The United Nations Security Council has the primary responsibility of maintaining international peace and security pursuant to the powers granted in Chapters VI, VII, and VIII of the Charter. At the core of this competence to decide on non-coercive and coercive measures is the construction of what constitutes a threat to international peace and security according to Article 39 of the Charter. Although initially threats to international peace and security referred almost exclusively to conflicts between states, currently it could also refer to situations within states, including civil wars, humanitarian crises, and coups d’état. Nevertheless, there is still difficulty in conceptualizing the role that the international community can have, especially through the action of the Security Council, when atrocities occur at the hands of a government within state borders without a nexus to an armed conflict.
The response given by the Security Council and other UN political bodies to the situation in Venezuela serves as an example of these contentious issues. Venezuela is currently suffering one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. The country has experienced 7 years of economic contraction, hyperinflation, political polarization and institutional challenges, which have caused large-scale human suffering. OCHA has estimated that there are 7 million people in need in the country, and according to ACAPS this number reaches more than 13 million. The severity Index of the Venezuelan crisis has been estimated at 4.1/5, which is considered as very high and is similar to the index of other crises which have gotten a stronger response by the international community, namely Syria (4.9), Myanmar (3.5), Libya (4.2) and Yemen (4.6). In spite of the gravity and complexity of this crisis, there has not been an appropriate response from the international community. The 2020 Venezuelan Human Response Plan was one of the world’s lowest funded.
Importantly, the Security Council and other political bodies of the United Nations have failed to play an important role in its resolution. The Council has met nine times to discuss the situation in Venezuela but has not managed to provide a unified response to support Venezuelans in finding a solution to the crisis. This lack of response may be partly given to the fact that the situation is understood primarily as a domestic issue where the principles of sovereignty and non-interference trump the responsibility to protect even in the face of mass atrocity crimes. An ineffective response from the international community in the face of a humanitarian crisis and gross human rights violations has a direct impact in exacerbating the situation. States continue to commit atrocity crimes if they calculate that they will be protected from a strong response by international actors and that the cost of breaching human rights is bearable.
The seminar addressed the concepts and theoretical analysis which would allow the understanding of the humanitarian and political crisis in Venezuela as a threat to international peace and security. The event was moderated by Mariateresa Garrido and included presentations by Professor Cecilia M. Bailliet, University of Oslo, Norway, Adriana Salcedo, UPeace Costa Rica, and Richard Gowan, UN Director, International Crisis Group. The webinar is available here