Security Council | Venezuela – a threat to international peace and security?


The UN Security Council has held an informal meeting to consider the deteriorating political situation and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, and whether this constitutes a threat to international peace and security. Bringing regional leaders, UN officials and civil society actors to the table, the discussion reflected growing concern shared by many about the situation in Venezuela and an increased UN focus on the issue.

Lea el artículo en español aquí.

As ISHR's Janice Lopez explains, this was not the first time the Security Council has considered the situation in Venezuela. In May, in a closed-door session, the US spoke of ‘serious instability’ in the country, and fears that firmer preventative steps would need to be taken to avoid a situation like Syria, Burundi or Myanmar.

‘The circumstances have only worsened over 2017,’ said Lopez, ‘and so the US and Italy convened the Arria Formula this month.’

An ‘Arria-formula’ meeting is an informal meeting convened by one or more members of the Security Council and designed to brief members on a topic that may not yet be part of their formal agenda. The briefing frequently includes the participation of civil society representatives who provide first-hand accounts of the situation on the ground.

Concerns about Venezuela

Pressing the need to take action, the High Commissioner on Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein set out why upheaval in Venezuela was pertinent to the Security Council. He highlighted that the resulting migration pressures risk disrupting the Colombian peace process. Such concerns have also been voiced by the Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos. Julio Henriquez from the Foro Penal and Refugee Freedom Programme and Joseph Donnelly of Caritas International noted that such high migration levels were prompted by the high levels of poverty (at 82%) and inflation (at 600%) in Venezuela, with thousands fleeing to neighbouring countries. 

In addition, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein referenced the conclusions of his Office’s August report on Venezuela, which concluded that suspected crimes against humanity had been committed by national authorities in dealing with protestors, in the period between April – July 2017. The High Commissioner had sounded the alarm on these deeply concerning findings at the Human Rights Council in September, describing the violations as being carried out with a view at ‘repressing political dissent and instilling fear.’

Democracy as obligation

Luis Almagro, the Secretary-General of the Organization of American States (OAS), focused on the political choices underpinning the crisis. ‘Venezuela is the only country that is a member of the Organization of American States that has dismantled rule of law and converted authoritarianism into its form of government’, he noted. For Almagro, there was only one adequate response to a situation where democracy in a Member State is impaired by such an unconstitutional alteration to the regime: namely, to invoke Article 20 of the Inter American Democratic Charter.

‘Democracy is not an option. It is a legal obligation,’ Almagro said. 

Opinion at the regional level

Despite the gravity of the findings and conclusions shared by the panellists, States from the region attending the meeting were split on whether they felt the focus on Venezuela was helpful. Where Uruguay voiced support, Bolivia noted that the discussion in the Security Council was a hindrance rather than a help.

‘These mixed reactions show again that, in the Americas, States have been divided on how to respond to the situation in Venezuela,’ explained Lopez.

In June, Member States of the Organization of American States voted down a draft resolution that, amongst other things, would have demanded that Venezuela’s President Maduro allow a ‘group of friendly countries’ to mediate amongst relevant players in the crisis. In large part the resolution failed due to the number of Caribbean States who abstained or voted against the draft.

Discussion at the last Human Rights Council session

When, in September 2017, the Human Rights Council was given the chance to react to the High Commissioner’s report on abuses committed in the context of protests, concerns about ‘the grave and repeated reports of repression of the voices of the opposition and members of Venezuelan civil society’ were voiced by 29 States

On the back of report findings that suggest ‘the possibility that crimes against humanity may have been committed’ in dealing with protestors, Zeid himself urged the Council to establish an international investigation into the human rights violations in Venezuela.

He also called for the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights to be able to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the situation in Venezuela. ‘If the country is confident that human rights are being respected, they should have no problem granting us access to the county,’ he added. 

Action taken to date

The Arria Formula meeting was not attended by all members of the Security Council. The US Ambassador, Nikki Haley, said that some States had tried to get the Arria Formula cancelled. Yet, she also underlined the steps that had already been taken to respond to the situation in the country, including an EU arms embargo, sanctions imposed by Canada, and greater attention drawn to the crimes being committed in Venezuela by the Organization of American States.

What now?

During the Arria Formula, other States, including Italy, France, UK, Ukraine, Japan, and Sweden, urged that Venezuela uphold democracy, cooperate with the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights, and respect human rights, echoing comments made at the Human Rights Council.

Despite such reactions by States, the High Commissioner’s recommendations stand awaiting a response from the Human Rights Council itself.

Meanwhile, after over 20 years during which Venezuela has refused the visits of Special Procedures, despite requests from several, the country is accepting one from the mandate holder focused on ‘the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order’.

‘We share the concern of many Venezuelan NGOs that the current visit by Special Rapporteur De Zayas is an attempt to conceal the fact that experts with mandates covering the most pressing human rights violations in Venezuela are being denied entry’, said ISHR’s Helen Nolan.  ‘We urge the Special Rapporteur to meet with independent civil society actors during his visit, and reflect their concerns in his post-mission report.’

‘Genuine cooperation on the part of Venezuela would be better demonstrated by accepting the outstanding requests by 11 Special Procedures and the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights,’ added Nolan.

A recording of the Arria-Formula briefing can be found on UN Web TV in English and Spanish.

Contact: Eleanor Openshaw,

Photo: CommonsWikipedia