On September 19th, 2020, Mr. Tareck William Saab, the “attorney general” appointed by the null and void National Constituent Assembly, together with the “minister” for foreign affairs attached to the de facto regime, Mr. Jorge Arreza, held a press conference in which they made some comments on the contents of the report published on September 16th, 2020 by the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (hereinafter, the Mission or FFM), which was established by the United Nations Human Rights Council through resolution A/HRC/RES/42/25 of September 27th, 2019.
Commissioners Prado and Pizarro of the Interim Government, would like to respond to the public opinion about the unfounded assertions made by both officials of the de facto regime, which have shown a significant lack of knowledge about the minimum standards of the universal human rights system. Additionally, they have shown contempt to the reparation of those affected by the violations, being the report of the FFM a form of redress in favor of the victims, by making their cases visible and listening to the voices that did not obtain justice in the internal jurisdiction.
In the first place, independent fact-finding missions are a mechanism for action by the Human Rights Council that normally address situations where the international community fears that serious human rights violations have taken place. Their application is not foreign to international law and their existence in the case of Venezuela reaffirms the gravity of the national case due to the suspicion of cases of forced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, and the subjection of persons to torture and other cruel or degrading treatment or punishment, many of which were denounced by organized civil society, to whom it is worthwhile to thank for their very important work in gathering the necessary information that gave rise to this FFM report.
Thus, the Human Rights Council has approved FFM for the cases of the conflict in the Gaza Strip (2009) Myanmar in 2017, and Libya (2020), among others. Similarly, similar mechanisms such as the Commissions of Consultation, or Independent Investigations, have been applied in the cases of Burundi, Eritrea and North Korea, among others. In many of the cases cited the governments or regimes refused to allow the Missions to enter their territories, which did not prevent the implementation as a standard of proof, of “reasonable grounds for belief” which is met when factual information has been gathered that satisfies a reasonable degree of certainty that the incident has occurred as described, and is applied to prove: 1) that the violation or crime occurred; and 2) that the identified person was responsible. The standard of proof is not a sufficient requirement to support an accusation in criminal proceedings, but it does justify further investigation.
It is precisely because of the nature of this methodology that the FFM, although unable to enter the national territory, was able to gather information from confidential documents, files, and more than 274 interviews with victims, witnesses, family members, former state officials, lawyers, representatives of non-governmental organizations, and international personnel.
It also relied on information in the public domain for the purpose of identifying and verifying the incidents and the agents involved in the crimes/violations. This information was evaluated for prima facie evidence that it was a reliable source, i.e., not all public sources were admitted.
The mission received 2,891 cases, and thoroughly investigated 223 cases that were correspondingly detailed. The cases investigated in depth were based on at least one credible source of direct information, which was independently corroborated by at least one other credible source of information. In addition, the use of digital forensic technology by the FFM for Venezuela allowed it to verify crimes in a credible manner.
For this reason, it is a knowing or ideological bias to assume that by not entering the country, the seriousness and methodological rigor of the report was affected in accordance with the level of evidence it dealt with, the FFM being an independent commission established by the Human Rights Council to carry out an investigation. Precisely because of its apolitical mandate and in order to carry out an objective investigation with information from all relevant entities, the Mission officially requested on January 7th and 14th, 2020, to hold a meeting with the Permanent Representation of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela to the United Nations in Geneva. On March 3rd, 2020, it officially requested access to carry out investigations in Venezuela, and on May 14th, 2020; June 2nd, 2020; and August 7th, 2020, it sent letters to the government requesting information on issues of interest to the mandate.
Additionally, the Mission wrote two letters to the de facto regime expressing its intention to submit the report before its publication for consideration and comment. The letters were sent on July 21st and September 4th to the Venezuelan permanent representation at the UN in Geneva. The first letter was also physically delivered at the Foreign Affairs Ministry in Caracas. None were answered. The de facto regime had the opportunity to give evidence to contrast the report and question its findings prior to its publication.
As it is possible to verify in the historical record, the gauge to determine whether an FFM is necessary is whether there are suspicions of the commission of crimes against humanity, independently of whether the dictatorships or governments that committed them are sympathetic to right or left wing ideologies.
The de facto regime also claims to differentiate between the work of the FFM and that of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, yet the two bodies have much more in common than differences between them. Furthermore, both mandates for Venezuela come not only from the same International Organization, but were approved by majority resolutions by the Human Rights Council. The mandate of both is different but so close, in fact, that the cooperation that weighs on the State with respect to both bodies is practically common, in accordance with resolution No. 26 of Resolution A/HRC/RES/42/25.
The results of both bodies have even determined that in Venezuela there are undeniable deficiencies in the national justice system, a lack of impartiality on the part of the judiciary, the commission of serious human rights violations, and excesses on the part of law enforcement personnel who have even engaged in practices of sexual violations, among many other conclusions.
Thus, when the de facto foreign minister affirms that the reports of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) are “methodologically true” because “they were made in the field,” he forgets that both bodies have reached similar conclusions, and that he therefore accepts the methodological veracity of both, despite only criticizing the FFM. In this same line of thought, it should not be lost sight of the fact that, in July 2019, the leader of the de facto regime, Mr. Nicolás Maduro, criticized the content of Ms. Michelle Bachelet’s report for “having sold out to the gringos” when today, officials of that same de facto regime are extrapolating those same arguments with respect to the FFM report.
The fact that the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR), the Inter-American Commission, the OHCHR and now the FFM agree that serious human rights violations have been committed in Venezuela is not part of an international conspiracy, but rather the result of the objective and independent verification that each of its organs carried out considering different facts that have occurred in the Republic.
The above is especially important if one considers that the report of the FFM has the institutional backing of the UN as demonstrated by the call of the Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, to the authorities of the de facto regime to “take the report seriously.” In other words, the UN’s endorsement of the FFM’s mandate is just as valid as that of the OHCHR.
Far from these decisions “damaging” the credibility of the United Nations, they strengthen its legitimacy by acting in all cases where crimes against humanity are committed, and it is not unprecedented that precisely those who have incurred in these atrocious practices argue that the institutions are weakened when they denounce this.
The questioning by these two de facto authorities of the sources used by the FFM report is paradigmatic. On the one hand, they criticize the fact that the FFM based part of its conclusions on interviews with victims, NGOs and former officials of the de facto regime whom they label as “traitors” but on the other hand, they seek to deny a UN report with videos of live broadcasts by Venezolana de Televisión, which, as is public knowledge and has been evidenced by the IACHR through the Special Mechanism for Venezuela and the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, is an official channel of the de facto regime that only films and transmits what the de facto regime wants people to see, even if it is materially false.
For his part, the de facto Prosecutor, Tareck William Saab, affirmed that many of the omissions incurred by the State that are pointed out in the report of the FFM are the responsibility of the administration of the previous Attorney General’s Office headed by Ms. Luisa Ortega Díaz.
What Mr. Saab forgets is that in international human rights law the principle of continuity of the State operates, according to which, regardless of changes in the administration of public power agencies, the State is internationally responsible. But even if this variable were not considered, at the time of the events when Mr. Ortega Díaz was a prosecutor, Mr. Saab was serving as “Ombudsman” and Mr. Arreaza as Vice President of the de facto regime, which still makes them responsible by omission.
Finally, they have unfoundedly vituperated the members of the FFM, very much in spite of their recognized professional career and international work in favor of human rights. These accusations by the de facto regime go beyond exclusive offenses against these persons. They transcend this and constitute an inexcusable vilification of the reparation of human rights victims. Minimizing the suffering of all of them confirms the content of the report, whose recommendations for universal jurisdiction and referral to the prosecutor’s office of the International Criminal Court are not mere requests of principle, but true conclusions that will have normative operation in international law.
There will be Justice
HUMBERTO PRADO SIFONTES
Presidential Commissioner for Human Rights and Victims Care
Commissioner for the United Nations