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Venezuela Close UN Human Rights Office with Tension Rising in the International Community

Venezuelan foreign affairs minister Yván Gil claims the local UN high commissioner office for human rights has supported impunity for people involved in conspiracies, coups and assassination attempts of President Nicolás Maduro's government.

The Venezuelan government has ordered the local UN office for human rights to stop its operation within the country. It gave staff 72 hours to vacate the country. The government accused the UN of promoting opposition to the country’s leadership. They also accused the UN of having a “colonialist, abusive, and violating attitude.”

In a statement by Gil announced at a news conference in Caracas on Thursday, “This decision is made due to the improper role that this institution [UN human rights office] has developed, which, far from showing it as an impartial entity, has led it to become the private law firm of coup plotters and terrorist groups that permanently conspire against the country.”

This announcement came after the Geneva-based UN commissioner condemned the arrest of Rocío San Miguel, a well-known human rights lawyer. She heads a non-profit called Control Ciudadano. It investigates extrajudicial killings by Venezuela’s security forces. It also looks into alleged illegal mining operations by the security forces.

She was arrested and detained on February 9, 2024, at Caracas airport attempting to board a flight to Miami with her daughter. Tarek William Sabb, Venezuelan Attorney General said that San Miguel was accused of attempted conspiracy against Maduro’s government further stating she was being held in El Helicoide, a prison known for its copious amounts of documented human rights abuses. In addition to the UN, 200 non-governmental organisations have expressed worries over San Miguel's arrest and detention from Venezuela, the US, Canada and the European Union.    

Ravina Shamdasani, a spokesperson for the UN rights office of the high commissioner, said the agency regretted the decision and is evaluating the next steps. “Our guiding principle has been and remains the promotion and protection of the human rights of the people of Venezuela,” Shamdasani stated.

With presidential elections coming up following Maduro’s commitment to hold them in the second half of 2024, Laura Dibs, the Venezuela program director at the Washington Office on Latin America, told the Washington Post,  “What we’re seeing is a further closing of the civic space at a time when there’s a push to achieve competitive, free and fair elections.” It comes three months after the US rolled back economic sanctions against Venezuela with Maduro promising a freer democratic election. This hasn’t been the case. 

With the build-up to the election, Maduro’s government has blocked the candidacy winner of the opposition's presidential primary as well as arresting campaign staffers of the blocked candidate. Furthermore, Maduro’s government has accused the opposition of plotting to kill Maduro and his inner circle between last May and January without showing any evidence of the supposed plot.   

The UN human rights office has operated in Venezuela since 2019. Juanita Goebertus, the director of the Americas Division of Human Rights Watch, voiced serious concerns over the forced closure of the UN human rights office stating, “the office was one of the only remaining human rights offices that could operate from Venezuela.”

San Miguel remains in prison awaiting trial. The Venezuelan government said they would “carry out a holistic revision of the technical cooperation terms” for the local UN human rights office.


The Venezuelan government expects the review to take 30 days.

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