Since the election of Hugo Chávez in 1998, Venezuela has been a socialist state. Wealth redistribution and nationalisation have been key policies of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV). However, political instability and opposition to the government have escalated following the election of President Nicolás Maduro in 2013 (Guardian, 2013). In the wake of economic collapse in 2014, Venezuelans have been experiencing deteriorating social conditions and violent political repression (BBC, 2018). Under Maduro’s “increasingly authoritarian rule” (GCR2P, 2018), the Venezuelan government has carried out human rights abuses which have directly threatened the security of Venezuelan citizens. Such violations have been enabled by Maduro’s increasing dominance over government and decision making processes.
As the situation has developed, observers have voiced increasing concern over undemocratic governance and human rights violations carried out by the administration (GCR2P, 2018; Human Rights Watch (HRW), 2018; Amnesty International, 2018). According to an independent report by the Organization of American States (OAS), “there are reasonable grounds […] to believe that acts to which the civilian population of Venezuela was subjected to, dating back to at least February 12, 2014, constitute crimes against humanity” (OAS, 2018). Reported crimes include extrajudicial killings, imprisonment, torture, sexual violence, and use of the humanitarian and economic crisis “as a tool for persecution” (OAS, 2018).
How has the crisis developed?
Venezuela’s economy is highly dependent on oil revenue, resulting in economic and political vulnerability. An economic crisis in Venezuela has been escalating since 2014, when the price of oil plummeted leading to rapid inflation. In February 2019, the rate of inflation reached 2.30 million per cent. This led to rapid inflation, with the annual rate expected to reach 13,000% by the end of 2018 (Guardian, 2018). Following the economic collapse of Venezuela, mass protests broke out over the entirety of the country, with citizens demanding the resignation of President Maduro (BBC, 2018). The economic crisis has impacted the state’s ability to provide public services, and Venezuela’s nationalised infrastructure has been severely depleted in the wake of the crisis (BBC, 2018).
Maduro’s power has been progressively increasing since he took office in 2013, whilst the legislature has been ever more restricted. In March 2016, the Supreme Court effectively took over the opposition-led National Assembly, annulling its legislative powers (Al Jazeera, 2017). This decision led to mass protests and, although the move was reversed two days later, political instability continued (Al Jazeera, 2017). In May 2016, following widespread and violent demonstrations, Maduro declared a state of emergency, effectively extending executive powers over the economy, services, and public security (BBC, 2016). The National Assembly’s powers were restricted again in July 2017 when a constituent Assembly was formed. This effectively allowed Maduro to bypass the National Assembly, thus enabling the president to “maximise his power”. The constituent Assembly has been widely criticised by the international community, and several of Venezuela’s South American neighbours (including Colombia, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and Panama) have denounced the development as unconstitutional (BBC, 2017). Furthermore, in December 2017, Maduro announced that several opposition parties “were no longer part of the political landscape and would not be able to participate in presidential elections” (Al Jazeera, 2017).
The combination of unconstitutional practices and deteriorating living conditions due to hyperinflation culminated in yet another series of protests in April 2017, further destabilising the state. The administration responded with excessive force; violent suppression has “extended beyond the protests”, with reports of violence by security forces “even when no demonstrations were taking place” (HRW, 2017). It is highly likely that human rights violations will continue unless outside forces are able to aid the Venezuelan government, however, the government and the Bolivarian National Guard have repeatedly blocked investigations and refused aid (Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), 2018).
On 26 September 2018, during the seventy-third session of the United Nations General Assembly, President Nicolás Maduro addressed the current situation of Venezuela and denied that violence and turmoil was taking place. Maduro dismissed the severity of the migration crisis, describing it as a media invention by the US. He also claimed that Venezuela had successfully prevented “all coups, violence and military offensives” (UN, 2018). This official denial of the humanitarian crisis demonstrates a serious failure to uphold Venezuela’s responsibility to protect, and in doing so Venezuela has compromised its regional and global status.
The political crisis continued to escalate in January 2019, when Juan Guaidó, leader of the opposition-led National Assembly, rejected Maduro’s leadership and declared himself interim president of Venezuela (BBC, 2019). Guaidó’s announcement was welcomed by many international observers (including the US, the EU, and most Latin American states) who have been critical of Maduro’s regime (DW, 2019).
What are the humanitarian implications?
The political and economic collapse in Venezuela has resulted in a refugee and humanitarian crisis. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has reported that the Venezuelan refugee crisis is nearing Syrian proportions, with almost three million individuals fleeing the country since the crisis began (UN, 2018). There are over 3.4 million refugees and migrants from Venezuela worldwide, 375,000 asylum-seekers as well as around 1 million legally residing in the Americas (UNHCR, 2019). It is estimated that by the end of 2019, the number of Venezuelan refugees could reach over 5.3 million, according to UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) (Congressional Research Service [CRS], 2019).
The poverty rate in Venezuela has reached a record high, with 87% of the population living in poverty. A systematic shortage of key supplies and medicines has resulted in preventable deaths; the government has reportedly responded to the criticism by threatening or even detaining some medical doctors, patients and media workers (OHCHR), 2018). The Venezuelan government is failing to comply with the international obligation to ensure that its citizens are provided with basic human needs (OHCHR), 2018). More than 1 million children can no longer attend school as a result of the failure of schools’ food programmes and a lack of affordable transport (OHCHR, 2019). Country wide power blackouts also highlight the extent of the crisis; in the past six years, citizens have increasingly been left to fend for themselves, receiving little assistance from the Venezuelan government (Glass, 2019).
The deteriorating human rights situation is highlighted by the excessive use of force on protestors, arbitrary detentions, and ill-treatment and torture in detention centres and prisons (OHCHR, 2018). In 2017, several individuals died at the hands of security forces during political protests (BBC, 2018). Additionally, the Venezuelan Operation for the Liberation of the People (OLP), has been responsible for multiple deaths since it was established by the government in 2015 with the supposed aim of quelling rising crime rates in urban areas (OAS, 2018). In a raid carried out in 2016, the deaths of 505 citizens (including 4 women and 24 children) were recorded as a result of the excessive force by the OLP (OHCHR, 2018). The OLP was replaced in 2017 with the Operation for the Humanitarian Liberation of the People (HLP) which has been regarded as significantly less transparent and more difficult to track. The HLP was intended to curtail the OLP’s excessive use of force, however, citizen accounts have suggested that violence is still being used and the killings have continued (OHCHR, 2018).
Violent repression of civilian protesters occurred yet again during mass demonstrations in support of Maduro’s main political opponent, Juan Guaidó. On 30 April 2019, Guaidó published a video calling for mobilisation against Maduro’s regime; in the following days, clashes between protesters and government forces resulted in “at least four deaths” and “dozens” of injuries (HRW, 2019). Reports have emerged of live ammunition being used against protesters by pro-government groups, as well as “beatings” and “death threats”, many targeted against journalists covering the events (HRW, 2019). It is thought that “at least 240 people, including 17 children, have been detained” in the few days since the protests broke out.
Detentions are not isolated to specific protests; political opponents and journalists are among those who have been detained by the state. In eight months alone, between August and April 2017, more than 570 Venezuelan individuals were arbitrarily detained, including 35 children. A further 350 were detained during protests in January 2019 (UN, 2019). This is of particular concern as the state of Venezuelan prisons and detention centres are being called into question regarding human rights violations. The centres have been described as “monstrous”; some detainees do not have access to food and drinking water, overcrowding is rife, not all detainees have access to natural light, and many buildings are infested with rats and insects. It has been revealed that 59 Colombian nationals have been held in prisons for over two years, without being charged for any crimes, many of them ill due to the conditions that they are living in (UN, 2018).
Additionally, the Venezuelan government has been criticised for its inability to deal with human trafficking and its reluctance to do so. Over the past five years, Venezuela has been a destination country for the human trafficking of men, women and children, including sex trafficking, child ‘sex tourism’ and forced labour. In 2007, the Venezuelan government criminalised all forms of trafficking for women and girls, however the law did not criminalise all forms of sexual trafficking in relation to women and girls due to the way in which force, fraud, coercion must play a factor in order for it to be criminally prosecuted. Furthermore, the government failed to pass laws criminalising the trafficking of both men and boys, where it was only criminalised if the trafficking was conducted as part of an organised criminal organisation (United States Department of State (USDS), 2018).
Venezuela is considered by the United States Overseas Advisory Council (OSAC) to be “one of the world’s most dangerous countries”. Deteriorating social conditions, particularly since 2017, have led to high levels of street violence in Caracas and other urban centres. The OSAC identifies Venezuela’s “inefficient and politicized judicial system”, “overcrowded prisons”, and “poorly trained, […] often corrupt police” as key factors leading to such high rates of criminal activity. The crisis has also resulted in increased volatility in areas close to Venezuela’s border, where “violence, kidnapping, drug trafficking, and smuggling” are commonplace (OSAC, 2018).
Areas bordering Venezuela have been significantly affected by the mass displacement of people, and “the exodus has placed public services […] under strain” (International Crisis Group (ICG), 2018). The Colombian government estimates that there are 1 million Venezuelans living in the country but the actual figure is unknown (CRS, 2019). Colombia already has a high proportion of vulnerable and internally displaced persons as a result of ongoing armed conflict (OCHA, 2018). In Maicao (Colombia), refugees are forced onto the streets as a place of refuge. The number of Venezuelans in Maicao has quadrupled since last summer, to 60,000 . This influx of refugees, according to Felipe Munoz, will give the area an “economic injection,” which will aid the economic development of that region of the country (The Atlantic, 2019). Around Maicao, Venezuelans are crossing with neither documentation nor permission to stay in Colombia (Financial Times, 2019). Border communities in the northeast of Colombia have a limited “absorption capacity and response” (OCHA, 2018). Similarly, hundreds of Venezuelans have arrived at the border of Ecuador seeking refuge, and Peru has accommodated around 400,000 Venezuelan migrants, the majority of which have arrived in the past year (BBC, 2018).
In 2014, the majority of states across Latin America and the Caribbean adopted the Brazil Declaration and Plan of Action, in a bid to commit to making positive changes to the lives of those who had become forcibly displaced or stateless in status (UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 2018). An update of this plan of action was carried out during February 2018; the Government of Brazil hosted a meeting in Brasilia to assess the achievements of the Brazil Plan of Action and how the progress made could contribute to the adoption of the Programme of Action of the Global Compact for Refugees (UNHCR, 2018). 35 states and territories agreed on a set of common moral practices, known as the 100 points of Brasilia, which emphasise the importance of sharing regional responsibility between Latin American and Caribbean states (UNHCR, 2018). Alongside this, Argentina, Brazil and Chile have created resettlement and community-based sponsorship programmes. The Caribbean has also set up an intra-regional transfer mechanism, enabling refugees to resettle within the region (UNHCR, 2018).
The first Colombian migrant and refugee camp, set up specifically for Venezuelans, was established in November 2018 (Al Jazeera, 2018). The camp accommodates 500 Venezuelans in Bogota, although it is estimated that around 240,000 Venezuelans are residing in the capital. There were some fears that the camps would “incentivise migration”, however the plans still went ahead as there were Venezuelan refugees inhabiting a “shanty town” near the city’s bus station (Al Jazeera, 2018). Colombia has cooperated with OCHA to enable the work of the “Humanitarian Country Team” (HCT), which aims to respond to the needs of vulnerable communities in Colombia. The relief program identifies “Venezuelans with intent to stay” as one of the seven priority groups in Colombia (OCHA, 2018).
Whilst some countries in South and Central America are becoming more receptive to increasing arrivals of Venezuelan citizens, many states have been adversely impacted given that they cannot absorb and accommodate all of those in need. Caribbean islands such as Trinidad and Tobago are under significant pressure from locals to implement harsher immigration policy, given the small communities’ low capacity for taking in refugees (Guardian, 2018). It is estimated that Venezuelan arrivals have constituted a 4% rise in the total population of Trinidad and Tobago (CRS, 2019). As a result “most [islands] have responded to the crisis by simply deporting any Venezuelans they can” (Guardian, 2018). There is growing evidence that displaced Venezuelans are becoming “increasingly invisible” and exposed to abuse and exploitation in their host countries (UNHCR), 2018).
Tensions are also rising in Brazil, as exemplified by violent events which took place during an anti-immigration march. At the event, locals “threw stones at migrants” tents and set fire to their belongings. The shelters were then burned to the ground, and the Venezuelans fled into the jungle or back over the border. Troops had to be deployed by Brazil’s government to restore order (BBC, 2018). To resolve the escalating crisis at the border, Brazil plans in 2019 to double its already significant military presence to 6,400 soldiers. (The Conversation, 2019).
Following reports in February 2018 which indicated that both Colombia and Brazil were planning to restrict the illegal movement and illegal settlement of Venezuelans in their countries (Guardian, 2018), some states have begun to tighten visa requirements and/or to deport Venezuelans due to the ongoing pressure that the migrants are putting on the states (CRS, 2019).
Tensions at the border have arisen not only over the accommodation of Venezuelan migrants, but also over importing crucial supplies into the country. Maduro has refused to allow aid from the US, Colombia and Brazil to cross Venezuela’s borders with Colombia and Brazil as he believes that this will lead to a U.S- led military invasion. Attempts to bring aid into the country have been “met with fierce violence” (Guardian, 2019). In February 2019, at the border between Venezuela, Brazil and Colombia, Venezuelan security forces (who were stationed to “prevent opposition supporters from bringing foreign aid into the country”) opened fire, killing seven demonstrators at the Colombian border and 25 at the Brazilian border (Al Jazeera, 2019). Almost 300 people were injured, and trucks carrying aid were set alight as they approached the Colombia-Venezuela border (Guardian, 2019).
How has the international community responded?
The United Nations
The UN OHCHR issued a report in June 2018 concerning the various human rights violations in Venezuela. Within the report, the OHCHR suggested a number of recommendations to the Human Rights Council (including that of Venezuela, which is still a member until the end of 2018). This included presenting and launching an international inquiry in order to thoroughly investigate the true extent of the human rights violations which are occurring in Venezuela (OHCHR, 2018). The general critical focus of the report was what the Venezuelan government should be doing more to prevent crimes relating to human rights.
Additionally, In light of paragraph 138 of the world summit document 2005 on the responsibility to protect, (UN, 2005), the Venezuelan government was called upon in a resolution by the Human Rights Council to accept the aid of humanitarian support from the international community to help with the lack of resources such as medicine and food (UN, 2018).
Furthermore, in line with the Quito Declaration, adopted in September 2018, the UN and partnering organisations have pledged a sum of US$220 million to provide support for 406,000 Venezuelans residing in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Brazil. The UN Central Emergency Fund (CERF) has also provided $17.2 million in early 2018 (UN, 2018). However, this only covers a small segment of the 2.4 million Venezuelan refugees and migrants within South America (OCHA, 2018). Additionally, in September 2018, a fact sheet was produced by the UNHCR, wherein $8,847,252 was requested in funding to help strengthen relief efforts.
In September 2018, the UNHCR, alongside HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) and the Ombudsperson’s Office, organised an informative session on sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) prevention and response and child protection for 350 community members in the Apure state in Venezuela. The event was attended by prominent figures from areas such as women and child services and members of the SSN (Safe Space Network), who provided information on legal frameworks and referral pathways (UNHCR, 2018). The UNHCR also held a seminar on the asylum-trafficking nexus jointly with officials of the Ombudsperson’s Office and the Ministry of Justice in Caracas which was attended by 246 public administration trainees. The seminar was aimed at increasing awareness of the issue and enhancing identification and referrals to UNHCR and CONARE of victims of trafficking in need of international protection (UNHCR, 2018).
The European Union
The EU has consistently called for a political solution to the crisis in Venezuela, emphasising the need for a peaceful and democratic restoration of order. The presidential elections held on 20 May 2018 were described as “neither free nor fair” (Council of the EU, 2018). In response to the state’s disregard for democratic procedure, the EU has imposed restrictive measures on Venezuela, including an embargo on arms and equipment that may be used for “internal repression”. The measures also include a “travel ban and asset freeze” on 18 Venezuelan government officials. Originally declared in November 2017, the sanctions have now been renewed until November 2019 (Council of the EU, 2018).
In June 2018, the EU announced the delivery of a €35 million aid package, that aimed to provide basic emergency supplies to vulnerable people, both in Venezuela and neighbouring countries. In a press release announcing the package, High Representative Federica Mogherini emphasised the EU’s support of neighbouring countries’ humanitarian response, stating: “Venezuela’s neighbours are showing great solidarity: we are with them, as partners, to support their hospitality” (European Commission, 2018). By October 2018, half of this package had been made available, and the rest is expected to be distributed by early 2019 (European External Action Service (EEAS), 2018).
Addressing the European Parliament plenary session on the situation in Venezuela, Mogherini stated that “the restrictive measures will stay as long as human rights are violated and democratic principles are disregarded”. The eventual establishment of a “Contact Group” of international players to help reinstate a democratic political process has also been suggested, although at present the necessary “conditions for either a dialogue or a mediation” with Venezuela are not yet in place (EEAS, 2018).
The United States
The US has played a leading role in responding to events in Venezuela (Guardian, 2018). Since 2017, the US government has imposed targeted sanctions on over 40 individuals considered to be “associated with repression, corruption, and undermining democracy”. Financial sector sanctions were also introduced on 25 August 2017, restricting financial activity between US and Venezuelan actors. The sanctions focus on “the Government of Venezuela and its state oil company”. Venezuela has historically been a key source of oil imported by the US; the sanctions aim to limit financial benefits to Maduro’s administration via the US purchase of Venezuelan oil. The provision of “food, medicine, and humanitarian assistance” is still permitted (USDS, 2018).
Mercosur and the OAS
In 2016, Mercosur (Mercado Común del Sur, the major trading bloc of South America) suspended Venezuela’s membership in light of the Venezuelan government’s failure to uphold basic and fundamental human rights. Neighbouring countries have “become increasingly concerned” with the country’s lack of progress. Venezuela was found not to have adopted Mercosur’s membership rules and treaties to which the state agreed when joining the bloc in 2012 (BBC, 2016).
Similarly, the secretary-general of the Organisation of American States (OAS) advocated suspending Venezuela in March 2017 unless democratic elections occurred. A month later, Venezuela announced its withdrawal from OAS (Council on Foreign Relations, 2018).
The International Criminal Court (ICC)
Considering that Venezuela ratified the Rome statute of the International Criminal Court in 2000. The ICC can take territorial and temporal jurisdiction over the crimes which have taken place within the sovereign state. This has been in place since 1 July 2002 (OAS, 2018).
A preliminary examination was declared by the ICC on 8 February 2018, to uncover the alleged crimes committed by the state from at least April 2017. The focus of the investigation will be the accusations of state security forces using repression and force to combat dissent against political demonstrations, alongside case studies of a number of individuals who have been arrested and detained for being members of the political opposition (ICC, 2018).
On 26 September 2018, Argentina, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay and Peru forwarded the reports of crimes against humanity to the ICC prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda. This is the first time sovereign states removed from the internal affairs of the state in question have sought an investigation on the territory of another country (HRW, 2018). This significant step makes clear that international actors will not stand by and allow injustice to persist.
Key declarations by the United Nations
UNHCR. 31 October 2018. “Regional Response: Situational update No. 2”. Accessed 28 November 2018
This report provides a regional update on the situation. It proclaims that the number of people arriving in Peru increased from an average of 1,800 to over 4,000 per day. This surge is related to an entry deadline for the temporary stay permit (TPT) in Peru. The update is divided into situation overview and response overview. The response overview delves into the general trends and priorities that neighbouring countries have when addressing the crisis, for example, the provision of non-food items and access to water and sanitation. The response section looks at what is being done to address these issues.
OHCHR. 28 September 2018. “Human Rights Council Adopts 10 Resolutions and One Presidential Statement”. Accessed 28 November 2018.
On 28 September 2018, The Human Rights council adopted a resolution which calls upon the Venezuelan government to accept the flow of humanitarian aid to address the shortages of food, medicine and medical supplies, alongside, a written report on the abuses of human rights that are ongoing. This report is to be presented to the Human Rights Council at its forty-first session. The resolution passed with 23 votes in favor, 7 against and 17 absenstions.
OHCHR. 7 June 2018. “Human Rights Violations in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela: a Downward Spiral With No End in Sight”. Accessed 6 December 2018.
The following report was produced in accordance to the mandate of the OHCHR under General Assembly resolution 48/141 “[t]o promote and protect the effective enjoyment by all of all civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights”, and “[t]o play an active role in removing the current obstacles and in meeting the challenges to the full realization of all human rights and in preventing the continuation of human rights violations throughout the world.” The brief is an update from the above report which was published by the OHCHR in August 2017. It focuses on the human rights abuses which have taken place since then. The aim is to address the abuses, while finding the correct way of enforcing change and creating improvements. By trying to delve into the root causes of how these abuses took place, it helps put things into the wider contextual apparatus.
Guterres, António. 16 January 2018. “Press Conference by Secretary-General António Guterres at United Nations Headquarters”. Accessed 28 November 2018.
At a press conference for the Secretary-General in January 2018, Celia Mendoza from VOA Latin America asked Guterres how he would help the migrants moving to other countries and those within Venezuela itself. He responded by proclaiming that the Colombian Government has asked directly for help from UN agencies such as the UNHCR and the International Organisation of Migration (IOM).
UNHCR. 1 September 2017. “Venezuela Situation”. Accessed 6 December 2018.
The situation update is divided up into 5 main sections. Firstly, it lays out the population of concern, this is the countries in which Venezuelans are seeking asylum and which are the target of the report. It looks at Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Southern Caribbean. The focus then provides contextual information about why individuals have left Venezuela. The update then focuses on the operational context of each state mentioned above. These are the challenges in which they face with the arrivals on the migrants. The report then looks at the UNHCR response, with the organisations main objectives. This is then further divided between protection and shelter for each of the four countries. Lastly, the report discusses the main challenges in dealing with the severity of the crisis.
OHCHR. 31 July 2017. “Human Rights Violations and Abuses in the Context of Protests in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela from 1 April to 31 July 2017”. Accessed 6 December 2018.
On the 6 June 2017, OHCHR documented the human rights abuses between the time period of 1 April to 31 July 2017. This was in the context of mass protests, however, it was conducted without the consent of the government. The main findings were split in two components. Firstly, the human rights violations conducted by the state were outlined. This included abuses such as killing during the protests and arbitrary detention. Secondly, the human rights abuses by non-state actors such as violent anti-government protestors. Lastly, conclusions and recommendations were made on the best course of action to follow for improvements.
Key declarations by the European Union
Council of the EU. 6 November 2018. “Venezuela: EU Renews Sanctions For One Year”. Accessed 03 December 2018.
A press release announcing the renewal of sanctions originally imposed in November 2018 (see below). The renewed sanctions are to remain in place until 14 November 2019.
European External Action Service. 23 October 2018. “Speech by HR/VP Federica Mogherini on the Situation in Venezuela”. Accessed 03 December 2018.
High representative Federica Mogherini addressed the European Parliament plenary session on the situation in Venezuela, summarising the situation and the EU’s responses to date. The speech highlights Europe’s political and cultural connection with Venezuela (such as the high number of European citizens currently residing in the affected country). Mogherini goes on to discuss the EU’s role in providing assistance in the form of a €35 million aid package, as well as coordinating regional and global mediation. The EU’s position on Venezuela is restated, specifically its calls to restore power to the National Assembly and respect human rights. Finally, the diplomatic challenges of resolving the crisis are recognised, indicating that the process will require patience. See also: Council of the EU. 2018. “Declaration by the High Representative on behalf of the EU on the situation in Venezuela”.
European External Action Service. 9 October 2018. “Statement by the Spokesperson on the Death of Municipal Councillor Fernando Albán in Venezuela”. Accessed 3 December 2018.
A press release calling for an independent investigation into the death of a Venezuelan politician who was “in the custody of the Venezuelan Intelligence Service”. The statement also calls for the release of all political prisoners detained by the Venezuelan government.
Council of the EU. 18 July 2018. “Declaration by the High Representative on Behalf of the EU on the Alignment of Certain Countries with Concerning Restrictive Measures in View of the Situation in Venezuela” Accessed 3 December 2018.
Announces the addition of 11 officials to the EU list of restrictive measures; lists countries aligned with the measures.
Council of the EU. 28 June 2018. “Venezuela: Council Adopts Conclusions”. Accessed 3 December 2018.
Recalls the 22 May declaration by the High Representative regarding the presidential elections. Calls for “fresh presidential elections in accordance with internationally recognised democratic standards and the Venezuelan constitutional order”. The Council announces its intentions to “enhance its diplomatic outreach” on a national, regional and international level, and recognises regional (Latin American and Caribbean) efforts to help overcome the crisis.
European Council. 23 June 2018. “G7 Leaders’ Statement on Venezuela”. Accessed 03 December 2018.
A joint statement by the G7 and EU formally criticising the May 20 presidential election in Venezuela. The election was not deemed to meet the international community’s standards for free and fair democratic elections. The election result is described as “not representative of the democratic will of the citizens of Venezuela”, and this statement calls for a return to transparent and constitutional democracy.
Council of the EU. 22 June 2018. “Declaration by the High Representative on Behalf of the EU on the Presidential and Regional Elections in Venezuela”. Accessed 3 December 2018.
The EU will “consider the adoption of adequate measures” in light of the undemocratic nature of the May 20 presidential elections, citing “major obstacles” to full participation and transparent electoral procedure. The declaration also calls on Venezuela to release all political prisoners, emphasising the need to allow full participation of “relevant political and social actors” to ensure a return to democratic rule.
European Commission. 7 June 2018. “Venezuela crisis: EU Announces over €35 million in Humanitarian and Development Assistance”. Accessed 3 December 2018.
The European Commission announces the provision of an aid package to Venezuela, consisting of “emergency aid and medium-term development assistance to support the Venezuelan people and the neighbouring countries affected by this crisis”. The package will include basic assistance to to those inside the country, conflict prevention measures to ease social unrest, and help for host communities to improve their capacity for supporting displaced Venezuelan people.
Council of the EU. 13 November 2017. “Venezuela: EU Adopts Conclusions and Targeted Sanctions”. Accessed 3 December 2018.
In November 2017, the Council agreed to impose targeted sanctions on Venezuela. The restrictive measures respond to the lack of transparency of the electoral process and newly formed Constituent Assembly, disregard for constitutional procedure, and human rights abuses. Sanctions consist of “an embargo on arms and on related material that might be used for internal repression, as well as a legal framework for a travel ban and assets freeze”.
Delegation of the European Union to Venezuela. 10 April 2017. “Statement by the Spokesperson on the Latest Developments in Venezuela” Accessed 3 December 2018.
A brief statement by the spokesperson condemning the “ongoing escalation of tensions and violent confrontations” in Venezuela. Underscores the right to demonstrate peacefully and “calls on all parties” to find a peaceful resolution. See also: Delegation of the European Union to Venezuela. 2017.“Statement by the Spokesperson on the violence in Venezuela”.
Declarations by key EU member states
Gov.UK. 25 October 2018. “Chatham House Latin America Conference 2018: Sir Alan Duncan speech”. Accessed 3 December 2018.
Sir Alan Duncan, the Minister of State for the Americas gave a speech at the Chatham House Latin America Conference, regarding Venezuela as the “deepest man-made economic and humanitarian crisis in modern Latin American history”. Sir Duncan expressed that the UK will “continue to support the EU sanctions regime” and added that helping Venezuela stabilise their economy will be the largest “international bail-out” and a huge “mobilisation of international resources”.
Gov.UK. 10 October 2017. “Minister Duncan Statement on Meeting with Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza”. Accessed 3 December 2018.
During a meeting with the Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza, Minister Duncan expressed his concern regarding the deteriorating “political, economic and humanitarian” situation in Venezuela. Minister Duncan commented on the establishment of the Constituent Assembly as “unconstitutional”, “unnecessary” and “divisive”.
Gov.UK. 2 September 2017. “UK Statement on Venezuelan Decision to Bar Human Rights Activist from Travelling”. Accessed 3 December 2018.
The Foreign and Commonwealth office commented on Lilian Tintori, a human rights activist, being banned from leaving Venezuela and travelling to Europe. The UK called on parties in Venezuela to “respect the Venezuelan people’s human rights and democratic aspirations”. The UK expressed their concern regarding Venezuela moving away from democracy.
Gov.UK. 27 July 2017. “Foreign Secretary Statement on Venezuela”. Accessed 3 December 2018.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson commented on the situation within Venezuela. Johnson announced that he was “deeply saddened” by the deaths resulting from violent protests. Regarding the establishment of the constituent assembly, Johnson added that the UK Government calls on the Venezuelan Government to refrain from “divisive” and “inflammatory” action.
Gov.UK. Swire, H. 26 March 2014. “Foreign Office Minister Urges Dialogue in Venezuela”. Accessed 3 December 2018.
Following the violent protests occuring in Venezuela, Foreign Office Minister Hugo Swire has called for restraint. Swire condemned all acts of violence and urged all parties in Venezuela to “create the right conditions for genuine dialogue”.
Gov.UK. 19 April 2013. “Foreign Office Statement Following Venezuelan Elections”. Accessed 3 December 2018.
Following the inauguration of the new Venezuelan president, Nicolás Maduro, the UK Government announced that they were looking forward to “strengthen relationships” and “deepen cooperation” with the country of Venezuela.
Gov.UK. 6 March 2013. “Foreign Secretary Offers Condolences on Death of Hugo Chavez”. Accessed 3 December 2018.
Foreign secretary William Hague offered his condolences, after hearing news of the death of the former Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez.
Reuters. 28 August 2018. “Spanish Prime Minister Promises to Back Dialogue in Venezuela”. Accessed 3 December 2018.
During his first tour of Latin America, Pedro Sanchez, the Spanish Prime Minister elected in June 2018, expressed his support of any effort to use dialogue in Venezuela to “end an economic and political crisis” that “deeply worried him”.
El Pais. 19 April 2018. “Spain and Venezuela Agree to Rebuild Ties After Months-Long Diplomatic Spat”. Accessed 3 December 2018.
The Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and Venezuelan Prime Minister Nicolás Maduro agreed to return their respective ambassadors to their positions. Venezuela spurred this truce, as they sent a letter to the Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Alfonso Dastis, urging for “political truce” and “normalization of relations”.
El Pais. 26 January 2018. “Spain Expels Venezuelan Ambassador as Crisis with Maduro deepens”. Accessed 3 December 2018.
Following the announcement from the Venezuelan Government declaring Spain’s chief diplomat “persona non grata”, the Spanish Cabinet declared the same of the Venezuelan ambassador in Spain, Mario Isea.
El Pais. 17 February 2017. “Venezuelan President Lashes Out at ‘Interfering’ Spanish PM”. Accessed 3 December 2018.
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro criticises the Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy after Rajoy called for the release of political prisoners from Venezuela. After attending an event in Madrid in support of Venezuelan opposition leaders, Rajoy posted a tweet that called for Leopoldo López to be released from jail. Maduro responded to the tweet whilst speaking in Caracas, he told an audience that Rajoy would “have his teeth smashed in” if he dared to intervene. He called Rajoy a “bandit and protector of criminals and murderers”.
RFI. 30 September 2018. “France Backs Call for ICC to Investigate Venezuela”. Accessed 3 December 2018.
The French Government backs the call for the International Criminal Court to investigate the allegations of human-rights abuse orchestrated by the Venezuelan Government. Paris is “deeply worried” by the situation there and supports an investigation into Venezuela’s crimes against humanity.
The Express. 4 April 2018. “Macron Ordered to Stay out of Venezuela’s Affairs”. Accessed 3 December 2018.
The French President Emmanuel Macron condemned the election taking place in Venezuela. Macron stated that necessary conditions are “not met for the organisation of a free, fair and transparent presidential election”. Macron’s statement was met with a bitter response from Foreign Affairs Minister Jorge Arreaza, posting a series of angry tweets directed at Macron. Arreaza ordered Macron to “refrain from violating international law by interfering in Venezuela’s affairs” and demanded “respect for the internal affairs of Venezuela”.
Reuters. 26 January 2018. “France Urges More EU Sanctions on Venezuela Over ‘Shift to Authoritarianism’”. Accessed 3 December 2018.
President Emmanuel Macron called for further European sanctions on Venezuela. Only days after a travel ban and asset freezes were placed upon seven senior Venezuelan officials. Macron said “We’ll have to see at the European level whether we want new sanctions. I am in favor of having them”.
Deutsche Welle. 6 September 2018. “Angela Merkel Backs Venezuela Opposition”. Accessed 3 December 2018.
The German Chancellor discussed the future of Venezuela’s democracy and economy with several high-profile opposition lawmakers from the country. It is reported that Merkel “does not rule out” EU sanctions. Merkel expressed her concern over “grave humanitarian crisis and constant violation of human rights in Venezuela”.
Deutsche Welle. 17 August 2018. “Venezuela Tells Germany ‘Don’t Interfere’”. Accessed 03 December 2018.
After Berlin urged Venezuela to “return to democracy”, Venezuela has ordered Germany not to “meddle it its affairs”. Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza declared that “Neither Germany nor any other country in the world has the right to interfere in Venezuela’s domestic affairs”.
Key NGO Reports
International Crisis Group. 23 November 2018. “Friendly Fire: Venezuela’s Opposition Turmoil”. Accessed 3 December 2018.
“As Venezuela’s socio-economic woes deepen, so do the fissures in the opposition to President Nicolás Maduro’s government. Bridging these rifts is vital if the country’s crisis is to end through a negotiated transition. Outside powers should back opposition unity and stop hinting at military intervention”. The International Crisis Group provides a detailed report of Venezuela’s political crisis.
International Organisation for Migration. 17 October 2018. “Regional Response: Situation Update No. 1”. Accessed 3 December 2018.
The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) published this report based on the latest official data available as of September 2018. These reports consolidate highlights in the operational response during the reporting period, as shared by the Platform’s members.
Human Rights Watch. 3 September 2018. “The Venezuelan Exodus: The Need for a Regional Response to an Unprecedented Migration Crisis”. Accessed 3 December 2018.
This report documents efforts by South American governments to address the massive numbers of Venezuelans crossing their borders, as well as recent setbacks that threaten Venezuelans’ ability to seek protection. In some Caribbean islands, Venezuelans are subject to arbitrary arrests and deportations. Xenophobic incidents are a growing concern.
International Organisation for Migration. 14 May 2018. “IOM Situation Report No. 3”. Accessed 3 December 2018.
A statistical report on the Venezuelan refugee and migration crisis, highlighting the ever increasing numbers of displaced individuals in the region. The IOM is working on both direct assistance and the coordinating of a Regional Action Plan. The report provides an update on developments in the Regional Action Plan’s implementation, highlighting the actors that the IOM is working with to address the Venezuelan refugee and migration crisis. (See also: “IOM Situation Report No. 2” and “IOM Situation Report No.1”)
International Crisis Group. 21 March 2018. “Containing the Shock Waves from Venezuela”. Accessed 3 December 2018.
“Venezuela’s socio-economic implosion is dragging in neighbours as hundreds of thousands of people flee the country, epidemics spread and violent crime spills over borders. International humanitarian support is needed and regional powers should push for a negotiated transition, including through threats of targeted sanctions.”
Amnesty International. 22 February 2018. “Amnesty International 2017/2018 Report: the State of the World’s Human Rights”. Accessed 3 December 2018.
The Amnesty International 2017/18 report shines a light on the state of the world’s human rights during 2017. The foreword, five regional overviews and a survey of 159 countries and territories from all regions document the struggle of many people to claim their rights, and the failures if governments to respect, protect and fulfill human rights. The Amnesty International report on Venezuela covers the human rights violations on freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, excessive use of force, arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture and ill-treatment, the justice system etc.
Human Rights Watch. 29 November 2017. “Crackdown on Dissent: Brutality, Torture, and Political Persecution in Venezuela.” Accessed 3 December 2018.
This report documents 88 cases involving at least 314 people, many of whom are described as being subjected to serious human rights violations in Caracas and 13 states during a crackdown from April through September, 2017. Security force personnel beat detainees severely and tortured them with electric shocks, asphyxiation, sexual assault, and other brutal techniques. Security forces also used excessive use of force against people in the streets, and arbitrarily arrested and prosecuted government opponent.
International Crisis Group. 19 June 2017. “Power Without the People: Averting Venezuela’s Breakdown”. Accessed 3 December 2018.
“Violence is escalating in Venezuela, killing 70 people in over two months of ever-angrier popular protests against a government that is abandoning representative democracy. Regional states should avert a humanitarian catastrophe by pressuring the Maduro regime to withdraw plans to elect a phony constituent assembly on 30 July.”
Human Rights Watch. 24 October 2016. “Venezuela’s Humanitarian Crisis: Severe Medical and Food Shortages, Inadequate and Repressive Government Response”. Accessed 3 December 2018.
This report documents how the shortages have made it extremely difficult for many Venezuelans to obtain essential medical care or meet their families’ basic needs. The Venezuelan government has downplayed the severity of the crisis. Although its own efforts to alleviate the shortages have not succeeded, it has made only limited efforts to obtain international humanitarian assistance that might be readily available. Meanwhile, it has intimidated and punished critics, including health professionals, human rights defenders, and ordinary Venezuelans who have spoken out about the shortages.
International Crisis Group. 24 June 2016. “Venezuela: Edge of the Precipice”. Accessed 3 December 2018.
“Venezuela is in full-fledged crisis: food and medicine are scarce, violent crime is surging, and the government is blocking democratic ways forward. The international community and the Organization of American States should press for political dialogue, the opening of legal paths to a presidential recall referendum in 2016, and permission for humanitarian aid to enter the country.”
Human Rights Watch. 4 April 2016. “Unchecked Power: Power and Military Raids in Low-Income and Immigrant Communities in Venezuela”. Accessed 3 December 2018.
This report covers allegations of abuses during public security operations carried out nationwide, beginning in July 2015, as part of the “Operation to Liberate and Protect the People” (OLP), which was billed as an operation to combat criminal gangs. A common denominator in all the cases, and in other cases of government abuses PROVEA and Human Rights Watch have documented over past decade, is the extent to which the victims – or their families – have felt they have nowhere to turn for redress or for protection of their fundamental rights.
International Crisis Group. 30 July 2015. “Venezuela: Unnatural Disaster”. Accessed 3 December 2018.
“Alongside Venezuela’s growing political tension, the collapse of the country’s economy and health care system are leading to an equally dangerous social crisis. To stave off a humanitarian disaster that could well turn today’s polarisation violent, Venezuela needs an emergency program, careful reform of price controls, political consensus, and international support.”
Human Rights Watch. 5 May 2015. “Punished for Protesting: Rights Violations in Venezuela’s Streets, Detention centres, and Justice Systems”. Accessed 3 December 2018.
This 103-page report documents 45 cases from Caracas and three states, involving more than 150 victims, in which security forces have abused the rights of protesters and other people in the vicinity of demonstrations. Security forces have also allowed armed pro-government gangs to attack unarmed civilians, and in some cases openly collaborated with the gangs.
International Crisis Group. 23 September 2014.“Venezuela: Dangerous Inertia”. Accessed 3 December 2018.
“The end of street protests does not mean the end of Venezuela’s crisis. Rising economic problems and unaddressed political demands could lead to renewed violence and threaten national stability.”
International Crisis Group. 21 May 2014. “Venezuela: Tipping Point”. Accessed 3 December 2018.
“Failure to resolve the Venezuelan crisis could plunge the country into yet more violence, leaving it unable to address soaring criminality and economic decline and exposing the inability of regional intergovernmental bodies to manage the continent’s conflicts.”
Human Rights Watch. 17 July 2012. “Tightening the Grip: Concentration and Abuse of Power in Chavez’s Venezuela”. Accessed 3 December 2018.
This report documents how the accumulation of power in the executive and the erosion of human rights protections have allowed the Chávez government to intimidate, censor, and prosecute critics and perceived opponents in a wide range of cases involving the judiciary, the media, and civil society.
International Crisis Group. 17 August 2011. “Violence and Politics in Venezuela”. Accessed 3 December 2018.
ICG highlights the presence of organised crime with police corruption and brutality in Venezuela stating: “Crime and violence seriously threaten Venezuela’s medium and long-term stability, regardless of whether or not President Hugo Chávez retains power in the 2012 election.”
Human Rights Watch. 18 September 2008. “A Decade Under Chávez: Political Intolerance and Lost Opportunities for Advancing Human Rights in Venezuela”. Accessed 23 December 2018.
This 230-page report examines the impact of the Chávez presidency on institutions that are essential for ensuring respect for human rights and the rule of law: the courts, the media, organized labor, and civil society.
Human Rights Watch. 1 March 1997. “Punishment Before Trial: Prison Conditions in Venezuela”. Accessed 3 December 2018.
Overcrowded, understaffed, physically deteriorated, and rife with weapons, drugs, and gangs, Venezuela’s prisons have a deservedly poor reputation.
To learn more
OAS. 29 May 2018. “Report of the general secretariat of the Organization of American States and the panel of independent experts on the possible commission of crimes against humanity in Venezuela”. Accessed 3 December 2018.
A comprehensive investigation into the perpetration of potential crimes against humanity in Venezuela. Provides a detailed background to the crisis, details the result of hearings regarding the preparation of crimes, individually addressing the crimes of murder, torture, sexual violence, imprisonment, and systematic persecution.
U.S. Department of State. 20 April 2018. “Venezuela 2017 Human Rights Report”. Accessed 3 December 2018.
The 2017 ‘Country Reports on Human Rights Practices’ document the status of human rights and workers’ rights in nearly 200 countries and territories. The report on Venezuela includes statistics on arbitrary deprivation of life, unlawful killings and politically motivated killings, disappearances, torture and other inhumane treatments, covering conditions in prisons and detention centres.
Al Jazeera. 15 September 2018. “Venezuela’s exodus: Forced to flee”. Accessed 3 December 2018.
A 25 minute documentary and accompanying article focussing on the individual implications of the crisis. Three Venezuelans are interviewed, discussing how the crisis has impacted their lives. The video highlights the struggle to access basic resources and reveals the process of fleeing the country that millions of Venezuelans have undertaken.
Al Jazeera. 9 February 2018. “The Battle for Venezuela”. Accessed 6 December 2018.
The Battle for Venezuela examines how the exploitation of oil created the modern nation of Venezuela and, how the oil industry helped create a divided society as well as endemic inequality. Al Jazeera chart the impact of industrialisation and the flux between dictatorships and democracy, highlighting the legacies of prominent leaders to shed contextual light on the troubles afflicting Venezuela today.
This brief was put together by the ECR2P interns Alexandra Somers, Finlay Slater, Katie Green, Lois Raines, and Nicole Wendi under the supervision of Dr Eglantine Staunton.