Photo: BBC retrieved

On May 7th, 2019, the National Assembly began the endorsement of the Interamerican Treaty of Mutual Assistance, also known as the “Pact of Rio” denounced by Venezuela in 2013 and, although there are still steps that need to be followed before Venezuela becomes a party, the pact can definitely help resolve the current crisis from a legal standpoint.

See, the pact signed in 1947 at Rio de Janeiro, is an example of the defensive alliances that came in the wake of World War II, a regional agreement of mutual assistance in military matters, focused primarily on the duty of signatories to defend other members in case of an attack by another state. As such, it includes arguments about the permissibility, and even the obligation, of military intervention by other member states in Venezuela, to remove Maduro from government.

Although there are still steps that need to be followed before Venezuela becomes a party, the pact can definitely help resolve the current crisis from a legal standpoint.

These defensive obligations arise in two main situations: first, one or multiple state parties are the victim of an “armed attack” (Article 3) and; second, they are the victims of an “aggression which is not an armed attack,” involving a violation of territorial integrity or political and territorial independence, or where facts or situations “might endanger the peace of America” (Article 6). In these scenarios, parties must call a meeting of the Organ of Consultation (composed of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Signatory States,) which may decide to address the situation with measures that can be diplomatic and economic (Article 8).

Only when there’s armed aggression will states be able to resort to military force, although they’re not compelled to it.

While the Organ of Consultation may recommend the use of military force to repel an armed attack, Article 20 makes it clear that this is not binding.

The Pact of Rio even subordinates the exercise of self-defense to the collective security system, established in the UN Charter, meaning that states that use force in self-defense under this Pact must meet the conditions established in Article 51 of the Charter (which deals with self-defense). Beyond this narrow case, the Pact of Rio does not allow the use of violence.

This is made clearer in Article 1 of the Pact, which restates the commitment to the prohibition of force in international relations; many of the rules of the international legal order can be set aside by agreement of the parties (for example, the rules on territorial sovereignty ordinarily prohibit state officials from entering the territory of another state to arrest an individual), but international law places some constraints on the ability to set aside or modify the universal rules in their mutual relations. The use of force falls in this strict category and the Pact cannot grant greater rights than those set out by the UN and customary International Law.

While the Organ of Consultation may recommend the use of military force to repel an armed attack, Article 20 makes it clear that this is not binding.

There’s a second scenario, in Article 6, that could involve obligations from the signatories towards Venezuela when there are facts or situations that might endanger the peace of the American region. Since it’s reasonable to see how the current Venezuelan context affects said peace, the Organ of Consultation could, if so desired by its members, require state parties to only take political and economic measures.

Renewed membership of the Pact could, legally, impose an obligation on states to call a meeting of the Organ of Consultation to make it look our way, but whether states will take a specific measure is not a foregone conclusion. Also, whether Guaidó can request military intervention remains a question to be determined in accordance to the UN Charter and general international law, remaining difficult to conceive with Guaidó lacking effective control of the Venezuelan territory or governmental apparatus. As Hans Morgenthau and the realists would say, decisions about the use of military force aren’t only made on the basis of law, political considerations are paramount… but the political will of American states to intervene militarily in Venezuela is weak.

Venezuela’s renewed membership of the Pact is unlikely to have any significant impact in changing this.

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