Human Rights Council
13 September–1 October 2021
Agenda item 2
Annual report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and reports of the Office of the High Commissioner and the Secretary-General
Pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution 45/2, in the present report, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights details recent developments in the human rights situation, with a particular focus on economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights, and on technical assistance in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.
The present report is submitted pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution 45/2, in which the Council requested the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to prepare a comprehensive written report on the situation of human rights in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and to present it to the Council at its forty-eighth session.
The present report covers the period from 1 June 2020 to 30 June 20211 and provides an overview of the cooperation between the Government of Venezuela and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). The report is also focused on the latest developments during the reporting period related to economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights and the level of implementation of the corresponding recommendations made in previous reports, identifying areas of further cooperation.
The report is based on information gathered and analysed by OHCHR, including on the basis of interviews with victims and witnesses, as well as meetings with government officials and civil society organizations. It takes into account official information and data provided by the Government, including through a series of questions transmitted by OHCHR to the Government for the purpose of this report.
The findings set out in the present report have been documented and corroborated in compliance with standard OHCHR methodology. OHCHR exercised due diligence to assess the credibility and reliability of all sources and cross-checked the information gathered to verify its validity. It sought informed consent from the sources whom it interviewed and took all appropriate measures to protect their identities and to ensure confidentiality. OHCHR assessed the information it collected in the light of international human rights standards and relevant domestic legislation.
II. Economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights
People in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela continue to face significant challenges related to the enjoyment of their economic and social rights, due to pre-existing multifactorial social and economic crises. The Government has promoted social policies through economic and social programmes aimed at fighting poverty and decreasing the gender equality gap; yet challenges persist in these areas reportedly due, in part, to misallocation of resources, lack of maintenance of public infrastructure and severe underinvestment in essential services.
Sectoral sanctions and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic have further increased the scarcity of available resources.
While identifying possible areas of further technical assistance, this report examines steps taken by the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela towards meeting its human rights obligations, including concerning the progressive realisation of economic and social rights, the core obligation to ensure their enjoyment at minimum essential levels, the obligations of non-discrimination, non-retrogression and use of the maximum available resources, which also encompasses international assistance and cooperation. The report also assesses overarching challenges regarding the lack of public information on economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights, key for their effective realization.
Sectoral unilateral coercive measures exacerbated pre-existing adverse economic and complex humanitarian conditions, also affecting available resources to guarantee and protect human rights, particularly of the most vulnerable.2 Despite humanitarian exceptions in place, over-compliance with sectoral unilateral coercive measures have reportedly worsened shortages of medicine and limited food imports while additionally burdening civil society organizations, whose donors and financial institutions require detailed additional financial information, thus diverting capacities to effectively work, particularly in rural and remote areas. Fuel shortages negatively affected food production and distribution, public transport, public services, education, and the health sector. OHCHR reiterates its previous calls to lift sectoral unilateral coercive measures in view of their disproportionate impact on the wider population, also echoed by the Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of the unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights.
OHCHR is concerned by the low levels of income, savings and pensions of public officials and workers in sectors dependent on public funding, particularly the education and health sectors. For example, in August 2020, the Venezuelan Medical Federation estimated that around 50 per cent of medical doctors had left the country, mainly due to rapidly declining real income. Reportedly, in 2020, the monthly salary of nurses averaged between two and five USD.3 The loss of medical professionals had direct impact in the country’s capacity to effectively respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2019, 80 per cent of households’ income depended on governmental cash transfers, according to official figures.4 Of those transfers, 22 per cent corresponded to electricity, 21 per cent to education, 16 per cent to the Local Committees for Supply and Production,5 15 per cent to water, 12 per cent to other “Patria” cash transfers,6 11 per cent to the school food programme.7 Cash transfers are indexed to the official minimum wage, thus similarly affected by high rates of inflation. Reliance on cash transfers by the Government has reportedly increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, although detailed verifiable public information on the programmes’ finances and impact is unavailable.
According to official figures, in 2020, 56.1 per cent of persons working held formal employment. Of those, expert analysis8 indicated that two thirds worked in the public sector, where the average monthly income oscillated between two and five USD.9 To address these challenges, in recent years, the Government has increased social spending, particularly through direct cash transfers. Reports indicated that wage policy was not inclusive, particularly at times excluding members of trade unions perceived as critical to the Government. Additionally, on 1 May 2021, the Government announced a 289 per cent increase of the minimum wage from 1.8 to 7 million Bs, equivalent to 2,4 USD at the time, without indexing official monthly minimum wage to inflation,10 nor to the basic consumer basket.11 In 2021, the Government informed that it continued to fully offer pensions to over 4.5 million recipients. However, monthly pensions also fluctuated between two and five USD and were not indexed to inflation.12 11. OHCHR acknowledges steps taken to expand access to social assistance programmes through the digitalization of services. The number of active users of the “carnet de la patria”13 had reportedly grown to 21 million by June 2021. However, reduced Internet coverage and power outages posed challenges to efforts to guarantee equal access to digital tools particularly in rural areas and for low-income persons. OHCHR continued to receive reports of some persons whose food assistance was allegedly denied on political grounds, for criticism of the Government. Access to social benefits must not be conditioned to actual or perceived political affiliation and transparency on criteria used to determine eligibility for social protection programmes is essential to avoid any discrimination in practice.
Protests related to economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights continued, demanding, in particular, access to adequate basic services, labour rights, housing, fuel, adequate health services, and food.14 During the reporting period, OHCHR documented eight cases of protests during which human rights violations were committed by security forces or pro-government armed civilian groups called “colectivos”, including at least one extrajudicial killing, three cases of ill-treatment and three cases of excessive use of force. Of these, OHCHR takes note of investigations opened in at least two cases of ill-treatment and reiterates the obligation to independently investigate all these incidents and prevent them from re-occurring. OHCHR also documented illegal or arbitrary arrests and detention of at least 45 persons in relation to those protests.
OHCHR acknowledges the establishment of dialogue forums with trade unions in May 2021 and recalls unions’ right to function freely without burdensome limitation and members’ rights to join the association of their own choice. However, OHCHR documented disregard for collective agreements of public servants, particularly since the promulgation of Memorandum 2792 of the Ministry of Labour in 2018, which effectively allows for their unilateral revision by a special organ of the Ministry, including on salaries, benefits and working conditions. OHCHR is concerned by the reported lack of inclusive consultations of all affected parties on labour issues, which raises concerns related to trade unions’ independence and full enjoyment of their members’ rights.