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HomeNewsCaribbean NewsVenezuelan expels UN Officers for ‘Inappropriate Role’ amid controversial activist arrest

Venezuelan expels UN Officers for ‘Inappropriate Role’ amid controversial activist arrest

By Andreína Chávez Alava

CARACAS, ( – The Venezuelan government has ordered the local office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to cease operations in the country.

In a press conference on Thursday, foreign affairs minister Yvan Gil said the decision was taken due to the “biased stance” and “inappropriate role” the UN human rights body has played by requesting impunity for individuals involved in violent coup attempts. Caracas gave the OHCHR staff 72 hours to leave.

The announcement came in the wake of the arrest of opposition activist Rocío San Miguel for her alleged involvement in a plot to assault military units and kill government officials that was reportedly thwarted last year. In January, Venezuelan authorities announced 32 people were apprehended, while more arrest orders would follow, and accused US agencies of backing subversive actions.

Judicial authorities’ delayed information about San Miguel’s whereabouts following her arrest on February 9 sparked criticism, with the UN human rights office arguing that her detention potentially qualified as a “forced disappearance” and calling for her “immediate release.”

Although not referring to the UN statement specifically, minister Gil accused the OHCHR of lacking impartiality and urged it to rectify its “colonialist attitude.” He added that in the next 30 days, the Nicolás Maduro government would review the technical cooperation agreement signed with the UN agency in September 2019. The memorandum has been renewed yearly and facilitated the ongoing presence of a team of UN officers in the country.

“Faced with this improper behavior, Venezuelan institutions have proceeded with patience and dialogue, repeatedly trying to redirect the actions of the High Commissioner’s Office towards respect for the truth, international law and the rules governing human rights issues,” Gil said on national television.

The Venezuelan minister concluded that Caracas would continue cooperating with international human rights mechanisms under the principle of non-interference.

On Friday, the UN Human Rights Office spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani responded expressing ‘regret’ for Caracas’ decision and pledging to evaluate the next steps. “Our guiding principle has been and remains the promotion and protection of the human rights of the people of Venezuela.”

Longtime NGO operator Rocío San Miguel was arrested on February 9 in the Simón Bolívar International Airport near Caracas before boarding a flight to Miami, USA, with her daughter. However, San Miguel’s lawyers denounced a “forced disappearance,” arguing that the family of was not informed of where she was being held and was denied communication. The claim was backed by several NGOs, opposition figures and US officials.

On February 11, Venezuelan Attorney General Tarek William Saab informed that San Miguel had been arrested for her alleged ties to a conspiracy called “Brazalete Blanco” [White Bracelet]. The thwarted plan reportedly aimed to attack and rob a military unit in San Cristóbal, western Tachira state, and later assassinate Táchira governor Freddy Bernal and President Maduro. At least 19 people have been arrested in connection to the scheme.

According to Saab, San Miguel’s role in the plot was to “communicate in real time the progress of the terrorist actions as they developed.” Her involvement was reportedly revealed by ex-military officer Anyelo Heredia, who was arrested on January 16 and confessed to the operation and participants. Heredia was fleeing charges, having escaped prison in 2019 after three years of detention for another violent plot.

On February 12, the general attorney further clarified that San Miguel was being held in the National Bolivarian Intelligence (SEBIN) Helicoide detention center in Caracas and was being investigated for treason, conspiracy, terrorism and other charges.

The prosecutor later added that five members of San Miguel’s family were also detained, though four were released. Only her ex-partner, retired military officer Alejandro José Gonzales De Canales Plaza, remained in captivity for his alleged involvement in the same terrorist plot as San Miguel. The ex-colonel is being accused of disclosing political and military secrets concerning the country’s security and obstruction of justice.

In a separate presser, Saab stated that San Miguel’s arrest followed Venezuelan legislation and that her case was being politicized by human rights organizations.

On February 15, the UN human rights office noted that authorities had confirmed Rocío San Miguel’s place of detention and called for guarantees of her right to defense. About two hours later, Caracas informed the decision to expel the UN officers from the country.

Rocío San Miguel is a 57-year-old Venezuelan and Spanish dual national, who founded the NGO Citizen Control in 2005 to document alleged cases of human rights violations committed by Venezuelan security forces. The organization also investigates defense and national security issues involving the Bolivarian National Armed Forces (FANB).

In 2014, San Miguel was named by Maduro for allegedly being involved in a coup attempt, although the case was not pursued.

A 2021 investigation into NGO’s role in Venezuela found that Citizen Control does not have clear information about its financial channel and that a Wikileaks cable from 2007 sent by former US Ambassador to Venezuela, William Brownfield, referred to San Miguel as an “active partner of USAID.”

The decision to close the OHCHR office sparked debate in the South American nation. On Friday, Venezuelan Chavista human rights collective Surgentes warned that the decision would have “a negative impact on the victims of human rights violations.”

Surgentes recognized the instrumentalization of human rights by international organizations to attack governments but argued that this case did not apply to the UN human rights office’s work in the Caribbean country. It urged the Maduro government to solve the impasse with the OHCHR “through dialogue and diplomatic means” to promptly reactivate its operations.

“The state would do well to support its reasons [for expelling the UN personnel] with facts in order to promote public debate on the legitimacy of the measure taken. Given this omission, the decision looks like an arbitrary response to the OHCHR’s pronunciation regarding the detention of activist Rocío San Miguel,” the text explained.

The Venezuelan human rights group went on to add that San Miguel’s arrest had due process irregularities and that the practices had been observed in other cases.

UN rights office regrets Venezuela’s decision to suspend operations





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