The United Nations’ High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet delivered today, March 20th, an update to the UN Human Rights Council on the ongoing Venezuelan crisis, in which she pulled no punches in describing the many grave problems the country currently faces. It wasn’t a coverup of Nicolás Maduro as some were fearing it would be. Quite the opposite.

This statement comes as the technical mission sent by the High Commissioner continues its work in the country since earlier this month, which has been marked by official efforts to limit access and cosmetically minimizing the problems, like the case of their visit to the Barquisimeto’s main hospital.

Bachelet addressed this issue right from the start: “It’s important that the team have completely unhindered access, with no reprisals against any person who has met, or sought to meet, with them.“

Both her “oral update” and the technical mission are under the mandate of Resolution 39/1, passed last September during the 39th session of the Human Rights Council.

A special point of attention was the nationwide blackout of several days ago and Bachelet noticed the lack of public official information about its direct consequences. She also linked it to the long-term crisis on our infrastructure and public services:

…Water shortages, scarcity of natural gas and the collapse of public transport also continue to affect many people, and together with hyperinflation, they generate dire economic conditions, which have triggered thousands of social protests.“

Bachelet also addressed the argument of the possible effects that U.S.-imposed economic sanctions against the Maduro government are having in the overall crisis: “Although this pervasive and devastating economic and social crisis began before the imposition of the first economic sanctions in 2017, I am concerned that the recent sanctions on financial transfers related to the sale of Venezuelan oil within the United States may contribute to aggravating the economic crisis, with possible repercussions on people’s basic rights and wellbeing.“

 

She made detailed references to the cases of extra-judicial killings by the FAES.

Bachelet touched on plenty of subjects: from the massive exodus of more than 3 million Venezuelans that affects the region to the dramatic state of our health and education systems. She made detailed references to the cases of extra-judicial killings by the FAES and the harsh clampdown against the press as well.

The tone and consistency of Bachelet’s statement is surprising, as some were afraid that because of her previous relationship with chavismo during her two non-consecutive terms as President of Chile (2006-10 and 2014-18), and the strong support that Maduro still has in sectors of the Chilean left (including members of the New Majority party coalition, heir to the historic Concertacion).

Bachelet took over the post of Human Rights High Commissioner last year, the second position she has held at the UN system after being the first-ever head of UN Women, created in 2011 (between her two terms at La Moneda Palace).

While she also asked for a concerted political position for the crisis (in line with what UN’s Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said repeatedly), Bachelet used the final part of her statement to ask the government “to take steps to demonstrate their real commitment to addressing the many challenging issues reported across the country.”

As a more complete report that includes results from the technical mission’s inquiry is expected to come out in the near future (exact date TBA), the declaration made today by Michelle Bachelet is a damning document in itself about the actual state of Venezuela and a considerable advance in the cause for making visible the urgency of change in the United Nations arena.

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