UN Human Rights Report Suggests Venezuelan Government Committing Thousands of Extrajudicial Killings

On July 4, 2019, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights released a report (400kb PDF) that point to “unusually high” levels of extrajudicial killing by Venezuelan security forces as well as use of torture by security forces.

In most cases, women and men were subjected to one or more forms of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, including electric shocks, suffocation with plastic bags, water boarding, beatings, sexual violence, water and food deprivation, stress positions and exposure to extreme temperatures. Security forces and intelligence services, particularly SEBIN and DGCIM, routinely resort to such practices to extract information and confessions, intimidate, and punish the detainees. The authorities have failed to conduct prompt, effective, thorough, independent, impartial and transparent investigations into credible allegations of torture and ill-treatment, including SGBV, to bring the alleged perpetrators to justice and to provide reparation to the victims. In particular, judicial authorities have often reversed the burden of proof refusing to open investigations if the victims did not identify perpetrators. According to the Attorney-General’s Office, 72 complaints of alleged torture and other ill-treatment concerning 174 persons detained in the context of demonstrations between 2017 and 2019 have been filed. No information was provided on the status of investigation

. . .

OHCHR interviewed the relatives of 20 young men killed by FAES from June 2018 to April 2019. All described a similar modus operandi. FAES would arrive in black pickup trucks without licence plates and block access points in the area. They were dressed in black, without any personal identification, with balaclavas covering their faces. They would also carry long weapons. Families of the victims described FAES breaking into their houses, taking their belongings, and exercising gender-based violence against women and girls, including forced nudity. They would separate young men from other family members before shooting them. According to their relatives, almost all of the victims had one or more shots in the chest.

In every case, witnesses reported how FAES manipulated the crime scene and evidence. They would plant arms and drugs and fire their weapons against the walls or in the air to suggest a confrontation and to show the victim had “resisted authority”. In many cases, FAES brought the victims to hospital even though they were already dead, apparently with the intention of manipulating the bodies and modifying the crime scene. In some cases, the authorities declared that the victims were criminals before the conclusion of a formal investigation.

The authorities classify the killings resulting from security operations as “resistance to authority”. The number of these deaths is unusually high. In 2018, the Government registered 5,287 such killings,39 while the NGO “Observatorio Venezolano de la Violencia” (OVV) reported at least 7,523 killings under this category. Between 1 January and 19 May 2019, the Government reported 1,569 killings for “resistance to authority”. The OVV reported at least 2,124 of such killings between January and May 2019. Information analysed by OHCHR suggests many of these killings may constitute extrajudicial executions.

In a press release accompany the report, the UNHCHR said the Venezuelan government was engaged in a systematic effort to undermine human rights.

The report, mandated by the UN Human Rights Council, states that over the last decade – and especially since 2016 – the Government and its institutions have implemented a strategy “aimed at neutralizing, repressing and criminalizing political opponents and people critical of the Government.” A series of laws, policies and practices has restricted the democratic space, dismantled institutional checks and balances, and allowed patterns of grave violations. The report also highlights the impact of the deepening economic crisis that has left people without the means to fulfil their fundamental rights to food and health, among others.

. . .

The report details how State institutions have been steadily militarized over the past decade. During the reporting period, civil and military forces have allegedly been responsible for arbitrary detentions; ill-treatment and torture of people critical of the Government and their relatives; sexual and gender-based violence in detention and during visits; and excessive use of force during demonstrations.

CFI On UN Resolution Condemning “Defamation of Religions”

Once again the The United Nations Human Rights Council has revealed itself to be anything but, passing a resolution in a 23-11 vote condemning the “defamation of religions” and urging nation states to pass laws to stifle criticism of religion. Yes, that’s right, in the 21st century the United Nations is onboard in support of the worst sort of anti-blasphemy laws.

The Center for Inquiry issued a press release denouncing the resolution, saying,

“The concept of ‘defamation of religions’ is both absurd and dangerous.” said Ronald A. Lindsay, CFI’s president and chief executive officer. “Legally speaking, it’s gibberish, and any ban on so-called ‘defamation’ would effectively prevent any critique of religious beliefs or practices.”

In the opinion of a broad range of civil society organizations, these pronouncements do nothing but lend legitimacy to the repression of political and religious dissent around the world, particularly in Islamic countries. Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, for example, which carry mandatory sentences of death or life imprisonment, are frequently used against members of the Ahmaddiya community, a peaceful minority Muslim sect.

Through its UN representative, Dr. Austin Dacey, CFI participated in the negotiations over the resolution during the March session of the Council in Geneva, and delivered an oral statement before the plenary meeting on March 24. Most worrisome, according to CFI, is that the present language equates religiously insulting speech with “advocacy of religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility, or violence,” a category of speech that is prohibited by existing treaties such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which have the force of law.

“Now the argument becomes very awkward for Europe,” said Dacey, “since many European states have laws against hate speech, Holocaust denial, and even blasphemy (for example, in Austria) that have been upheld by their regional human rights courts. The Islamic states will say they simply want to extend the same protection to all beliefs.”

Canada Pulls Out of UN Racism Conference

The Associated Press reports that Canada has withdrawn from next year’s planned United Nations Conference on Racism planned for South Africa. Like the previous UN Conference on Racism in 2001, this one is slated to be yet another UN Conference on Israeli Bashing.

As Salon noted in its coverage of the 2001 Conference, the Conference in fact featured incidents of anti-Semitism,

Inside the U.N. conference grounds and within its tents, the rhetoric and agitprop were also white hot. Fliers were found with Hitler’s photo above the question: “What if I had won? There would be no Israel, and no Palestinian bloodshed.” A press conference held by the Jewish caucus was cut short by a rowdy group of Iranian women, one of whom screamed, “Six million dead and you’re holding the world hostage!”

This time around, the UN has ensured that a similar debacle with Libya elected to chair the event, Cuba as vice-chair, and Iran on the organizing committee. Presumably, the Sudanese government may be offered the keynote this time around.

Gay Groups Should Adopt Anti-Israeli Positions

Reuters notes that gay and lesbian NGOs have a rather difficult time being credentialed by the United Nations which usually has almost no standards at all for such determinations (based on some of the odd groups that do have NGO status).

For example, Canada’s Coalition of Gays and Lesbians of Quebec was rejected as an NGO by an 8-6 vote. The vote in this case is extremely revealing.

Voting yes to credential the group — Colombia, Israel, Peru, Romania, Britain and the United States (hmm…and here I thought the U.S. was run by a fascist theocracy?)

Voting no — Burundi, China, Egypt, Guinea, Pakistan, Qatar, Russia and Sudan.

Given the tenor of the United Nations, the best bet for gay and lesbian groups would probably be to adopt anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic planks. Egypt, Pakistan and Qatar may not be thrilled by a gay and lesbian group, but if that group, say, argued that Jews were behind a worldwide plot against gays and lesbians, they’d probably win immediate approval.


Canadian and Swedish gay groups frowned on at UN. Evelyn Leopold, Reuters, February 2, 2007.

Boutros Boutros Ghali Predicts Regional Water Wars

In an interview with the BBC, former United Nations Secretary Boutros Boutros Ghali predicted that conflicts would soon arise between countries in the Nile basin over rights to water that flows through the Nile.

Egypt has long been the largest user of water from the Nile, but countries upstream are coming closer to more intensively using that water, which Boutros Ghali predicts will lead to conflict between Egypt and countries such as Ethiopia, Tanzania and Kenya.

Boutros Ghali noted that Egypt’s population has more than tripled over the last 50 years and is still growing, putting heavy demand on Nile water resources. Boutros Ghali told the BBC,

The security of Egypt is related to the relation between Egypt and Ethiopia, Sudan, Kenya and other African countries. The real problem is that we need an additional quantity of water and we will not have an additional quantity of water unless we find an a agreement with the upstream countries which also need water and have not used Nile water until now.

But the BBC interview failed to mention a major overriding problem with water in the Middle East and Africa — it is almost universally mismanaged, since it relies on bureaucracies setting water targets and policies rather than letting markets dictate the true cost of water.

In Egypt, for example, 85 percent of water goes to agriculture, and agricultural water use is micromanaged to the point where government committees plan out a year in advanced which crops will be allowed to grow where and how water will be allocated among them. Not surprisingly the result is large-scale inefficiency and misallocation of water resources.

Mismanagement of water is almost universal, even in countries such as the United States which don’t yet have severe water problems. But places like the Middle East and Northern African simply cannot afford to protect industries or individuals from the true cost and scarcity of water. Unfortunately, doing so is likely to prove very politically unpopular, but one can always hope that developing countries might prefer transparent markets in water to conflicts between states that may lead to larger problems, while leaving the underlying problem uncorrected.


Ex-UN chief warns of water wars. Mike Thompson, The BBC, February 2, 2005.

UN Releases Report Recommending Ways to Achieve Millennium Development Goals

In 2000, most nations signed on to the Millennium Development Goals which committed those nations to cutting in half poverty and related problems by 2015. Of course the world is nowhere near achieving those goals. Enter former Harvard economist Jeffrey Sachs who recently authored a report for the United Nations, Investing In Development, which offers an analysis of the current state of the Millennium Development Goals and makes recommendations to reach the goals by 2015.

In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, the report notes,

The region is off track to meet every Millennium Development Goal. It has the highest rate of undernourishment, with one-third of the population below the
minimum level of dietary energy consumption. Sub-Saharan Africa has the
lowest primary enrollment rates of all regions. Despite recent progress, gender
disparity at the primary level is 0.86, the lowest of all regions

In West Asia,

This region, which includes many countries typically classified as part of the
Middle East, is off track for a majority of the Goals. Both income poverty
and hunger are increasing, and progress toward gender equality has been slow.
Primary enrollments increased only from 81 percent in 1990 to 83 percent in
2001, and under-five mortality fell only slightly from 68 per 1,000 live births
to 61 in the same period. Maternal mortality remains high, and infectious diseases
such as TB are still a threat. While urban areas are on track to meet the
water and sanitation Goal, rural areas are lagging behind. Youth unemployment
is a significant concern in the region.

Certainly there are some success stories, but even these are moderated by mixed results. North Africa, for example, is on target to meet the development goals of halving poverty, but its economic growth has had little to no impact on the rate of undernourished children which remains today at roughly the same level it was 25 years ago!

Sachs sites four reasons that the world has failed to make more progress. First and foremost is governance failure. As Sachs’ report blandly puts it,

Economic development stalls when governments do not uphold the rule of
law, pursue sound economic policy, make appropriate public investments,
manage a public administration, protect basic human rights, and support civil
society organizations

To put it a bit less politic, if you’re stuck in Zimbabwe, you’re screwed.

Another reason for the failure is what Sachs calls “poverty traps” — essentially areas of the world that are too poor to do anything about their poverty. Finally there are pockets of poverty, where certain areas of a country persist in poverty while the rest of the nation prospers, and specific policy neglect (South Africa’s bizarre approach to the AIDS crisis over the past decade, for example).

The report then offers a complex analysis which can be boiled down to this: past efforts at aiding countries to climb out of poverty have failed because they have been misdirected and based on incorrect assumptions. So donor countries and NGOs should stop making those mistakes and everything will be right as rain. Specifically, the report recommends concentrating any aid dollars on low-income countries which have good governance in place.

Of course the report includes as such potential good bets countries such as Bangladesh, Ethiopia, and Nepal, all three of which have serious internal political problems which pose a formidable problem for would be aid donors.

Which ultimately explains why most developed countries don’t come close to the Millennium goal of donating 0.7 percent of their GDP to foreign aid. Given all of the complexities that developing nations face, its just not easy to predict what the effects of aid will ultimately be. Given the failures of external aid projects over the past 3-4 decades, aid these days seems to be directed at what is politically popular in the donor country rather than what makes sense for the receiving country (which is why, for example, money for HIV amelioration is such a hot topic in the United States, but the word “malaria” is hardly ever heard in public discourse about foreign aid).

If you’re as likely to fail as succeed anyway, might as well get some votes out of it.


UN urges rapid action on poverty. The BBC, January 17, 2005.

Investing In Development: A Practical Plan to Achieve the Millennium Development Goals. Millennium Project, 2005.