Washington Foreign Press Center briefing on “Venezuelan Suffering Under Human Rights Abuses of Illegitimate Maduro Regime.”
[Delores] So, I just wanted to welcome everyone to Washington Press Center. Thank you so much for joining us this afternoon. And thank you, to our colleagues in New York. We are pleased today to have Roger Carstens, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. He will be speaking about the human rights abuses and violations by the former Maduro Regime. And just reminder that today’s briefing is on the record and with that, I will turn it over to Deputy Assistant Secretary Carstens. Thank you.
Delores, thank you so much for having me here today. I’m very grateful to have the chance to talk to you and anyone else who’s on one of the out stations, particularly New York City. Thank you. I am glad that we’re here, and I know it’s a Friday afternoon and perhaps it’s, there are things that other people would rather be doing right now, but it’s important to talk about what’s happening right now in Venezuela. And specifically, the Maduro Regime continues to commit egregious human rights violations against its own people. What it’s essentially doing is denying and depriving them of their fundamental freedoms, through a policy of systemic torture, extrajudicial killings, repression, and intimidation. Now, that is not just me saying that, the United States, the State Department, but that’s also coming from Michelle Bachelet, the UN officer or rather High Commissioner in the office of Human Rights. Her report that was released on the 4th of July, I’m sure you’re probably familiar with it, outlines some of the horrific things that his regime has been doing, to include silencing dissent, by the killing of over 7000 people in the last year alone. Now, this is so bad that the Human Rights Council, just last week, voted to establish a fact-finding mission, to kind of dig in to this a little bit and try to suss out some of the details and particulars surrounding this. Now, what makes this so ironic, is that Venezuela, the illegal Maduro regime in Venezuela is now seeking a spot, a seat, on the Human Rights Council. And that election will take place on the 16th of October. We find it very ironic because the United States, first off, has never supported egregious human rights violators, as they attempted to gain a seat on the Human Rights Council. We feel for number one, it kind of pulls down the credibility and the integrity of the HRC. And number two, it might give them a chance to shield themselves from UN investigative efforts. Now a good example of that is this very fact-finding mission that I just mentioned, that was established on the 27th of September, there were reports that the Venezuelan ambassador of the former regime to Geneva, his name is Jorge Valero, it’s reported that he not only said that this was a hostile initiative, in quotation marks, and again, I’m saying what he allegedly said, but also that the regime would not cooperate with this fact-finding mission. Now what’s so problematic to me, is that if you were to read the document that established the Human Rights Council, UNGA, was it, 60/251, in that alone, it says that you should be a country that promotes human rights, and number two, you have to cooperate with the efforts of the HRC. So on those two accounts alone, the regime has proved itself unfit to serve in this position. But I think what really others me is that if this regime, this illegal regime, was given a seat on the Council, in fact, the very fact that it’s running for the seat, is a horrible affront, to the families of the 400 political prisoners, and those prisoners themselves, that are currently being held by the regime, and also the families of those 7000 people that have been killed by the regime in the last year. And for those reasons, and probably many more, the United States absolutely does not support the illegal Maduro regime’s attempt to obtain a seat on the Human Rights Council. And with that, I’ll take your questions.
[Luis] So how is the vote, how many votes are required, who votes those members?
[Delores] And please say your name.
Yeah I’m sorry, your name.
[Luis] Luis (mumbles).
Luis yeah. The regime, excuse me, you know tragically I’m not quite sure on the specifics of that, as I understand I think it’s a two-thirds vote but I can get back to you on that as well, so I apologize for that.
[Luis] But who vote?
The members of the Human Right, the members of the international community.
[Luis] All member states of the UN vote?
[Man] (mumbling) Azerbaijan. But I have two questions and I appreciate this background it’s very important. It’s not number of Human Rights Council, what kind of, what other leverages do we have that we can use against Venezuela at this point? And my second question is it different international organization is a Non-Aligned Movement that is right now led by Maduro himself and he will be in Azerbaijan on October 4th if I’m not mistaken, that they will have summit, next summit. And one thing, and if you have any message to the members of that movement, and also maybe to the people of Azerbaijan, what do they need to know about Maduro, before rolling out a red carpet for his—
I see, yes. Yeah great questions. If you’re not a part of the Human Rights Council or you’re not as closely tied to it, what’s happening right now, I think it’s important to just know, you know there are gonna be opportunities where you’re going to have chances to make alliances, vote, or else team up with sanctions. There are multilateral organizations where even though Venezuela’s not a part of their problem set, they’re still being pulled into this because it’s an important part of what’s happening in the international community. A good example is Azerbaijan is a member of OSCE. Now OSCE of course worries about Europe and of course the caucuses, and some of the other areas, however, there are times when international organizations are still pulled into a broader international discussion, just like the European Union for example, they’ve decided that they are going to start working on sanctions against the illegal Maduro regime. Why would they do that? They’re worried about Europe. But this is an example where a multilateral organization is going beyond its territorial interests to support the international community, and that might be a chance for countries like Azerbaijan working in the OSCE to make their voice heard. Now as far as the movement that you’ve talked about what they need to know in all honesty, there’s so many different reports, and so many different information streams about what’s happening there that are bad, that impact negatively on the Venezuelan people and show Maduro for what he is. But truly right now the gold standard is the Michelle Bachelet later report that came out from the office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, it came out on the 4th of July, and if there’s a simple read that anyone would want to get to have a sense of who Maduro is and what he’s doing, I would direct them there. Having said that, you can go also to the members of civil society and NGOs, Human Rights Watch for example, keeps their website routinely updated about everything happening regarding the illegal Maduro regime, so I would direct them there, and that’s not a bad place to go as well. I think if you’re an unaligned movement, or you’re an NGO you’re a member of civil society, sometimes there might be a reluctance to actually trust a government source or a or a multilateral organization. So it’s not a bad thing to cast a wide net and take a look at other NGOs and other members of civil society to see what they’re saying and you know Human Rights Watch and some of the other NGOs have a pretty good reputation for digging in and trying to find the truth, so, a wonderful question.
[Man] If I may just one more question.
[Man] The US you know is leading the international campaign against Maduro with a number of sanctions, and there are 54, if I’m not mistaken, last time I checked, the countries that are supporting US seem to recognize opposition leader as the President of Venezuela. My question is when we set these new boundaries, the sanctions, are we clear about possible consumers for hosting and hanging out with Maduro across the world, so like Azerbaijan is hosting him, and welcoming him, will that impact on the US or other Western relationship given the sanctions on the imposter?
So let me see if I understand your question, you’re saying that because of the sanctions that we’re levying against Maduro, if he travels to place like Azerbaijan, then a place like Azerbaijan might actually receive negative US attention or that may fracture the relationship a little bit. (man mumbles) Yeah. These are things that people do talk about you know it’s a, we want to of course let people know that the spotlight is on Maduro and the relationships that he’s trying to establish and sometimes there are consequences for those relationships. You know I think Azerbaijan accepting a visit from Maduro is nothing like say the support that Cuba is now giving to Venezuela or Russia or China are trying to give Maduro. So to be very frank, when we think of the countries that were very concerned about establishing of the relationship, they’re the ones that already have a strong relationship and are basically propping up the Maduro regime. You know and you think about the Cuban military and intelligence services, that are currently in Venezuela, helping the Venezuelan forces improve their tactics, techniques, and procedures not only in the conduct of military operations, but in repressing the people, taking away their fundamental freedoms, torture, repressions, killings and then the help that the Russians are giving them, and sending down high-level technical expertise to include help with managing the internet and other forms of social repression and there’s a lot going on right now and I definitely understand your question and appreciate it, but to be honest, there are so many important things happening with regards to Russia and Cuba and even China that that’s probably where our focus is right now. I hope that answered your question.
[Juan] Maybe I don’t know if you addressed this before—
Please say your name.
[Juan] My name is Juan Camilo Milano from Caracol TV Colombian Media.
Pleasure to meet you.
A pleasure, sir. Aren’t you like looking at that, additional sanctions maybe to prohibit the transit of Maduro, Maduro cronies to the countries that are at the Grupo de Lima group, are part of Grupo de Lima? Because the worst thing that well, the US has looking forward to establish new sanctions and it will be good that Grupo de Lima like establish these sanctions as well, that you prohibited Maduro cronies’ transit through those countries, is that possible or you’re looking at it?
Well this is one of those questions which I’m sure you probably already know what I’m going to say and that is we don’t really discuss, you know, our future sanctions and moves. The day they roll out, is the day they roll out, and at times, even some people within the State Department are surprised that so and so was sanction at this time with this effect. So I would rather not talk about a future sanction. But what I can tell you, is that we’ve been very aggressive about levying sanctions, targeted sanctions, against Maduro’s I’d say allies, or his advisors and such, the people that he works with in an effort to, in a way keep them from stealing the wealth of Venezuela in order to halt the corruption, to maybe reverse some of the corruption, and to maybe weaken them a little bit, because right now he has essentially surrounded himself with a very rapacious pack of corrupt officials that are robbing the Venezuelan people blind. You know there’s a reason that the economy’s not doing so well, and it’s not because of the targeted sanctions, it’s because this economy is poorly run, mismanaged, and there’s a lot of corruption. So that’s kind of what we’re focused on, as opposed to I think a lot of travel movements and such. Having said that, tragically you know, I know you’d love for me to answer that but I’m just not able to.
[Juan] So do they have the votes?
Do they have the votes to get elected in the—
I don’t, you know the, I spent some time working on Capitol Hill in my youth, when I was much younger and better-looking, and you know that was the thing that we were always trying to divine. To run all over Capitol Hill to try to get a sense of where the votes were and in this case, it’s I can tell you from years of doing that that it’s always hard to predict, and so I’d be foolish if I told you that we had the votes or not at this point.
[Juan] And if they get elected, what would be the US response?
We’ll be deeply disappointed. You know we’ve, as you know, we left the Human Rights Council and as we’ve been very clear, really the driving force behind us leaving the Human Rights Council, has to do with this issue, that at times, egregious violators of human rights obtain seats on the Human Rights Council. And it destroys the credibility and the integrity of the organization, it allows these egregious human rights violators to protect themselves from UN fact-finding missions and other such activities, and if Venezuela gets a seat on it, you know, in a way, sadly, it will validate our concerns and that’s not the direction we want it to go. You know I think we all benefit and if the Human Rights Council establishes strong authority, strong integrity, and performs its functions as mandated in 60/251
[Delores] Just checking to see if there’s any questions from our New York Foreign Press Center. Anyone else have a follow-up question?
[Juan] Maybe, well, I just arrived late.
No, it’s okay.
Ask one again, we’ll get to it.
[Juan] Yeah, the election of the human rights council, I mean, there were, I guess, two other candidates, Brazil and Costa Rica, if I’m not wrong. What is happening with those positions? Are you looking forward to, I don’t know, to taking more support to those countries, and what happened with the Venezuela position?
I can answer by saying that we are strongly against Venezuela obtaining a seat. That may sound a rather pass, like passive statement to make in terms of whether we’re supporting other candidacies or not. But due to where we are right now in the Human Rights Council, we’d rather, you know, let the votes take place as they will without necessarily throwing strong support in any direction, but there’s one thing that we are very clear on, and that is that Venezuela does not obtain a seat, we think that would be a very bad thing indeed.
[Man] This happens because the UN still recognizes Maduro as president. So is the US doing anything about it? Because the whole US is different than the UN but UN recognize Guaido, don’t you think that we’re about to, so that will be a solution to avoid this.
I would love that. You know we’ve, as you pointed out, you said 54 countries, I believe we’re up to 55 countries recognized Guaido as the interim president, and that would indeed solve the problem. And if I can say, to us it’s so clear that Maduro is on the wrong side of history, and on the wrong side of human rights, and the fundamental freedoms that we, you know, as the United States and other freedom-loving countries want everyone to share, that it’s the divide is so clear that to us, you either are on the side of the good side or you’re on the bad side, because not taking a stand supports Maduro. And so with 55 countries, we would of course love to see that increase every day and we’d like to build some irreversible momentum so that one day either, hopefully we can say goodbye to Maduro and move on to free and fair and transparent elections that are observed, or alternatively, the world basically decides that Maduro truly is on the wrong side and more countries recognize Guaido. But I think you’ve actually you’ve actually come to pretty much the right objective and solution there.
[Man] So the UN is in the wrong side?
As a body.
I won’t say as a body, I mean the UN’s made up of individual countries so it’s hard to, you can’t just say that the UN’s wrong in this case. And a good example is the report that Michelle Bachelet, who worked for the UN right? She came out with a very strong report that was, I thought, fantastically tough on the Maduro regime, so I’m not going to say anything bad about the UN because that’s, our fight’s not with the UN, our fight’s with Maduro. And individual countries have to come to their own conclusions and we would strongly encourage them to not be passive, and not support Maduro, but rather come over to the side and recognize the interim Guaido government.
[Man] And besides doing this press availability, are you talking directly to specific countries about this vote, specific vote?
All the time. You know we are, as you can imagine, we are using every diplomatic engagement tool that we possibly can to make our beliefs known as to what we feel the outcome of this of this election should be. And that outcome specifically in this case, is not again, not that we’re for specific countries or against specific countries but except for one example, except for rather specifically Venezuela. We do not want the former Maduro regime to get a seat on the Human Rights Council, and we’re doing everything we can to talk to other countries to try to convince them that that would not be in the HRC’s best interests, or in the world’s best interests.
[Man] How many countries have you flipped already?
One, as we were talking about, it’s hard to ever get a number of what you flipped, again, working on Capitol Hill, you could sit there and say so-and-so is definitely gonna vote for you and then the vote comes out and you’re absolutely surprised that they did not. So, number one that’s very hard to gauge. Number two, even if I knew that, I wouldn’t tell you. (people laughing) That doesn’t mean that we can’t get along and have a beer together, right? (people laughing)
[Man] Early for a beer, but I’ll take it.
[Delores] We’ll take one last question. Who has a last question?
[Man] I just want to clarify, how many HRC members are amongst those 45 countries who are against the Maduro regime?
Oh wait, say that, sorry.
How many HRC members are amongst those 45 countries that do not recognize Maduro as president? (mumbles) So how many of them are (mumbles)
Oh gosh, you know, I’ll have to get back to you with that number, I actually think I know that number, but—
[Man] You mentioned 55 so—
No, 55 countries have currently recognized Guaido. I think I know the number to your question, but I prefer to make sure you get the accurate one and get back to you on that one. Okay? So I owe you an answer.
[Man] Thank you very much.
[Delores] Any last comments?
No, really just, thank you so much Delores for having me here, Foreign Press Center, very grateful. For those in New York we would have loved to add a question but glad you’re here as well and I appreciate the chance to talk with all of you. I hope the message is getting out and we hopefully, hopefully on the 16th of October, we’ll find that the former Maduro regime did not get a seat. We would be very, very pleased. Thank you.
[Delores] Thank you so much.
[Man] Thank you very much.