Opening Address with Luis Almagro

Luis Almagro, Secretary General of the Organization of American States and former Foreign Minister of Uruguay, addresses the 10th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see quotes below, followed by full prepared remarks.

On speaking out for human rights:

“There is no gray area when it comes to fundamental freedoms.”

“When I first spoke up against the situation in Venezuela, the world was shocked.  I was criticized for my stance, for drawing attention to the alarming actions to dismantle democracy in Venezuela.”

“I must be a voice of those without a voice and those most discriminated against. A voice of those who suffer inequality and suffer from the lack of protection of their rights.”

On Venezuelan crimes:

“Since taking over power, Nicolás Maduro has installed a corrupt and criminal government whose only concerns is consolidating their power and stealing the country’s wealth.”

“More than 12,000 citizens have been detained in Venezuela since 2014.  More than 150 have been killed in protests.  One of the most chilling statistics is that since 2012 there have been more than 6300 extra judicial killings have taken place…”

“The life expectancy of a child in Venezuela is lower than a child in war-torn Syria. More people have died in 10 years than in 50 years of war in Columbia.”

“[Venezuela is] a country that has 6,000 executions.”

On lack of democracy in Venezuela:

“Venezuela today has a future in which we are further and further away from democracy.”

On the future of Venezuela:

“The worst possible sanction for the Venezuelan people would be 6 more years of repression and dictatorship, of hunger, sickness and the deprivation of their human rights. That is the only guarantee that Maduro brings.”

Full Remarks

Human rights are not a partisan or political issue. There is no grey area when it comes to fundamental rights and freedoms. They cannot be negotiated or manipulated to achieve narrow political interest.

Dear friends it is an honor to be here with you today. I am humbled to be speaking to the audience we have in this room today. This room is filled with courageous individuals who have made a personal choice and made significant personal sacrifices to fight and defend these very same protections for our fundamental human rights.

 This year we commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration Human Rights. This declaration presents a bold vision of a world where every person is born free and lives with equality in dignity and rights. It imagines a world without tyranny, without fear, without hate. The declaration outlines a basic quality of life to which all people are entitled to their life, liberty, and security of the person and provides people the tools to make that a reality. A world where human rights and freedom for all individuals are granted.

 This is not to say that we have achieved all of these things. In reality there are still too many people in this world who are suffering from inequality and exclusion. People who do not have access to justice, who live under tyranny, and are lacking protections for their basic civil, political, economic, and social rights. By outlining this clear set of rights and obligations we have given ourselves the responsibility to work consistently and diligently to make these 30 articles a daily reality for all people. Our ethical and moral values mean nothing if we do not.

 I stand before you representing the Organization of American States, an institution that is grounded in its commitment to democracy and human rights. This year also marked the 70th anniversary of the American Declaration of the rights and duty of the man, the foundation of our inter-American Human Rights system. At the same conference in 1948, the founding charter of the OAS was adopted wherein American states proclaimed the fundamental rights of the individual as their guiding principles. It goes on to declare that the true significance of American solidarity and good neighborliness can only mean the consolidation on this continent within the framework of democratic institutions, of a system of individual liberty, and social justice based on respect for the essential rights of man recognizing the essential role of democracy in guaranteeing these rights.

 The very notion of democracy centres on the people and views all peoples as politically equals, therefore each and every person is entitled to enjoy the free and full exercise of their inalienable rights and freedoms without discrimination. When I assumed the role of secretary-general I had come to this organization with a motto of ‘more rights for more people’. In equality of opportunities and the poverty situation of millions of inhabitants in the Western Hemisphere, especially those in vulnerable situations have a market impact on welfare political stability and democratic governance. By addressing the structural factors that condition economic and social inequalities, exclusion, poverty, and extreme poverty in the Americas we are working to achieve more democratic just and equitable societies thereby strengthening our democracies for future generations.

 We must strive to eliminate discrimination, injustice, and inequality in order to focus on the heart of our democracies: our people. Unfortunately the courage to stand up for this truth and to defend democracy and human rights is not something that can be taken for granted. Those of you here today know that better than most. Silence in many cases means complicity. For some it implies that they don’t want voices to break the silence that provides impunity. And unfortunately this is a trap that the international community frequently falls into. 

When I first spoke up against the situation in Venezuela the world was shocked. I was criticized for my stance for drawing attention to the alarming actions to dismantle democracy in Venezuela. As Secretary General I was accused of belligerence for denouncing the extensive human rights violation and elimination of democratic institutions in Venezuela. I wasn’t acting diplomatically it was said. The authority of all these being that the so-called belligerents was not tied to the murder of hundreds of protesters, the thousands of extrajudicial killings, or the countless and needless deaths of Venezuelans as a result of a manmade humanitarian crisis. The belligerents was directed apparently and ironically at the denunciation of these crimes.

 My efforts were described as an appropriate and overstepping the authority of this office. None of which was true. As secretary-general it is my responsibility to be a champion for the rights and principles that this organization stands for. I must be a voice of those without a voice and those most discriminated against. A voice of those who suffer inequality and suffer from the lack of protection for their rights. I must be the staunch defender of those rights.

 Today the OAS is still the only multilateral organization to have spoken clearly and loudly about the crisis in Venezuela. Venezuela did not become a dictatorship overnight it happened over many years, with one democratically elected government so desperate to cling to power that it dismantled its democratic institutions one by one. Since taking over power, Nicolas Maduro, has installed a corrupt and criminal government whose only concern is consolidating their power and stealing the country’s wealth. Access to basic necessities of life is controlled by political affiliation and questioning those in power is risking your life.

 Maduro has eliminated the rule of law and made authoritarianism the rule. Twisting the meaning of regional solidarity the international community clung to the notion of non-intervention to justify looking the other way, when this power-hungry regime eliminated the rights of their citizens. A high price has been paid to learn the cost of silence and inaction and it is the people of Venezuela who are suffering the consequences for this silence and our lost of integrity.

 The hesitancy to raise their voices and hold the Maduro regime to account has allowed Venezuela to deteriorate into the corrupt authoritarian failed state we see today. More than 12,000 citizens have been detained in Venezuela since 2014, more than 150 have been killed in protests, one of the most chilling statistics is that since 2012 there have been more than 6,300 extrajudicial killings that have taken place at the hands of government agents under the ironically named operation ‘freedom and protection’- an operation designed to terrorize the population. 

Corruption and mismanagement have made one of the greatest self-made humanitarian crisis we have experienced in the Americas. There are now massive shortages of food and medical supplies that have caused far-reaching consequences. The number of undernourished people in Venezuela have jumped by 1.3 million people in the last two years. Close to 5 million people can only find enough for one meal a day and every day between 5 and 6 children die of malnutrition. Maternal death have risen by 66 percent because there are no medical supplies to provide some of the most basic treatments and in 2016, 7 died every day before reaching the age of 1.

 The government continues to deny that there is a humanitarian crisis and has repeatedly rejected all of the international system, turning a blind eye to the death and destruction that their corruption has caused. All the while widespread corruption continues and millions upon millions of stolen dollars continue to flow in the personal bank account of those very people who are responsible for this crisis. All efforts for dialogue to find a peaceful solution have failed over and over and over. Instead each time the regime has used dialogue as a smokescreen to further consolidate an aspect of the a dictatorship. 

In 2014 Maduro consolidated his position with a new status-quo where political prisoners were a reality and the branches of government were co-opted. In 2016 they eliminated the recall referendum. In 2017 they created and consolidated the illegal National Constituent Assembly. 

The recent failed dialogue in the Dominican Republic enabled the regime to launch their spurious presidential election there is no legitimacy to this election. Maduro has already stolen it. The international community must use every tool available to them to bring an end to this oppression. Sanctions are the strongest diplomatic tool we have and so I call on States to introduce more broader and tougher sanctions against this regime. Sanctions will not hurt the people of Venezuela. It hurts the personal pocketbooks of those siphoning off money from what is left of the country’s resources. The worst possible sanction for the Venezuelan people would be six more years of repression and dictatorship. Of hunger, sickness, and the deprivation of their human rights. That is only guarantee that Maduro brings.

 This government does not care about the suffering of its people, they are directly responsible for it. Venezuela has become a failed state, it is a threat to international peace and security.

 No member state of the OAS or of the United Nations can ignore what is happening in Venezuela or be complacent about the trampling of people’s human rights. At the OAS were using every tool available to us to help address the crisis. We have invoked the inter-American Democratic Charter, we have created a process to analyse whether or not crimes against humanity have taken place in Venezuela. We welcome the ICC announcement opening a preliminary examination into a situation in Venezuela. The information that our team at the OAS has gathered is shocking. We cannot allow this impunity to continue.

 Although the United Nation does not have a democratic charter, it does have three pillars that constitute the purposes for which that organization exists: to maintain international peace and security, development, and human rights. The greater the number of voices condemning this abhorrent dictatorship the closer we will be to ending it and restoring Venezuelans their liberties. 

No democratic country can be complicit nor can be their leaders and representatives or any multilateral forum. Silence, methodological, or procedural excuses, absences, and convoluted languages are the main reasons that the Venezuelan regime is still in power. No political, legal, or economic argument can justify going along with this murderous dictatorship.

A Uruguayan politician named Wilson Ferreira, who has been an inspiration to me through much of my career, when the dictatorship was about to destroy parliament in 1973, he spoke timeless words that ring true today. It is said that tyrants and their accomplices will be judged by history and this is true, however, before that the people will make them accountable and responsible for their actions. In today’s world new technologies, better and broader access to education, people are becoming more and more empowered to speak their minds and demand their rights. It is imperative government’s take heed of the people’s concerns and address them.

 The regime in Venezuela thinks that by maiming the opposition, murdering their critics, closing the civic space, shutting down the media that they can control the narrative and act with impunity- they are wrong. It is because of countless brave Venezuelans, human rights defenders, and human rights freedom fighters, people that belong here in this room among us today, people like you that will know the truth about what is happening in Venezuela and will make sure that we hold this regime to account. It is their bravery that inspires me every day to keep fighting to uphold our commitment to the rights and freedoms that we have enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the American Declaration of the Rights and duties of man. 

Speakers and Participants

Luis Almagro

Secretary General of the Organization of American States, former Foreign Minister of Uruguay


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