Venezuela: Closed VTC on the Humanitarian Situation
This afternoon (28 April), Security Council members will convene an informal closed videoconference (VTC) meeting to discuss the humanitarian situation in Venezuela, at the request of the Council’s EU member countries (Belgium, Estonia, France and Germany). Reena Ghelani, OCHA’s Director for Operations, is expected to brief.
This will be the second time in less than a week that Council members have discussed Venezuela. During “any other business” on 22 April, there was a meeting on this issue that was requested by Russia and followed Venezuela’s 3 April letter to the Council (S/2020/277) referring to the US announcement that it would deploy warships to the western Caribbean Sea “close to the Venezuelan coast”. The letter maintained that the US disingenuously described this deployment as a part of its counter-narcotics efforts in the western hemisphere whereas it represented “a new action framed in the plans of military aggression against Venezuela”. Assistant Secretary-General for Europe, Central Asia and Americas Miroslav Jenča delivered the briefing, describing the political divisiveness in the country and recalling the Secretary-General’s offer to provide “good offices” if requested by the government and the opposition.
In today’s meeting, Ghelani is expected to give an overview of the difficult humanitarian situation in Venezuela. Hyperinflation, limited access to healthcare, food shortages, and repeated power outages are among the factors that have contributed to the vulnerability of the population. According to the Coordination Platform for Refugees and Migrants from Venezuela, over five million migrants, refugees or asylum seekers now live outside of the country. In this difficult context, Ghelani may stress the importance of strengthening humanitarian and human rights action in Venezuela, points made by Jença during his 22 April briefing.
Council members are likely to be interested in hearing about the potential impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the humanitarian challenges facing Venezuela and what operational measures the UN system is pursuing in response to the virus. The UN’s COVID-19 Global Humanitarian Response Plan describes the “limited capacity” of Venezuela’s health care system and maintains that the lack “of regular and sufficient WASH [water, sanitation and hygiene] services in many communities will be a challenge for prevention and control”. A number of members may urge enhanced financing for the global humanitarian response to COVID-19 and underscore the importance of the humanitarian principles (humanity, neutrality, impartiality, and independence) in the delivery of aid in the midst of the pandemic. As of 27 April, Venezuela had officially confirmed 325 cases of COVID-19 and ten fatalities as a result of the virus.
The impact of unilateral sanctions on Venezuela is likely to be a source of division in today’s session. During the 22 April meeting, a number of delegations criticised the humanitarian impact of sanctions on Venezuela and called for sanctions relief. These views may be reiterated in today’s session, although some members may make a distinction between sanctions that are limited in scope and do not undermine humanitarian efforts and more pervasive sanctions that can negatively impact the humanitarian situation. In this regard, European countries may maintain that EU sanctions—which include an arms embargo and targeted measures (assets freezes and travel bans against specific individuals)—do not interfere with medical and humanitarian initiatives in the country.
Concerns about sanctions on humanitarian responses in various countries have been long-standing in the Council. However, the impact of COVID-19 has given added prominence to this issue in recent weeks, especially in light of recent statements by senior UN officials. On 24 March, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet called for the easing or suspension of sectoral sanctions in several countries with fragile health systems. With regard to Venezuela, she said: “some hospitals regularly suffer water and electricity cutoffs and lack medicines, equipment, disinfectant and soap. While this situation pre-dates the imposition of sectoral sanctions, easing them could mean more resources could be allocated to treating and preventing the epidemic”. Also on 24 March, in a letter to the G20, Secretary-General António Guterres similarly encouraged “the waiving of sanctions imposed on countries to ensure access to food, essential health supplies, and COVID-19 medical support”.
There are other fundamental differences of view with regard to Venezuela that may be expressed in today’s meeting. Some members, the P3 (France, the UK and the US) among them, see the Maduro government as illegitimate and hold it largely responsible for the dire humanitarian challenges facing the country. These countries may emphasise the need to restore democracy and the rule of law in Venezuela. Others, including China and Russia in particular, strongly oppose what they view as external interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign country.