Amnesty International modifies its position on US sanctions and threats against Venezuela

Last year, I asked Amnesty International for its position on US economic sanctions against Venezuela. I also asked Amnesty’s position on the threats US officials have made against Venezuela’s government, including open encouragement of Venezuela’s military to perpetrate a coup.

Last year, Amnesty replied that it took “no position” on US economic sanctions. Regarding US threats and incitement of a coup, Amnesty said that it “believes that a responsible discussion on the current state of human rights in Venezuela should not be focused on statements made by parties outside the country and context”

Today (in response to queries I had been sending the past week) Amnesty replied to me with a somewhat modified position on these matters.

Regarding the sanctions:

On 28 January, the US government announced new measures that prevent the Venezuelan state oil company (PDVSA) from exporting crude oil to the USA and to stop US suppliers selling the refined products that Venezuela needs to process its heavy crude oil. Given that the Venezuelan economy is heavily dependent on oil exports and that the USA is one of Venezuela’s main trading partners, these measures could have a severe impact on the enjoyment of economic and social rights.

Amnesty International reminds the US government that, regardless of the circumstances, sanctions must always take full account of the impact they will have on the enjoyment of human rights, especially among the most vulnerable groups in society. Sanctions should be targeted, with specific objectives and a clear timetable, and their effectiveness and humanitarian impact must be monitored.

In response to these sanctions and other sanctions against officials, Amnesty International has expressed its deep concern about the critical situation of the violation of the rights to food and health in the country, which the Venezuelan authorities have not adequately addressed. On the contrary, the refusal of the Venezuelan authorities to recognize the grave crisis of shortages of food and medicines, in addition to the general deterioration of the country’s health services and the food security crisis, calls into question the willingness of the Venezuelan state to comply with its responsibility to guarantee minimum conditions of access to these rights for all, without discrimination of any kind.

It is also important to emphasize that the imposition of sanctions does not negate or diminish in any way the relevant obligations of the Venezuelan state to take all possible measures, including negotiations with the international community, to obtain international cooperation (sometimes referred to as humanitarian assistance), in order to minimize the negative impact on the rights of vulnerable groups in society.

And regarding the talk of a coup or military intervention in Venezuela:

Amnesty International has monitored the impact on human rights of the institutional crisis affecting Venezuela, documenting and acting on the serious human rights violations that have occurred.

It is not part of Amnesty International’s mission to comment or take sides on the legitimacy or legality of a government, including allegations of coups d’état or of the seizure of presidential powers. Amnesty International is an independent organization and has not taken a position on the legality or illegality of the various events that have deepened the institutional crisis in Venezuela. For example, Amnesty International did not take a position on the Attorney General’s complaint that there had been a breach of the constitutional order [“ruptura del orden constitucional”] following rulings 155 and 156 of the Supreme Court of Justice in 2017; nor did it issue a statement on the creation of the National Constituent Assembly in 2017 or the elections of 2018.

Amnesty International believes that, regardless of the current political dispute in Venezuela, all authorities have an obligation to respect and protect human rights. This includes the right of citizens to vote in regular, genuine elections held by universal and equal suffrage and secret ballot, that guarantee the free expression of their will. This also includes the right of every person to demonstrate peacefully to demand accountability from leaders or changes in public policies, as well as to demonstrate and express their support or opposition to the government.

The international community has an obligation to find proposals that will prevent an escalation of the conflict in Venezuela; protect the millions of refugees who have been forced to leave the country; support the different national actors in creating the conditions that allow the enjoyment of human rights; ensure that any external action does not violate the principles of international law; and prevent further suffering or violation of rights in the country.

Any action by the international community must respect the principles of international law and above all put to the fore the human rights of the people of Venezuela.

A responsible approach to the current situation should focus on guaranteeing without delay the rights of the people of Venezuela rather than diverting attention towards possible military intervention. In particular, it must address the extreme situation as regards access to food and health that is putting at risk the rights of hundreds of thousands of people in Venezuela and forcing unprecedented numbers of Venezuelans to migrate to other countries in the region.

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