Venezuela is faced with a humanitarian crisis that affects a large portion of its population. A shortage of medicines and other medical supplies have made it extremely difficult for many citizens to obtain basic health and medical care. Additionally, a shortage in food has made the purchasing of food so challenging that many Venezuelan citizens cannot obtain the basic necessities to survive. The Venezuelan government has compounded the crisis by failing to implement effective policies to address these shortages. Furthermore, the government has denied that a humanitarian crisis exists, and it has violently suppressed any form of protest against the government.
Although the Venezuelan government has repeatedly denied the existence of a humanitarian crisis, supply shortages have worsened in recent years. An unofficial 2016 survey conducted by more than two hundred doctors, found that seventy-six percent of public hospitals do not have basic medical supplies, which is an increase from an unofficial survey conducted in 2014, which found that fifty-five percent of hospitals lacked basic medical supplies. Not only is there a failure to provide necessary supplies, but the government fails to provide accurate or comprehensive health care statistics, which makes it difficult for NGOs and other international actors to address the situation.
The food shortage in the country has severely affected middle and low income households. Long lines form outside of supermarkets where goods are scarce, in high demand, and subject to government-set prices. A 2015 survey shows that eighty-seven percent of Venezuelans who were interviewed have difficulty buying food. Several doctors and community leaders have said that signs of malnutrition are becoming evident among citizens of Venezuela, especially children.
The government has exacerbated the humanitarian crisis by violently suppressing protestors who speak out against the government. Since the protests began, at least 125 people have been killed by clashes with the police. Moreover, the government arbitrarily arrests protestors and activists who speak out, eliminating any opposition to the government.
In 1978, Venezuela ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) legally binding it to protect its citizen’s right to adequate food, health, liberty, and freedom of expression. The UN High Commissioner has called for an investigation into the Venezuelan government for possible crimes against humanity. The United Nations human rights chief stated that arbitrary detentions, excessive force, and mistreatment of detainees that in some cases amounted to torture could constitute crimes against humanity. Having ratified the Rome Statue of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in June 7, 2000, Venezuela is legally bound by Article 7 to not commit such offenses that amount to crimes against humanity and is also subject to the jurisdiction of the ICC.
The right to health is delineated in Article 12 of the ICESCR. Section 1 of Article 12 states that everyone has the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. The Covenant expresses the steps that must be taken by states in order to uphold Article 12. Most relevant to the situation in Venezuela is Section 2(d), which says states must create conditions that assure proper medical service and medical attention. The fact that hospitals lack supplies that are required simply to create sanitary conditions gives evidence that Venezuela is violation of Article 12 of the ICESCR.
Article 11 of the ICESCR states that everyone has the right to adequate food. Furthermore in Section 1 it expresses that states must take all appropriate steps to ensure the realization of the right to food. With so many people unable to afford the scarce food that is available, it is clear that the right to adequate food is being violated. Moreover, the fact that the Venezuelan government has not reached out to the international community or taken the proper steps to receive aid, shows they have not taken all appropriate steps to ensure the rights of its citizens.
Everyone has the right to freedom of expression as expressed in Article 19 Section 2 of the ICCPR. Police forces who arbitrarily arrest protestors with the purpose of silencing criticism directly violate the right to freedom of expression. Furthermore, it violates Article 9 Section 1 of the ICCPR, which states that everyone has the right to not be arbitrarily arrested. It is clear by the violent suppression of protests that Venezuela is in violation of Article 9 and 19 of the ICCPR.
To begin alleviating the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, there needs to be public pressure on the Venezuelan government to implement and enforce effective policies that address the shortage of medical supplies and food. It is unlikely the Venezuelan government will reach out to the international community for aid, so international aid organizations should make public offerings of food and medical aid. Finally, the UN should launch an investigation to see if the Venezuelan government has committed crimes against humanity pursuant to Article 7 Section 1(e) of the Rome Statute of the ICC, which describes crimes against humanity as widespread imprisonment and deprivation of liberty. Pressuring the government and investigating its practices are the first steps to bringing justice to the Venezuelan people.