Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro will not attend a United Nations Human Rights Council, amid worldwide condemnation of his regime’s systematic human rights abuses.
“The president is not coming,” a Venezuelan diplomat in Geneva told Reuters.
”Please note that per information the HRC Secretariat just received, President Maduro of Venezuela will not address the Human Rights Council,” Council spokesperson Rolando Gomez said in a statement. “Instead, (Foreign) Minister (Jorge) Arreaza Montserrat has been scheduled to address the Council on the opening day of the session.”
The decision follows a U.N.’s human rights investigation that found “extensive” and widespread repression of rights across Venezuela amid a political, economic and humanitarian crisis that has left millions starving and thousands dead.
“OHCHR’s findings detailed in this report point to an increasingly critical human rights situation since the protests began, with mounting levels of repression of political dissent by national security forces, and increasing stigmatization and persecution of people perceived as opposing the Government of President Maduro,” the report stated.
Mass protests against the regime have been ongoing since April this year, leading to the deaths of at least 124 individuals, as security services use weapons such as tear gas, water cannons, and rubber bullets against protesters. Meanwhile, the report also found extensive use of torture against political prisoners.
Most recently, the Maduro regime has pushed forth with the creation of an illegal lawmaking body, known as the “national constituents assembly,” filled exclusively with pro-government stooges, effectively rendering the country a dictatorship.
Maduro last spoke at the human rights forum in November 2015, where he decried the “ongoing harassment of the imperialist powers of the United States,” blaming them for leading an “economic war” against his socialist government.
Despite three minimum wage hikes over the course of 2017, skyrocketing inflation has led to Venezuela’s minimum wage being worth under $6 a month, leading to chronic shortages of everything from food and medicine to basic sanitary products.
Last month, Venezuela’s former chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega, a former loyalist to Hugo Chávez, fled the country via a speedboat, after speaking out against the country’s “serious and systematic” human rights violations.
America has responded to the crisis by imposing sanctions against the Venezuelan regime. Last week, President Donald Trump signed an executive order banning Americans from dealing in Venezuelan government debt or that of its state-run oil company. He has also placed sanctions on Maduro personally, as well as a number of other government officials.
In a speech to a crowd of Venezuelans and Venezuelan-Americans at a church in Doral, South Florida, last month, Vice President Mike Pence promised the Trump administration would continue to act against the regime.
“Our resolve is unwavering; our conviction is clear,” Pence declared. “You may be assured: Under the leadership of President Donald Trump, the United States of America will continue to bring the full measure of American economic and diplomatic power to bear until democracy is restored in Venezuela.”
Meanwhile, Trump has not ruled out a military solution to the crisis.