Venezuela: Briefing on the Humanitarian Situation
Tomorrow morning (10 April), the Security Council will meet to discuss the humanitarian situation in Venezuela, at the request of the US. Secretary-General António Guterres will make introductory remarks and the Council will then be briefed by Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock. The Council will also be briefed by Eduardo Stein, the Joint Special Representative of the UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration for Venezuelan refugees and migrants, and Dr. Kathleen Page, a professor at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Medicine. It is expected that US Vice President Mike Pence will participate in the meeting, as well as Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza.
This meeting will be the first on Venezuela since 28 February, when a US draft resolution was vetoed by Russia and China, and a Russian draft failed to be adopted, garnering only four affirmative votes.
The humanitarian situation in Venezuela continues to be critical. According to OCHA, 7 million Venezuelans (or 24 percent of the population) are estimated to have urgent priority needs for assistance and protection. In addition to structural economic challenges, including the impact of hyper-inflation, limited access to healthcare and to safe and nutritious food, and repeated power outages, have all contributed to the vulnerability of the population. Lowcock is likely to brief Council members on the work of the UN system to address the humanitarian situation in Venezuela and its interaction with the government.
There are 3.4 million migrants and refugees who had to leave the country in recent years and some 1.9 million are expected to leave the country this year. Stein is expected to reiterate some of the concerns expressed by High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi, who appealed for increased support to host countries in the region.
Page is expected to share with the Council some of the findings and recommendations of a 4 April report published by Johns Hopkins University and Human Rights Watch on Venezuela’s humanitarian emergency. These include the need for the UN to carry out a large-scale humanitarian response commensurate with the needs of the population, which could be achieved through a system-wide humanitarian scale-up activated by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee.
On 20 March, High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet updated the Human Rights Council (HRC) on the situation in Venezuela. She told the HRC that economic and social rights have continued to deteriorate dramatically, while the extent and severity of the crises in food, health care and basic services have not been fully acknowledged by the authorities. She also expressed concern at the shrinking of democratic space and the numerous human rights violations and abuses by security forces and pro-government armed groups, including extrajudicial executions. Furthermore, a 21 March statement by nine UN special rapporteurs described “a systematic and pervasive disregard for human rights displayed by the Venezuelan authorities during their crackdown on protesters, journalists and human rights defenders”.
There are strongly contrasting views in the Council and among the wider membership regarding the situation in Venezuela. On the one hand, countries that do not recognise the government of Nicolás Maduro have stressed the severity of the humanitarian situation in the country and its impact in the region, and some have expressed their intention to address it unilaterally. In late February, the government blocked aid sent by the US and other countries at Venezuelan border crossings with Brazil and Colombia. On the other hand, some countries have expressed concern that the humanitarian situation has been used as an excuse to violate Venezuela’s sovereignty. On 28 February, Russia’s Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia emphasised that “any international assistance should be based on the principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality, independence and the consent of the country’s legitimate government”. China and Russia have successfully delivered aid to Venezuela in coordination with the government. Contrasting positions are expected to be reiterated at the meeting tomorrow.
The impact of unilateral sanctions by the US and the EU is also likely to be a source of division among Council members in the meeting. While the Venezuelan government has argued that its current situation is a direct result of an “economic war” waged against it by western powers, the US draft that was vetoed in February identified the “regime” as responsible for the economic collapse of the country.
Similarly, the need for a political process could be raised tomorrow, but members disagree on what such a process should entail. Whereas some countries have called for dialogue without preconditions between the government and the opposition, others have said that the Maduro administration has used similar initiatives in the past to buy time, and only support political dialogue leading to free, fair, and credible presidential elections.
The first formal meeting of the Council on Venezuela, which took place on 26 January, was held only after a procedural vote requested by Russia, which opposed holding the meeting under the proposed “Venezuela” agenda item. Given current Council dynamics on this issue, it appears that the necessary nine favourable votes would be garnered to allow for the meeting to take place, should any member call for a procedural vote on this issue.
In light of the tense exchanges of recent Venezuela meetings in the open chamber, some Council members may propose a follow-up meeting in the near future in closed consultations, in order to have a more action-oriented discussion.