U.S. Sanctions won’t stop Venezuela Bleeding: Will the UN Security Council Act Responsibly?
Ambassador Curtis A. Ward
(31 Aug. 2017) — The targeted sanctions imposed by the United States on Venezuelan individuals and entities will not be sufficient to change Nicolás Maduro’s behavior and return democracy and rule of law to Venezuela. Resort to military force is not an option. President Donald Trump’s suggestion that military action is on the table is bluster. I also believe the Organization of American States (OAS) has lost its credibility to be an honest broker. Neither do I believe CARICOM collectively, nor individual members, has the persuasive influence necessary to convince Maduro he is pursuing a dangerous path for his country. The question then is: What are the options to stop the bleeding in Venezuela?
The regional failures leave us to turn to the United Nations, in particular the UN Security Council for a global response to Venezuela. However, the dynamics of the Security Council, in particular the permanent members (P-5), pose a problem which will require a great deal of negotiations between the United States, France and the United Kingdom on one side, and China and Russia on the other. Even though the clock is running on the people of Venezuela and the country may soon reach a point of no return, I am not suggesting UN Security Council sanctions as a first step; or that it will be easy obtaining unanimity in the Security Council. Given the current climate between the U.S. and Russia, negotiations on Venezuela are unlikely to succeed.
Russia’s and China’s geopolitical interests are not the same, and each is quite different from that of the U.S. However, instability in South America does not serve the long-term interests of any of these geopolitical foes.
The possible effects of U.S. targeted unilateral sanctions should not be judged on the basis of decades of failed U.S. imposed Cuban embargo. The failed comprehensive Cuban embargo is quite deferent in character and effect to sanctions targeting individuals and entitles, which, if effectively implemented, could work over time.
Due to the economic conditions the country was already experiencing, there was no credible argument that targeted sanctions would not hurt the Venezuelan people even more. They were already suffering significantly, and whatever residual benefits remained in the Venezuelan economy were mostly benefiting Maduro and those close to him; not the people of Venezuela.
The first step in the UN Security Council is for the permanent members to unequivocally and unambiguously support the UN Secretary-General, directing him to use his best efforts to get the Venezuelan government and opposition forces to the negotiating table. Speaking with one voice the Council must send a strong message to Maduro and his supporters that, unless they change their behavior, targeted sanctions will be imposed in the future against them, as well as against critical elements of Venezuela’s economy.
In April 2017, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley presided over a debate in the UN Security Council which focused on: “Maintenance of international peace and security – Human rights and prevention of armed conflict.” This was a first in UN Security Council history addressing Human Rights as a stand-alone agenda item.
Neither UN Secretary-General António Guterres, nor any Security Council member, directly raised the human rights issues now drawing Venezuela into a conflict situation. Some members alluded to Venezuela, and the U.S. having this debate could be seen as testing the waters for including Venezuela as a future agenda item. While failing to address human rights abuses in Venezuela, the Council historically has imposed sanctions for human rights violations on other countries – dating back to Southern Rhodesia and apartheid South Africa.
The Security Council is divided on whether it should be dealing with human rights issues. This division was evident between the two representatives of the Group of Latin American and Caribbean States (GRULAC). Ambassador Elbio Rosselli, Uruguay’s Representative expressed his country’s commitment “to the protection of, and respect for human rights as a fundamental basis for sustaining fundamental freedoms and democratic life in all nations.” He stated further that Uruguay “does not recognize limits or exclusivity with regards to the forums in which human rights may be discussed.” He also said Uruguay “does not accept the excuse of sovereignty or domestic jurisdiction in efforts to prevent the examination of the human rights situation in Member States.”
Rosselli said further, that “The Council should give greater attention to … serious violations of human rights that foreshadow the start or escalation of conflict because that is the only way it can take measures in time to prevent conflicts.” Examples of Security Council failure to act timely and responsibly to address gross human rights violations include the Rwanda genocide in 1994, and the Syrian Government’s response to peaceful opposition to his regime eventually leading to the Syrian civil war.
Ambassador Sacha Sergio Llorentty Solíz of Bolivia took a directly opposite position stressing that discussion of human rights belongs in other bodies of the UN System and not in the UN Security Council. As an elected member of the Security Council, Ambassador Solíz opposition would not have mattered, except to highlight the division on Venezuela in the OAS and the region.
Unfortunately, despite a history of timely inaction in response to gross human rights violations, the mindset of Security Council permanent members Russia and China is to block any attempt to place Venezuela on the Security Council agenda. There is no prospect for change.
As Nikki Haley, someone I very rarely agreed with, correctly opined, human rights violations was a precursor to conflicts. She said, “the protection of human rights is often intertwined with peace and security….In case after case, human rights violations and abuses are not merely the incidental by-products of conflict, but the trigger of conflict. When a State begins to systematically violate human rights it is a sign; it is a red flag; it is a blaring siren – one of the clearest possible indicators that instability and violence may follow and spill across borders.” She stated further that “The Security Council cannot continue to be silent when it sees widespread violations of human rights.”
Russia’s objection to the issue of human rights on the Council’s agenda ensures that Venezuela will not be discussed in that context. As Russian ambassador Evgeny Zagaynav stated, Russia does “not share the approach of considering human rights protection a key instrument for preventing” conflict, and that “the goal of conflict prevention is completely contrary to interfering in the domestic affairs of countries and undermining their sovereignty, often on the pretext of protecting human rights.”
In China’s case, while not agreeing to putting human rights violations on the Security Council’s agenda, according to Ambassador Liu Jieyi any non-peaceful means are unacceptable. He stressed the importance of giving “full responsibility to regional and sub-regional organizations as they have geographical, historical and cultural advantages.” China further noted that the international community should support regional and sub-regional organizations in capitalizing on their advantages in order to make greater contributions to conflict prevention in those regions.
While I agree with China on the important role of regional and sub-regional organizations to act within their respective regions or sub-regions to prevent human rights violations from escalating into widespread conflict, this no longer seems like a workable option for Venezuela. There must be exceptions, and the failure of the OAS, CARICOM and other regional groups is a good example for such exception.
It is now incumbent on the UN Security Council to act. Perhaps when the conflict in Venezuela broadens and hundreds, perhaps thousands of Venezuelan’s are killed on all sides, then maybe there will be movement in the UN Security Council to attempt belatedly to staunch the bleeding in Venezuela.
If the U.S. floated a trial balloon to put Venezuela on the UN agenda, it failed on takeoff. We are back to square one in stopping the bleeding in Venezuela.
© 2017 Curtis A. Ward/The Ward Post