Categories: AnalysisGlobal

Damning UN report urges the UK to unfreeze Venezuelan gold

Alena Douhan is the United Nations’ special rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights. Douhan visited Venezuela on 1 February “to assess the impact of unilateral sanctions on the enjoyment of human rights by people living in Venezuela and any other affected people”.

On 12 February, Douhan published her preliminary findings based on “extensive consultations with a wide range of interlocutors”. The UN independent expert recognised the negative impact of coercive sanctions on human rights and urged European banks to “unfreeze assets of the Venezuela Central Bank”. She also noted how the push for regime change “violates the principle of sovereign equality of states”.


Since the Barack Obama administration declared Venezuela “an unusual and extraordinary threat to national security” in March 2015, the South American country has come under one of the world’s harshest sanctions regimes. These sanctions have targeted Venezuela’s oil industry, cutting off the country’s main source of income.

A report conducted by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) estimated that US sanctions had killed 40,000 Venezuelans between 2017 and 2018.

Since 2017, the European Union has also imposed sanctions on Venezuela, with European banks freezing Venezuelan assets worth billions of dollars. In particular, following US pressure, the UK froze around $2bn worth of gold held in the Bank of England.

Unfreeze assets

The Nicolás Maduro government has repeatedly urged governments to unfreeze Venezuelan assets in order to respond to the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

Legal documents dated 29 December 2020 show that Venezuelan opposition figure Juan Guaidó’s UK legal team rejected a proposal to use the gold stored in the Bank of England for the purpose of supplying coronavirus vaccines to Venezuela. Guaidó’s lawyers claimed that sanctions are not “an impediment to the Maduro regime meeting its payment obligations” for coronavirus relief.

However, Douhan has now urged:

the Governments of the United Kingdom, Portugal and the United States and corresponding banks to unfreeze assets of the Venezuela Central Bank to purchase medicine, vaccines, food, medical and other equipment, spare parts and other essential goods to guarantee humanitarian needs of the people of Venezuela and the restoration of public services through and under the control of the UNDP and other UN agencies.

She added that “Venezuelan assets frozen in US, UK and Portuguese banks amount to US $6 bln”. Roughly one third of this, US$2bn, is frozen in the Bank of England. To add perspective, CEPR found that the value of “Imports of food and medicine [to Venezuela] for 2018 were just $2.6 billion”.

The “repeated refusals of banks in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Portugal to release Venezuelan assets”, Douhan noted, “even for buying medicine, vaccines and protective kits, under the control of international organizations, violates the above principal and impedes the ability of Venezuela to respond to the COVID-19 emergency” [emphasis added].

Douhan is thus calling on the UK to return the gold held in the Bank of England to Venezuela, so that it can better respond to the economic and health crisis facing the country.

The violation of sovereignty

Douhan also noted how unilateral coercive sanctions violate Venezuela’s sovereignty and are not grounded in international law.

As such, “freezing assets of the Central Bank of Venezuela on the ground of non-recognition of its government as well as the adoption of relevant sanctions violates the sovereign rights of the country and impedes its effective government to exercise its duty to guarantee the needs of the population”.

The ultimate purpose of sanctions, Douhan recognised, is to remove the Nicolás Maduro government:

The announced purpose of the “maximum pressure” campaign – to change the Government of Venezuela – violates the principle of sovereign equality of states and constitutes an intervention in domestic affairs of Venezuela that also affects its regional relations.

In this context, Venezuela’s ability to provide public services under the present sanctions regime has been totally debilitated – “the government’s revenue was reported to shrink by 99% with the country currently living on 1% of its pre-sanctions income”.

For instance, the diversion of assets of Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA’s US subsidiary CITGO “has prevented transplants of liver and bone marrow to 53 Venezuelan children”.

“Among other factors reported to affect the economy of Venezuela”, Douhan added, are “mismanagement, corruption and state price controls”.

UK response

Douhan’s report follows another study published in February by the US Government Accountability Office which recognised, according to Venezuela Analysis, that “sanctions have pushed the Venezuelan economy into crisis”. She will present her full report to the United Nations Human Rights Council in September 2021.

In recent years, the UK government has ignored or directly disputed UN recommendations.

Featured image via screengrab/RT UK

John McEvoy

John McEvoy is a global writer for the Canary. He has reported from Colombia, Venezuela, and France, and has written widely about recent British involvement in Latin America in the International History Review, Jacobin Magazine, and Colombia Reports.

View Comments

  • Un-friggin-believable, my own country is nothing but a baddie is a B-movie or a classroom bully acting like a pompous arse because he's got a tiny member again.....Kakistocracy continued

  • We follow the yanks but America has tried and tried to dethrone the the president but can't get their puppet in the people voted the president in not the yanks or the British he won't bow down to them so they topple if they can never learning they ain't the wanted

  • Same old,same old American Empire trying to Steal somebody`s Oil. Venezuela has the World`s biggest Oil Reserves. The US never bothered Mugabe killing Thousands in Zimbabwe; `cuz they got NO OIL.

  • The UK is so wrong here, return the stolen $$$ to the rightful elected ruler of Venezuela and stop bowing down to the EXCITED state of America /israel.

  • Guido is a ghastly joke. It disgusts me to see how this Tory bunch promotes him. I can scarcely believe how corrupt the UK has become.

  • These actions only show who the real TERRORIST of the globe are. if a country doesn't vote the way The USA/israel wants them to then the election is rigged. all the while the USA is like the Roman empire was, before its decline.

  • Its a true violation of a country's sovereignty and puts a lower value on what this means for a country.
    Means no dialogue either.
    The UK, and the USA are acting like they aren't a country anyone can understand. It looks like its attentive only to raw power . This makes the Brexit Campaign to Leave the EU to find a new identity look ridiculous, and creates the slippery slope of hell into the disorder of our fundamental principlas people worry over.
    Nothing rational mind you just a vague unease of trouble coming.
    If a country isn't allowed a social identity does it still exist?
    Is cultural genocide legal then?
    They tried to culturally obliterate the Natives of Canada but it didn't work at all.
    I don't see that suppression through violence, hunger, controlling the story works anywhere if one thinks about it's lack of success over the centuries, as this is the atmosphere down through the ages to this kind of democratic dream emerged from.
    The USA along with its UK partner chooses raw power instead. "No laws need apply, we're exceptional" kind of philosophy.
    No learning by leaders means more bad news.

Published by
John McEvoy
Tags: Juan GuaidójusticeLatin AmericaNicolás MadurosanctionsVenezuela

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