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“You cannot claim to protect human rights by violating human rights,” asserted Alena Douhan, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights, while detailing the human cost of the unilateral sanctions imposed on Venezuela by the United States and its allies.
Prof. Douhan, who teaches international law at Belarusian State University, made this remark at a recent conference organised by the Canadian Latin American Alliance and co-sponsored by the Canadian Foreign Policy Institute and Common Frontiers. In the panel Prof. Douhan was joined by Don Davies, distinguished lawyer and Canadian Member of Parliament for the New Democratic Party (NDP), who discussed the role of Canada in the application of sanctions against Venezuela.
Sanctions—much more than political
Alena Douhan, in her capacity as UN Special Rapporteur, visited Venezuela for two weeks in early February to assess the impact of the US-imposed unilateral coercive measures on the Venezuelan economy and the living conditions of the Venezuelan people. She met officials of the government as well as members of the opposition, representatives of public and private sectors, social organisations and trade unions, and national and international NGOs working in Venezuela. She submitted a preliminary report on February 12, detailing the “devastating effect” of the sanctions on the Venezuelan economy, health, education, industry, social programmes, and other sectors. The final report will be submitted in September 2021.
“In the international sphere, sanctions are generally discussed politically, while their legal and human effects are not considered [a] priority,” said Prof. Douhan. “Yet, both targeted sanctions and general sanctions violate international law, like the sovereign equality of states, the policy of non-intervention in internal affairs of countries, and principles of human rights, including the rights to life and to development.”
Douhan stressed that targeted sanctions against individuals, although not as damaging as overarching sanctions against a country, are still in contravention of legal principles. “Presumption of innocence is the starting point of law, and the burden of proof is on the accuser. Anyone facing any accusation has the right to a fair trial;