A report by the Human Rights Council released this week alleges that some gold, diamond and bauxite mines in the Venezuelan Amazon are controlled by criminal groups that exploit, beat and in some cases have killed workers at the mines.
The High Commissioner’s report to the Human Rights Council describes how the criminal groups – known locally as “sindicatos” – exercise control over a large number of mining operations in Arco Minero del Orinoco (Orinoco Mining Arc). LINK
#Venezuela: People working in the #ArcoMinero del Orinoco region are caught up in a context of labour exploitation and high levels of violence by criminal groups that control the mines in the area, including who enters & who leaves – 🆕 report. Learn more: https://t.co/20ySk8b213 pic.twitter.com/YI1PGKoZhA
— UN Human Rights (@UNHumanRights) July 15, 2020
In the section referring to an area known as the Orinoco Mining Arc (AMO), the report said:
“Much of the mining activity within and beyond AMO is controlled by organised criminal groups or armed elements.
They determine who enters and leaves the area, impose rules … and gain economic benefit from all activity within the mining area, including through extortion in exchange for protection.”
The report found that nearly 150 men and women are reported to have died in or around the mines since March 2016, with security forces implicated in around half the incidents, adding that the government had not replied to its request for information.
The miners, who include young children, are not given employment contracts and are exposed to mercury contamination and malaria.
The report also states that Venezuelan security and military forces have failed to prevent crimes and, in some cases, have collaborated in the exploitation and violence against the miners.
It called for the government of President Nicolas Maduro to regulate mining activities in the region in accordance with international legal and environmental standards.
Created by a government decree in 2016, AMO – an area of some 111,000 square kilometres in the Venezuelan Amazon – makes up 12% of the national territory. Gold, diamonds, coltan, iron and bauxite are mined there. According to the report, Venezuela’s central bank has not published data since 2018 on gold and other mineral exports, their destination or foreign currency earnings.
The Venezuelan government has supported small-scale mining in the area to bring in revenue during the economic crisis. Operations in the area expanded after the US increased sanctions intended to force President Maduro from power. LINK
In a public statement UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said:
“Despite the considerable presence of security and military forces in the region … authorities have failed to investigate and prosecute human rights violations, and abuses and crimes linked to mining,
Authorities should take immediate steps to end labour and sexual exploitation, child labour and human trafficking, and should dismantle criminal groups controlling mining activities.
They must also investigate, prosecute and punish those responsible for human rights violations, abuses and crimes.”
The report also examines broader justice issues in Venezuela and claims that the independence of the justice system has been considerably undermined by the insecurity of tenure of judges and prosecutors; the lack of transparency in the process of appointment and designation; precarious working conditions; and political interference. According to the report, decisions of the Supreme Court related to the opposition-controlled National Assembly have consistently given rise to concerns about political considerations prevailing over legal determinations.
The report states that this situation has gravely affected the judiciary’s capacity to act independently to protect human rights, and is contributing to impunity. Despite recent efforts made by the Office of the Attorney General to investigate human rights violations committed by security forces, the lack of accountability is especially significant in cases of killings in the context of protests and during security operations, as well as allegations of torture and ill-treatment and gender-based violence. LINK
In a separate report last September, the Human Rights Council had expressed its concern over the consequences of the coercive unilateral sanctions that have been imposed against Venezuela. A statement by the UN office said:
The United Nations Human Rights Council recognized that the “unilateral extraterritorial coercive measures” imposed on Venezuela “have further aggravated the effects of the economic crisis and, consequently, the humanitarian situation of the Venezuelan people” and expressed its concern about the situation.
In a resolution on strengthening cooperation and technical assistance in the field of human rights in Venezuela, the organization reaffirmed the universal principles of sovereignty, territorial integrity, self-determination, sovereign equality of States, non-intervention and non-interference in the internal affairs of States. LINK
Earlier this week, over 450 civil society organizations from 35 countries sent a letter to the European Union’s High Representative for External Affairs to express their concern over the resolution passed by a majority of the Parliament on 10 July 2020 on ‘the humanitarian situation in Venezuela and the migration crisis and the refugees’ and calling on the organization to focus on mechanisms of cooperation and dialogue instead of tacitly supporting the US policy of sanctions and confrontation. The letter states:
Unfortunately, a majority of members of the European Parliament insist on confrontation and a policy that corresponds to the objectives of the State Department of the US government for the promotion of regime change in Venezuela.
This majority of the European Parliament fails to recognize that many of the problems Venezuela has are due to the terrible consequences of the sanctions (unilateral coercive measures) promoted by the United States that seek to suffocate the economy in order to produce a systemic collapse, thereby punishing thirty million Venezuelans who are denied access to food, medicine and essential resources to combat the current pandemic.
The resolution is in fact opposed to calls made by the UN Secretary General, Pope Francis and yourself as a representative of the European Union, among others, to suspend sanctions against Venezuela. One of the worst aspects of the resolution is that it supports the theft by the British government of the gold deposited in the Bank of England by ignoring the right of the Venezuelan government to these resources.
The resolution does not recognize that, in the month of January, Mr. Juan Guaidó, as a result of his innumerable errors, acts of corruption, ties to drug trafficking and Colombian paramilitarism, lost the support of a large sector of the Venezuelan opposition and, consequently, he was not reelected as President of the National Assembly, after refusing to attend the session where his reelection had to be voted.
We emphasize that this resolution follows the regime change policy promoted by the Donald Trump government, as opposed to the joint statement on cooperation signed by the EU’s External Affairs Service and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Venezuela, and seems to promote the repetition of intervention and interference by the European Union. LINK
The government of Venezuela, which is one of the 47 members of the Human Rights Council, has not yet responded to the report’s allegations.
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