Press Release

IACHR and SRESCER Express Their Concern Over the Lack of Electricity and Drinking Water in Venezuela

March 22, 2019

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Washington, DC—In the context of the current repression of social protests in Venezuela, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the Office of the Special Rapporteur on Economic, Social, Cultural, and Economic Rights (SRESCER) expressed their deep concern over the lack of electricity and drinking water in Venezuela and urged the state to guarantee the population’s human rights, given the humanitarian emergency that the country is facing.

The IACHR has compiled information on the grave human rights violations the country’s inhabitants suffered during the blackout that began on March 7, 2019, and continued intermittently until March 13, which resulted in a lack of basic services such as access to drinking water, garbage collection, telephone services, and access to food supplies. The IACHR also noted with concern that this situation has led to a loss of human lives, the deterioration of health and sanitary services, arbitrary arrests of people for expressing their unhappiness with the situation, gas and drinking water shortages, the consumption of wastewater, the blocking of access to information and freedom of expression, and problems with public transportation.

The IACHR and SRESCER warned the state of Venezuela that by failing to comply with its essential ESCER-related obligations, it would be seriously compounding the already complex humanitarian crisis the country is experiencing. The IACHR and SRESCER urged the state to respond immediately and seek ways of alleviating the effects of the blackout, taking into account the principles of nondiscrimination, equality, transparency, and a gender perspective.

The IACHR and SRESCER noted with concern that no official information has yet been released regarding conditions in several hospitals in the country. SRESCER is deeply concerned over the most recent figures issued by civil society organizations, according to which 25 people have died. Most of these deaths occurred on March 9, when 14 people died in medical facilities due to the lack of electricity. Similarly, civil society sources have reported that 20 people in different parts of the country have allegedly died because they were unable to have their dialysis treatment. Furthermore, according to information received by the IACHR and OSRESCER, as of the afternoon of March 11, half of the country’s hospitals were running on generators and 73% of hospitals had no water supply.

SRESCER drew attention to the predicament of the José Manuel de los Ríos Hospital in Caracas, where it was reported that on March 11 patients (mostly children) and their families were shouting for help from the hospital windows over the lack of food and water. It was also reported that the Bolivarian National Police Force was allegedly guarding the entrances to the hospital and preventing civil society organizations from providing humanitarian assistance. In relation to this, the IACHR and SRESCER reminded the state of Venezuela that in February 2018 the IACHR granted precautionary measures in favor of the children who are patients at the Nephrology Unit of this hospital, requesting that it take the necessary steps to ensure health and safety conditions in the unit, in accordance with applicable international standards.

In addition, the IACHR notes with concern the special impact on women patients in delivery rooms and emergency areas, as well as the conditions of newborns in the neonatology area of the Concepción Palacios Maternity Hospital in Caracas. According to the information provided, 15 women and 275 newborns died between August and December 2018 at the hospital. Therefore, on March 18, 2019, the IACHR granted protection measures (Resolution No. 13/2019) and requested the Venezuelan State, among other measures, to guarantee the provision of adequate supplies, medications, and medical services to provide effective attention to emergencies in the area of women's sexual and reproductive health, as well as to ensure the infrastructure, electricity, and water necessary for such services in accordance with applicable standards.

The two bodies also raised alarms around the current predicament of health professionals who have reported on the lack of supplies in hospitals while carrying out their duties and have then been suspended or fired as a consequence. SRESCER is concerned that as the lack of electricity and water continue to impact medical facilities throughout the country, such harassment of health workers may worsen.

In relation to the right to food, reports indicate that the population is having further difficulties in obtaining nonperishable foods. According to the Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict (OVCS), six days of intermittent power failures were followed by the looting of supermarkets, bakeries, food and beverage processing plants, and shops in the country’s 23 states and Capital District. According to the Venezuelan Federation of Chambers and Associations of Commerce and Production (FEDECAMARAS), this has led to serious economic damage and even greater food shortages.

The IACHR and SRESCER once again informed the state of Venezuela that the right to food is effective when people have physical and economic access to appropriate food or to the means to obtain this at all times. The state of Venezuela must redouble its efforts to guarantee this access to protect its population from hunger.

Furthermore, the IACHR and SRESCER noted that due to the humanitarian crisis, which has been exacerbated by the blackouts, the existing crisis over access to drinking water in Venezuela has also worsened. The two bodies are extremely concerned over reports that in some areas on the outskirts of Caracas, people are having to resort to collecting water from streams, storm drains, and urban canals due to drinking water shortages. According to the information received, inhabitants of the San Agustín parish in Caracas have had to collect water from the Guaire River, into which wastewater from the capital drains, making it unfit for human consumption.

SRESCER noted that the state must take the necessary measures to guarantee that the population can exercise its right to food, healthcare, and water. The fragility of the right to health in the country will particularly impact the most vulnerable sectors of society. OSRESCER also expressed its concern over the lack of official figures on the current predicament of hospitals and the serious issues affecting food supplies in the country. It urged authorities to make every effort to ensure that the country’s inhabitants had access to healthcare, food, and drinking water.

The IACHR and SRESCER expressed their growing concern over the extreme vulnerability of the Venezuelan people due to their difficulties in accessing basic services such as electricity and drinking water. The IACHR noted that under the Inter-American System of Human Rights, states are obliged to guarantee access to sufficient quantities of safe water as an essential condition for people to be able to enjoy and exercise several human rights, including the rights to life, personal integrity, and health. It also reminded the state that it is duty-bound to take preventative steps in response to any knowledge it has or should have of real and immediate risks to particular individuals or groups of individuals whenever it is reasonably possible to prevent or avoid such risks.

The IACHR also noted that people who wish to express their points of view on the political, economic, and social crisis the country is experiencing continue to suffer violent repression. On March 13, 2019, the IACHR received information from the OVCS on the deaths of four people during protests in Lara State. According to the Venezuelan human rights organization Foro Penal, between March 8 and March 13 some 131 arbitrary arrests were recorded, 17 of which concerned minors.

The IACHR expressed its concern at the closure of the border crossings between Venezuela and Colombia decreed by the state of Venezuela on February 22, 2019. It also acknowledged the temporary opening of a humanitarian corridor door as of March 11, 2019, which is allowing students and those with medical problems to cross the area, and it urged the state of Venezuela to reopen other border crossings.

The IACHR has also received reports of ongoing patterns of harassment against human rights defenders. According to the information it received, human rights defender and journalist Luis Carlos Díaz was allegedly arrested on March 11 and released a day later on the condition that he report to the authorities and does not leave the country. Likewise, Foro Penal reported that on March 14 its coordinator for active defenders in Tucupita was arrested. The IACHR called once more on the state of Venezuela to take the necessary steps to end the intense stigmatization and harassment of human rights defenders in the country and to cease the criminalization of this group.

SRESCER is an office of the IACHR that was specifically created to support the IACHR in fulfilling 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. 077/19