Remarks by Interim U.S. Permanent Representative Michael J. Fitzpatrick on the Human Rights Situation in Venezuela

Interim Permanent Representative of the United States Michael J. Fitzpatrick addresses the Permanent Council, October 21, 2015.
Interim Permanent Representative of the United States Michael J. Fitzpatrick addresses the Permanent Council, October 21, 2015.

On October 21, 2015, Interim U.S. Permanent Representative Michael J. Fitzpatrick addressed the OAS Permanent Council following a presentation by the Venezuelan government’s Executive Secretary of the National Council for Human Rights Larry Devoe Marquez.

Thank you, Madame Chair.

Ladies and Gentleman, good morning to one and all.

We are pleased to see the Secretary General with us again this morning.  Welcome back — and we wish you good health, Sir.

First, if I may, allow me to note the context for our presence and discussion here today.  For as we gather here today, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is holding its 156th “Period of Sessions” where it is looking at the human rights situation in all OAS member states, including the United States.  This is a very important few weeks.

As we have stated on many occasions, the United States strongly supports the autonomy and independence of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, as well as the Court, and supports their roles in addressing particular human rights situations in particular countries, at particular points in time.  And not just in history.  But now.

No country has a perfect human rights record.  And it is never comfortable — for any of our nations — to have our imperfections and limitations put on public display.  But it is the only way for each of us, for all of us, to advance to the benefit of all our citizens.

Both the Commission and the Court have been, and remain, important voices in addressing human rights situations in countries of the hemisphere.  The United States proudly engages with the Commission — just as we will do this Friday — where we will have three hearings on very sensitive issues facing our country.  And in coming weeks there will be a Commission-sponsored RoundTable on Guantanamo.  We do this in the interest of full transparency and accountability to our citizens, and with our neighbors in the Americas.

The United States firmly believes that we can all take pride in the Commission’s and the Court’s roles, historically and today, as independent entities respected throughout the world for their steadfast and valiant commitment to promoting and defending human rights throughout the Americas, even in the face of the harshest criticism.

Civil society groups and individuals — indeed, most if not all of the governments of our region, as well — look to the Commission as an important venue to address human rights in our countries and we hope Venezuela, as a member of the OAS, continues to work with the Commission, as it has this week, to address the concerns of its citizens.

With regards to the presentation we received this morning, we thank the Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela for the information and the presentation.  Forgive me, but I am reminded, with apologies to William Shakespeare in “Hamlet,” that “the gentleman doth protest too much, methinks.”  For the presentation seeks to shift attention from that government’s own behavior, which restricts fundamental freedoms of peaceful assembly, association and expression.

The Venezuelan government uses legal authorities to suppress and punish government critics, including members of the political opposition, civil society, and independent media.  On September 10 a judge convicted and sentenced opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez to nearly 14 years in prison.  We repeat our calls for Mr. Lopez’s release and for the release of all Venezuelans who are imprisoned for political reasons.  We also urge the Government of Venezuela to respect the rights of all political prisoners and to guarantee fair and transparent public trials.

The United States also views with concern the August decisions by the Venezuelan National Electoral Council and Comptroller General banning certain members of the political opposition from running for or holding public office.  These decisions clearly have the intention of complicating the ability of the opposition to run candidates for the legislative elections, and limiting the range of candidates that can be presented to the Venezuelan people.

All Venezuelans deserve to have full confidence in the important elections on December 6 and their outcome.  It is unfortunate that the Venezuelan government has consistently refused offers of an OAS electoral observation mission with its internationally-recognized methodology.

We hope the Venezuelan government will reconsider its decision and allow independent, credible and effective electoral observation to generate acceptance of the election results and foster greater stability for the sake of all the Venezuelan people.

I thank the government of Venezuela again for the information and the presentation this morning.  And thank you, Madame Chair.