Press Release

IACHR and its Special Rapporteurship on Economic, Social, Cultural, and Environmental Rights Urge the State of Venezuela to Protect and Respect the Rights to Food and Health

February 1, 2018

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Washington, D.C. - According to information received by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and by its Special Rapporteurship on Economic, Social, Cultural, and Environmental Rights (ESCER), Venezuela is experiencing an economic and social crisis marked by a context of scarcity and shortages of food and medicine said to be increasing at an alarming rate. This situation particularly affects the most vulnerable and poor individuals, groups, and communities, with especially serious consequences for children, women, indigenous peoples, Afro-descendants, migrants, persons deprived of liberty, and older persons.

For lack of current official public information, the most recent report on food and nutritional security produced by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, in cooperation with the Pan American Health Organization, has verified that the number of undernourished people in Venezuela increased by 1.3 million for the 2014-16 period, or 3.9 percent above the prior triennium. That estimate corresponds to the number of people who are reportedly not getting the minimum nutrition needed to live a healthy, active life. Equally troubling are the repeated complaints received indicating that thousands of children in Venezuela are at risk of dying of malnutrition this year. According to the information received, in 2017 between five and six children died every week due to lack of food, and at least 33 percent of children showed signs of delayed growth. In addition, around 4.5 million people are apparently eating only once a day, and sometimes once every two days, with the result that 11.4 percent of children are already said to be in a state of malnutrition.

In terms of the right to health, the IACHR and its ESCER Special Rapporteurship note that they have continuously received information decrying the lack of access to medicine and medical treatment in Venezuela. According to this information, by year-end 2017 the shortage of basic medicines to treat diseases related to diabetes, diarrhea, hypertension, and acute respiratory infections had reportedly surpassed 80 percent. Similarly, it has been learned that 85 percent of pharmacies in the Venezuelan capital have reportedly been left without medications for opportunistic infections that attack people living with HIV or AIDS, and between 95 and 100 percent of hospitals apparently do not have antiretroviral drugs at their disposal. This has meant that there have been lapses of up to six months in a row when patients have not received the indicated treatment regimen, leading to an estimated five people dying every day from causes related to that disease. In the same context, local scientific organizations have observed a serious deterioration of the country’s blood banks, where serious problems getting reagents and supplies have made it harder to screen for diseases in blood donations and perform surgeries and transfusions in renal, hematological, and oncological patients, among others. This situation is aggravated by a troubling increase in diseases such as malaria, the Zika virus, or diphtheria, the progressive increase of which has set off alarms since 2015.

In this context, Commissioner Francisco Eguiguren, President of the IACHR and Rapporteur for Venezuela, noted that “increases in general prices of food and medicine, along with high rates of inflation in the country, have direct repercussions on food security and on the health of the population, particularly for those in a state of poverty, who are forced to spend most of their income on food and medicine.” For her part, Commissioner Esmeralda Arosemena de Troitiño, the IACHR Rapporteur on the Rights of the Child, warned that “the gravity of the situation regarding Venezuelan children’s rights to health and food means there is no time to lose. Their best interests should be given utmost priority in any measures adopted by the country and by the international community to address the crisis.”

The IACHR and its ESCER Special Rapporteurship have also noted with great concern that there are complaints alleging that food supplies distributed through so-called Local Supply and Production Committees are not being given to people who oppose the government. It has also been alleged that there are no clear criteria to determine what products are delivered, how often, and how they are apportioned, and the nutritional needs of the populations being served are not properly considered. The same is said to be occurring in terms of the obligation to respect the right to health, as access to these services is reportedly dependent upon possession of a document verifying that the person agrees with the government party.

This entire situation is reportedly causing desperation among the population which has gone out to demonstrate on different occasions, sometimes taking products by force from commercial establishments and cargo units that transport food. Regrettably, between December 31, 2017, and January 9, 2018, three deaths were reported due to clashes and violence between people seeking food and security personnel. Information has also been received about various arrests and the indiscriminate use of force during these protests.

In such circumstances, it should be noted that Venezuela has specific obligations regarding the rights to food and health that stem both from the American Declaration and from its own Constitution and legal framework. The standards of the inter-American human rights system have established that health and food must also be understood as a fundamental and essential guarantee for the exercise of the rights to life and personal integrity, which means that States have obligations to adopt measures for the exercise of such rights. Along these lines, Soledad García Muñoz, the Inter-American Commission’s ESCER Special Rapporteur, indicated that “while it can be understood from international human rights law that there are certain aspects of the rights to health and food that can be realized progressively, it must be emphasized that States also have immediate obligations related to these rights, including the provision of essential medicine and food without discrimination, especially for individuals, groups, and communities that are more vulnerable and poor. This clearly applies to Venezuela in its current situation and must be the subject of immediate action by the State.”

In the light of current international standards, the Inter-American Commission’s ESCER Special Rapporteurship affirms that the right to food becomes effective when people have physical and economic access to adequate food or to the means to obtain it at any time. In this context, the Venezuelan State must redouble its efforts to ensure essential levels of food to protect its population from hunger, even in situations where there are serious limitations of resources. Also, considering that access to medicine is an integral part of the right to health, this component must be ensured and respected, among other steps, providing essential medicines to treat diseases that pose a risk to public health or to address priority needs for the health of the population in Venezuela. The process of selecting these medications and prioritizing diseases should also be based on evidence and be transparent and participatory, particularly for the groups most seriously affected.

In this regard, the publicly available information on the Venezuelan State’s refusal to receive international cooperation to ease its economic and social crisis is of utmost concern to the IACHR and its ESCER Special Rapporteurship, as is the lack of official public data that would enable adequate monitoring of the State’s obligations. This attitude not only seems to show Venezuela’s lack of willingness to protect these rights, but it also appears to go against its obligation to respect rights by impeding the availability and accessibility of medicines and basic food for the population most in need.

Based on the foregoing, the IACHR and its Special Rapporteurship on ESCER-related issues express their deep solidarity with the individuals and groups who are suffering the most direct consequences of the country’s economic and social crisis, and they urge the Venezuelan State to respect and protect the rights to food and health of the population under its jurisdiction. At the same time, they reject all types of violence or abuse of force during protest demonstrations resulting from this situation, and once again reiterate the possibility of conducting an on-site visit to the country to evaluate the exercise of the totality of human rights.

Finally, the IACHR and its Special Rapporteurship urge Venezuela, its civil society, and other interested parties to generate and present complete, disaggregated, and adequate information during the public hearing the IACHR has convened on the situation regarding the rights to food and health in Venezuela. This hearing will be held during the next session of the IACHR, and its main purpose will be to identify the primary obstacles and concerns for the exercise of the rights to food and health in Venezuela, as well as the short- and long-term measures that the State is reportedly taking or should be taking immediately to protect these rights.

The Special Rapporteurship on Economic, Social, Cultural, and Environmental Rights is an autonomous office that was specially created to support the IACHR in the fulfillment of its mandate to promote and protect economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights in the Americas.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 016/18