratified its position of not observing and accompanying the next elections in the country.

With the report, the EU divests itself of the loose pretext of not going to the elections in Venezuela due to “lack of time” to organize its mission in the country. This despite the fact that Venezuela’s invitation was made months in advance. The EU had distanced itself from the Venezuelan elections, declaring it allegedly ineffective to organize a mission three months from December 6 of this year, and now its diplomatic representatives declare that human rights conditions in the country preclude such possibility.

Although the EU had made open negotiations for a possible observation and ratification of the parliamentary elections, its foreign policy once again turned in favor of the US agenda that seeks the continuity of the political crisis in Venezuela and the extemporaneous support of the current National Assembly (AN).

The EU position is in clear articulation with what was said by the Secretary General of the OAS, Luis Almagro, who immediately, after the report was published, aligned it against the Venezuelan elections, declaring that, due to such alleged human rights conditions, elections should not be organized and they should not be recognized.

The report now becomes an instrument not only for the criminalization of Venezuelan authorities, it is also a watershed in the international institutional commitment to deny the legitimacy of the Venezuelan elections and their quality of political solution.

This will lead to gestures of non-recognition of the elections by countries and, in this scenario, the induced Venezuelan crisis and the superimposed government of Juan Guaidó would be perpetuated for another five years, artificial and non-existent in fact, but an essential component for the continuity of the economic blockade against the country.

On the other hand, the document refers to alleged “systematic” violations of human rights and “crimes against humanity” that would be carried out with “full knowledge” of President Nicolás Maduro and his government. The objective is to establish a false long-term record for the non-prescription of crimes against humanity. It has no other purpose than to create a pseudo-legal precedent with criminal intent against Venezuelan authorities.

The report joins other elements on the table, such as the efforts of the US Attorney General, William Barr, months ago to set a price for the capture of the Venezuelan President and part of his civil and military cabinet, at that time, of course, for supposed “narco-terrorism ”, a fact analyzed by Mission Verdad at the time.

On the basis of the report

As the document itself references, it is based on interviews with anti-Chavista political actors and was not carried out on the ground. This calls into question the very title of the report, since there can be no “determination of facts” without the cross-examination of testimonies on the ground.

1. In points 41 , 42 and 43 corresponding to the first part of the report, the UN Human Rights Council’s Independent Mission to Determine the Facts in Venezuela, — again — not recognized by the Bolivarian government, reveals some initial shortcomings at a methodological level.

On the basis of these points, it builds the general categories under which it falsely seeks to bind the President of the Republic Nicolás Maduro, and other high officials of the Venezuelan State, in alleged crimes against humanity.

On these three points, the Mission’s report establishes that the deprivation of liberty of certain individuals has been based on a scheme of persecution of political ideas and opinions, whitewashing their participation in acts of public commotion, violation of human rights, attacks on institutionality and the public order.

Under the premise that, supposedly, the Venezuelan State persecutes opposition figures for their opinions, it is intended to whitewash a set of actions harmful to the peace of the country that have required a response by security forces.

On these points, the report also reflects that crimes against humanity have been committed as a result of the so-called arbitrary detentions, cruel and inhuman treatment and other illegal practices attributed to the Venezuelan State.

The use of the concept of crime against humanity is misused from the beginning, configuring a methodological error that, in addition to weakening the technical credibility of the report, shows all its political intentions.

The acts that can be considered as crimes against humanity are stipulated in the articles of the Rome Statute , the governing document of the International Criminal Court. The key concept of Article 7, where the fundamental premises of crimes against humanity rest, is “extermination”, understood as intentional actions that seek to progressively eliminate a population due to its political, ethnic or religious affiliation. It is fallacious to conceive that in Venezuela there are generalized practices to exterminate political or social sectors.

2. The report elaborates an extensive chronology that attempts to summarize the last years marked by political conflict in Venezuela. In the analysis of the fundamental political events of the cycle that began with the presidency of Nicolás Maduro in 2013, the report shows high doses of political bias. This is reflected in the intention to transfer responsibility to the Bolivarian government as the architect of the political and institutional crises of recent years, concealing the agendas of violence, continued coup and political disruption propagated by Venezuelan opposition actors.

A specific point demonstrates the political intentionality of the chronology. In number 87, it mentions Óscar Pérez, a CICPC official who, in June 2017, stole a helicopter from La Carlota Air Base and flew over public institutions located in the center of Caracas, at which he fired machine gun bursts and hit it with fragmenting grenades, endangering the lives of civilians and even minors. The report does not classify this incident as an attack with terrorist characteristics, but is reduced to making a brief and not very detailed mention.

The report also does not review with enough forcefulness and relevance another important event that involved Óscar Pérez. In December 2017, Pérez starred in an assault on the command of the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB) located in San Pedro de Los Altos , in the Guaicaipuro municipality of Miranda state. After gagging several military personnel and stealing weapons and ammunition, Pérez published the scene on social networks to enhance the impact of the assault. The armed and irregular action was framed in the formation of a paramilitary cell led by himself with the purpose of initiating a low-intensity conflict of attrition against the Venezuelan institutions and security forces.

Another sign of political bias has to do with the interviews with Cristopher Figuera, who was directly involved in the attempted military coup in April 2019 (“Operation Libertad” — led by Juan Guaidó and Leopoldo López) and who is now a protégé of the United States government. Throughout the report, the whitewashing of his figure in favor of the political use of his speech as an actor who provides “privileged information” is notable.

At point 1987, a candid Figuera is described as someone who was never involved in the criminalizing acts mentioned by the report, giving the character in question an image of equanimity that contrasts with the alleged criminal nature of the government of Nicolás Maduro:

“General Figuera told the Mission that when he was appointed Director General of SEBIN at the end of 2018, he took steps to change practices within the intelligence body. He told the Mission that he investigated specific allegations of torture, dismissed an official who he believed was involved in violations, and secured the release of certain detainees, among other measures. The Mission is not aware of complaints of torture during the period in which he was Director. Likewise, it does not have information that criminal investigations have been carried out on the complaints of torture in the SEBIN or on sanctions against those responsible.”

3. In point 262 the report states:

“The Mission finds reasonable grounds to believe that arbitrary detentions were used to attack people for their political affiliation, participation, views, opinions or expression during the period under review.”

In this sense, the report reveals its inconsistency since the people were not detained for their opinions or points of view, but for their involvement in coup d’état operations and the violation of internal stability that left hundreds of innocent civilians victimized, as evidenced by the cycle of color revolutions / guarimbas in 2014 and 2017.

4. Later, the report establishes that the SEBIN and the DGCIM have committed acts of torture and violations of the human rights of those deprived of liberty. These accusations are supported in anonymous interviews impossible to evaluate. Because the Venezuelan executive does not recognize the legitimacy of this Mission, since it was set up as a “ghost” commission ( Foreign Minister Arreaza dixit ) parallel to the one established by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, it evades dialogue with the officials responsible for both institutions, since the report has been carried out outside the country, although it insists that “there was no response” from the Venezuelan State.

Much of this argument is based on the accusations made by the former director of SEBIN Cristopher Figuera. Figuera fled Venezuela after the failure of “Operation Libertad” in April 2019, and since then has become a “source” for attacking the Bolivarian government. The report, we repeat, gives high credibility to Figuera’s opinions, knowing his political partiality and his participation in an attempted coup, which weakens the accusations made against SEBIN and the DGCIM.

5. The report refers to the iconic case of Leopoldo López. Relying on the account of his lawyer (Juan Carlos Gutiérrez) and on descriptions that are not very detailed or demonstrable, the Mission considers that López was a victim of “torture and cruel treatment or punishment,” even though there are no examples or records that confirm this. The report bases this accusation on the night searches, the periodization of visitation and other elements of anticipation and security against possible plans to escape from the Ramo Verde prison where he was held.

Given the treatment of this case, it is notable that there is a whitewashing of the events promoted by the operators of the coup in Venezuela. There is no contextual explanation of why López was arrested (promoter of a color revolution / guarimba / coup d’état), the statement by Diosdado Cabello about López’s intention of assassination that his own family denounced is ignored and the cold data that supposedly proves his “arbitrary detention” is given, which explains nothing. The same happens with the rest of the cases of the imprisoned politicians (some pardoned at the end of last August), so it is not worth elaborating on the rest of the cases.

6. Further on, the report refers to the cases of Antonio Ledezma, Gilber Caro and Steyci Escalona. In this section, the report seeks to overwhelm with a cascade of statements that stem from a biased version of their detentions, incorporating confusing and difficult-to-verify elements to demonstrate the thesis of arbitrary detentions and human rights abuses of these deprived of liberty for their involvement in coup plots.

In the case of Ledezma, the account of the events makes the former mayor seem a hero of freedom who managed to “escape” (not flee) from his house arrest, as a result of having been involved in a coup plan and insurrection against the Republic (the so-called 2015 “blue coup”).

7. In point 470, aimed at undermining government security plans, it uses the testimony of unidentified people, who are implicated in mistreatment and human rights violations. This account is one of the loudest in the entire report and raises the suspicion that the methodology of statements is used on condition of anonymity.

Many of the testimonies allude to the fact that detainees at the time of the interrogation were “forced” to declare allegedly non-existent connections or facts. The whitewashing of operators of the continued coup in Venezuela is blatant.

In the case of Juan Carlos Requesens, to show just one example, according to relatives and lawyers, the government “induced” through drugs the confession on his part of having been a link for the assassination attempt in 2018.

It should be noted that, likewise, there is too much condescension in the report to characterize the assassination attempt in August 2018 against President Nicolás Maduro and members of the Military High Command. It doesn’t even characterize it as an “assassination attempt.”

8. The same occurs in the case of Víctor Navarro, leader of the Corazón Valiente Foundation, supported by the United States in a context of violent destabilization to overthrow the Bolivarian government. The testimonies collected reflect that Navarro was insulted after being arrested in 2018, threatened with being raped, among other alleged pressure tactics to generate confessions, situations that the report assumes as facts and that constitute acts of torture.

9. In the case of Operation Liberation of the People (OLP) and Operation Humanitarian Liberation of the People (OLHP), the report overwhelms with statements and testimonies based on eyewitnesses, statements from the victims’ families and on stories that have a clear profile of [inclination] to whitewash certain confrontations.

The report highlights that President Nicolás Maduro activated some corrections in the face of different complaints of police excesses in the framework of these security operations. The Office of the Attorney General of the Republic also executed a set of indictments, and also opened several investigations, to prosecute police officers involved in crimes.

However, the Mission highlights these elements as cyclical intentions and does not give them an objective weight. In this sense, it chooses to overwhelm with stories and testimonies that project the image of a carefree government and judicial institutions before the complaints that, supposedly, would have collaborated, directed and coordinated the human rights violations suggested by the report.

10. The use of fallacies and information without context is notable when it says, in point 127, that the National Constituent Assembly was erected illegitimately for not having consulted the population, when the Venezuelan Constitution provides that the President of the Bolivarian Republic can convene a National Constituent Assembly (article 348).

In point 145 , it says: “The executive allegedly uses the cards to distribute aid based on loyalty to the ruling party.” A notoriously false fact: whoever lives in Venezuela can testify against this hoax.

Likewise, point 147 says :

“The ‘Orinoco Mining Arc Strategic Development Zone’ was established in 2016 by Presidential Decree. It was created without conducting the social and environmental impact studies required by the Constitution. It comprises an area of almost 112,000 square kilometers around the Orinoco River that encompasses the states of Amazonas and Bolívar, through concessions expropriated from international companies. Organized crime and illegal armed groups, engaged in illegal mining and various related criminal activities, including smuggling, have infiltrated the area. Numerous violations that correspond to the Mission’s mandate have been reported in the Mining Arc region. The Mission was unable to investigate them due to time and resource constraints, as noted above.”

This is also a fallacy because the Arco Minero is a project that was planned during the presidency of Hugo Chávez and put into practice during the government of Nicolás Maduro, precisely to prevent criminal mining groups from committing illicit acts (economic, sovereign and ecological) in the area circumscribed to the Arc.

11. In point 216 , the “collectives” are referred to for the first time, delimiting them as “armed groups” and “criminals” (taking Insight Crime as a source ), when in most cases they do not assume that profile: they are social organizations and / or popular ones that do grassroots work in communities of different types (productive, organizational, cultural, health, etc.). In this sense, organized communities, be they communal councils, communes, Local Supply and Production Committees (CLAP) or social and popular collectives / organizations, are subject to criminalization by the report, identified as being accomplices of the described “crimes.” Thus, grassroots Chavismo is subject to criminalization.

12. The report emphasizes that Venezuela ratified the Rome Statute on June 7, 2000, implying from the outset that the crimes it examines and describes for which it holds the Venezuelan government responsible are liable to be tried before the Criminal Court. International.

But later, the report clarifies in point 1977:

“It is important to remember at this stage that the Mission’s conclusions are based on a particular evidentiary criterion: the Mission considers that the facts are established if there are reasonable grounds to affirm them. This criterion is inferior to both the criterion required for a criminal conviction (conviction beyond reasonable doubt) and the balance or probability test in civil matters (meaning that something is more likely to have happened). The Mission’s findings do not amount to a criminal conviction and the information presented here is, in most respects, less than what would be needed to achieve a criminal conviction. The determination of the individual criminal responsibility of the persons mentioned in this section must be carried out by the competent judicial authorities” (the emphasis is ours).

This inconsistency clearly shows that the report attempts to skew Venezuelan and world public opinion in favor of the Mission’s objectives (in a context of increasing siege and suffocation by internal and external factors, plus the electoral context).

13. At the end of the report, in the “recommendations to the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela”, point 59 says :

Cooperate with the organs of the Organization of American States. Comply with the precautionary measures issued by the Inter-American Commission and the provisional measures issued by the Inter-American Court. Apply the judgments of the Inter-American Court related to Venezuela.”

The sentence summarizes what Venezuela must do so that the accusations against its leaders cease to have effect, or expire in a non-prescription that is the prerogative of those who promote this Mission: to allow themselves to be protected in a blackmailing manner under the account of human rights by the institutions that are directly controlled by the United States, or that have direct or indirect influence in an obvious way.

14. In the “recommendations to the international community,” the report states:

“63. The States should consider the possibility of initiating legal actions against the individuals responsible for the violations and crimes identified in this report, in accordance with their pertinent domestic legislation.”

The foregoing can be considered a call to the Lima Group and other countries in the Anglo-imperial orbit of influence to adhere to the strategy of the strangulation of the Venezuelan population and government and even to deepen the pressure already exerted by a good number of countries in the region and other latitudes.

Likewise, and to end these “observations” of the Mission, it says: “65. That the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court take into account the need for timely justice to be done for the victims of the crimes investigated by the Mission and those under its consideration,” which concludes the ultimate, long-term goal of this report: trying to press a trial before the Hague against Nicolás Maduro, Diosdado Cabello and other ministers who are held responsible for the alleged crimes against humanity.

The inconsistencies of the report are everywhere, as long as a lens is taken that is not prejudiced by the rhetoric endorsed by the US government around the Venezuelan case.

Translation by Orinoco Tribune