Former UN Special Rapporteur Alfred de Zayas criticized the human rights commissioner’s past reports on Venezuela, calling them “unprofessional” and politicized, denouncing an “ocean of lies”
By Ben Norton
A former United Nations human rights expert and top legal scholar has harshly criticized the international body’s reporting on Venezuela, calling it “unprofessional,” politicized, and unfairly slanted in favor of the country’s right-wing opposition.
“We are swimming in an ocean of lies,” explained Alfred de Zayas. “When I went to Venezuela, I expected to find a humanitarian crisis.”
“I was predetermined to find a humanitarian crisis,” he continued. “I walked the streets, I spoke to people of all kinds, and that was not the case.
“That means I had been manipulated. I had been lied to. And I resent that.”
De Zayas previously served as UN independent expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order. A renowned legal scholar, he spent decades working as a senior lawyer for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and is today a professor of international law at the Geneva School of Diplomacy and International Relations.
Venezuelan government willing to negotiate
Alfred de Zayas was the first UN expert to visit Venezuela in 21 years. He traveled to the South American nation for an investigation from November 26 to December 5, 2017, during his time as a special rapporteur.
After his trip, de Zayas produced a detailed report on Venezuela(PDF), which details how economic warfare and sanctions led by the United States government have devastated Venezuela and drastically hurt its civilian population. De Zayas presented this report to the UN Human Rights Council in September 2018, but it was ignored.
In his time in Venezuela, De Zayas met with a wide variety of groups, including opposition leaders, NGOs, and Fedecámaras, the opposition-dominated chamber of commerce; as well as government officials. He said that he faced harsh personal attacks from the Venezuelan opposition while inside the country.
On the “Propaganda vs. Reality” side event at the UN this March, De Zayas insisted that the leftist government of President Nicolás Maduro had demonstrated a clear willingness to negotiate when engaged in good faith.
At the end of his trip, de Zayas recalled that he handed Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza a six-page memo with several demands that the government promptly obliged.
De Zayas said he requested the release of 23 people, and the Venezuelan government went above and beyond, releasing 80. He also requested increased Venezuelan collaboration with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and Caracas agreed.
De Zayas said he also called on Arreaza to negotiate the release of the German journalist Billy Six, who had worked closely with the opposition and was accused by Caracas of being a spy. After two months, the Venezuelan government agreed to release Six and returned him to Germany.
“If you have good faith, if you want to mediate, if you want to have dialogue, the government is willing to have dialogue,” de Zayas said at the UN panel. “But if all you want to do is say, ‘Maduro is corrupt,’ and ‘Maduro is a criminal,’ then you are not likely to get any cooperation from the government.”
Condemning regime change attempts, foreign intervention, and sanctions, de Zayas instead called for the international community to support the Montevideo mechanism, a dialogue process proposed by the governments of Mexico and Uruguay in order to reach a peace settlement between Venezuela’s government and US-backed opposition.
Past OHCHR Venezuela reports ‘unprofessional,’ politicized
On the panel, Alfred de Zayas also criticized previous reports on Venezuela by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), which he said were “unprofessional” and politicized.
Two past OHCHR reports, conducted by former High Commissioner Zeid Raad al-Hussein, “were simply unprofessional,” de Zayas argued, “because they violated the most fundamental principle of methodology, the principle Audiatur et altera pars — that you have to listen to all sides, and you have to reflect the information that you get from all sides, and not that you get from the political opposition.”
“Those two reports, unfortunately, are political pamphlets,” de Zayas said. “And that is unworthy of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.”
In December 2018, De Zayas noted, the Venezuelan government invited the UN’s new high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet, to visit in order to investigate the human rights situation in the country. Bachelet agreed to do so, and prepared a team.
De Zayas said Bachelet’s investigation must go much deeper than the previous reports. “It is imperative not just simply to say, ‘There is an economic crisis,’ we know that already; ‘there is hunger,’ we know that already; ‘there are problems with distribution,’ we know that,” he said.
“What she has to find out is why. Which are the causes of this so-called ‘humanitarian crisis,’” de Zayas continued.
“She has to go into the internal and external economic war. Because it’s not just the sanctions; it’s not just the financial blockade; it’s not just the induced inflation.”
If she investigates the effects of the US government’s sanctions on Venezuela, de Zayas said, Bachelet and her team “will realize the adverse impacts of the sanctions.”
“The credibility of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights depends on it,” cautioned de Zayas, who stressed that he worked for decades as a senior lawyer for the UN body.