Venezuela Formally Withdraws from American Convention on Human Rights, Blames the U.S.

by Julian Ku

In other Latin American news, Venezuela’s withdrawal from the American Convention of Human Rights went into effect this week, drawing the condemnations of various human rights groups. The withdrawal was one of the Hugo Chavez’s last decisions as President, however, and seems to have been sparked by dissatisfaction with decisions by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

Venezuela’s withdrawal from the American Convention, along with its decision to withdraw from the World Bank’s ICSID system of resolving investor-state disputes last year, suggests that international judicial institutions of all types are losing a bit of ground in Latin America. Colombia has denounced its membership in the Bogota Pact, and Bolivia and Ecuador have also left ICSID.

Of course, Venezuela is a different case and it is only the third country ever to withdraw from the American Convention.  I don’t know enough about the region to opine on the reasons for Venezuela’s withdrawal, but I do find the reflexive Yankee-bashing a curious justification.

Venezuela’s president, Nicolas Maduro, reiterated Chavez’s charge that the Inter-American system was a U.S. pawn.

“[T]he U.S. is not part of the human rights system, does not acknowledge the court’s jurisdiction or the commission, but … the commission headquarters is in Washington,” President Maduro said at a news conference, according to media reports. “Almost all participants and bureaucracy that are part of the IACHR are captured by the interests of the State Department of the United States.”

My experience with the OAS and the Inter-American Commission is admittedly quite limited, but I’ve never gotten the impression that IACHR in particular was controlled by the U.S., or indeed, that the U.S. paid the IACHR any serious attention whatsoever. The only shred of truth here is that the IACHR is indeed headquartered in Washington D.C., but that can’t be enough to prove bias.  After all, the U.N. is in New York and it proves (pretty much every day) that the U.S. is powerless to get it to do anything it wants.

3 Responses

  1. 1. As a Venezuelan lawyer I think that the reasons for Venezuela’s withdrawal are quite clear. The Chávez regime (now the Maduro regime but very much alike) is an oppressive government that does not like to be monitored by an impartial international commission or tribunal. Same thing happened with ICSID. The withdrawal came as a consequence of many cases arising after the government implemented a nation wide expropriation policy, without any regard to investors rights or the law. 
    2. The lack of judicial independence in Venezuela is unbelievable and over the last years the government has constantly violated human rights of people or groups which it considers “political enemies”.
    3. Venezuelan citizens are now less protected and that is a good reason for the international community to be more attentive to what is going on here. For instance, after Maduro won the contested elections on April, there are serious reports that the military tortured students who were protesting peacefully in the streets. Forcing them to chant slogans in favor of Maduro and showering them with frozen water are just some examples of some of the less severe forms of torture that were implemented.

  2. ‘My experience with the OAS and the Inter-American Commission is admittedly quite limited, but I’ve never gotten the impression that IACHR in particular was controlled by the U.S., or indeed, that the U.S. paid the IACHR any serious attention whatsoever.’
    The IACHR’s regular budget is quite limited, and it depends on additional funds transferred by member states to hold its sessions. The US is one of the largest contributors to both regular and additional funds. That does not imply ‘control over’ the IACHR, but definitely suggests a considerable degree of influence. Should the US be unhappy with the IACHR’s handling of a situation or case, it could cripple the institution by simply withholding funding. It is more likely that the US will ‘punish’ the IACHR by withholding funds for its decisions regarding other States (e.g. not being ‘tough’ on Cuba or Venezuela), than for negative findings regarding the US itself: just see how the US responded to the Coard et al. decision (invasion of Grenada), or the Guantanamo Bay interim measures. It seems that the US doesn’t care enough for the IACHR to bother ‘punishing’ it for calling out US violations, but they do see the system as instrumental to furthering its own foreign policy objectives (i.e., diplomatically isolating unfriendly regimes in the Americas).
    It has always struck me as strange that the larger south – and central-American states (Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Mexico) never found it in their interest to provide additional funds to the Commission and Court, thereby giving the executive secretariat a greater capacity to pursue its goals in a more independent fashion. Apparently, they would rather blame the US for the IACHR’s perceived biases rather than give the IA system of HR a better chance to succeed.
    Cynically speaking, there is nothing really surprising about Venezuela’s withdrawal, even if it is obviously disappointing to HR defenders everywhere. When the IA Court foreclosed the possibility of states to withdraw consent to its jurisdiction, it gave States only one exit possibility, denunciation. Venezuela isn’t the first State to leave, that dubious distinction falling on Trinidad & Tobago. It wouldn’t be surprising that other States follow.

  3. Response..
    This might seem a silly question, but..
    Does withdrawal impact Venezuela’s relationship to the Commission?  Neither the U.S. or Canada have ratified the Convention, yet the Commission still takes petitions from these countries.
    I’m not sure withdrawal from the Convention materially changes Venezuela’s relationship with the Commission itself (but it sure does with respect to the Court).  I do think this is a bad sign for human rights in Venezuela and throughout the Americas.
    The Court is based in Costa Rica, and I’m not even sure to what extent the US funds it.

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