Venezuela orders suspension of UN rights office, gives staff days to leave

Earlier this week the UN agency expressed ‘deep concern’ over the detention of prominent rights activist, Rocio San Miguel.

Venezuela's Foreign Affairs Minister Yvan Gil
Venezuela's Foreign Affairs Minister Yvan Gil said the UN rights office had taken on an 'inappropriate role' [File: Adriano Machado/Reuters]

Venezuela has ordered the local office of the United Nations human rights body to suspend operations and given its staff 72 hours to leave, accusing it of promoting opposition to the South American country.

Foreign Affairs Minister Yvan Gil announced the decision at a news conference in the capital Caracas on Thursday.

He said the office – the local technical advisory office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights – had been used by the international community “to maintain a discourse” against Venezuela.

The move came two days after the UN agency expressed “deep concern” over the detention of prominent rights activist Rocio San Miguel and called for her “immediate release”.

Gil said the UN rights office had taken on an “inappropriate role” and had become “the private law firm of the coup plotters and terrorists who permanently conspire against the country”.

He said the decision would remain in place until the agency “publicly rectify, before the international community, their colonialist, abusive and violating attitude of the United Nations Charter”.

In a statement, Venezuela’s government said it decided to suspend the activities of the UN rights office and “carry out a holistic revision of the technical cooperation terms”. It said the review would take place over the next 30 days.

It was not immediately clear if the Venezuelan government had notified the UN directly of its order to close the office. UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said during his daily briefing on Thursday that he had just been made aware of the decision and would get back to members of the press.

The UN human rights office has operated in Venezuela since 2019.

Rights activist detained

San Miguel, 57, was arrested last Friday in the immigration area of an airport in Caracas, sparking an international outcry.

Prosecutors have accused her of taking part in the latest alleged plot to assassinate President Nicolas Maduro, which the government has said was backed by the United States.

Authorities said in January that they had uncovered five plots to assassinate Maduro, implicating rights activists, journalists and soldiers.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, based in Geneva, Switzerland, on Tuesday expressed “deep concern” over San Miguel’s detention.

In a post on the social media platform X, the office urged “her immediate release” and respect for her right to legal defence.

Shortly before Gil’s Thursday announcement, the UN agency called for the respect of “due process guarantees, including right to defence” in her case.

The detention of San Miguel comes in a crunch election year that has already seen Maduro block his main opposition rival, prompting the US to threaten to reimpose recently eased oil sanctions.

San Miguel is the founder of an NGO called Citizen Control, which investigates security and military issues, such as the number of citizens killed or abused by security forces. She has detailed military involvement in illegal mining operations, and a recent femicide in the army.

International rights groups see in the arrests a coordinated plan to silence government critics and perceived opponents.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies