• WHAT: On-the-Record Briefing

  • WHEN: Friday, October 11, 2019, at 2:30 p.m.

  • WHERE: National Press Building, 529 14th Street, NW, Suite 800

  • BACKGROUND: The human rights crisis in Venezuela created by the illegitimate regime of Nicolás Maduro continues. Systematic repression, torture, extrajudicial killings, and intimidation occur unabated. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet has confirmed that Maduro and those aligned with him employ brutal – even lethal – tactics to silence dissent, including nearly 7,000 extrajudicial killings in the past two years. The UN Human Rights Council just voted to establish a fact-finding mission to investigate these abuses in Venezuela. Deputy Assistant Secretary Carstens discussed the current status of human rights in the country as Venezuela pursues a seat on the UN Human Rights Council.


MODERATOR:  Let’s go ahead and get started then.

MR CARSTENS:  Okay, let’s do it.

MODERATOR:  Great.  So I just wanted to welcome everyone to the Washington Foreign Press Center.  Thank you so much for joining us this afternoon and thank you to our colleagues in New York.  We are pleased today to have Roger Carstens, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.  He will be speaking about the human rights abuses and violations by the former Maduro regime.  And just a reminder that today’s briefing is on the record.  And with that, I will turn it over to Deputy Assistant Secretary Carstens.  Thank you.

MR CARSTENS:  Doris, thank you so much for having me here today.  I am very grateful to have a chance to talk to you and anyone else who’s on one of the out stations, particularly New York City.  Thank you.

I am glad that we’re here, and I know it’s a Friday afternoon and perhaps it’s – there are things that other people would rather be doing right now.  But it’s important to talk about what’s happening right now in Venezuela, and specifically, the Maduro regime continues to commit egregious human rights violations against its own people.  What it’s essentially doing is denying and depriving them of their fundamental freedoms through a policy of systemic torture, extrajudicial killings, repression, and intimidation.

Now, that is not just me saying that, the United States State Department, but that’s also coming from Michelle Bachelet, the UN office – or rather, High Commissioner in the Office of Human Rights.  Her report that was released on the 4th of July – I’m sure you’re probably familiar with it – outlined some of the horrific things that his regime has been doing, to include silencing dissent by the killing of over 7,000 people in the last year alone.

Now, this is so bad that the Human Rights Council just last week voted to establish a factfinding mission to kind of dig into this a little bit and try to sus out some of the details and the particulars surrounding this.  Now, what makes this so ironic is that Venezuela – the illegal Maduro regime in Venezuela – is now seeking a spot, a seat, on the Human Rights Council, and that election will take place on the 16th of October.  We find it very ironic because the United States, first off, has never supported egregious human rights violators as they attempted to gain a seat on the Human Rights Council.  We feel, number one, it kind of pulls down the credibility and integrity of the HRC, and number two, it might give them a chance to shield themselves from UN investigative efforts.

Now, a good example of that is this very factfinding mission that I just mentioned that was established on the 27th of September, there were reports that the Venezuelan ambassador of the former regime to Geneva – his name is Jorge Valero – it’s reported that he not only said that this was a “hostile initiative,” in quotation marks – and again, I’m saying what he’s allegedly said – but also that the regime would not cooperate with this factfinding mission.

Now, what’s so problematic to me is that if you were to read the document that established the Human Rights Council, UNGA – was it 6251?—in that alone it says that, number one, you should be a country that promotes human rights, and number two, you have to cooperate with the efforts of the HRC.  So on those two accounts alone, the regime has proved itself unfit to serve in this position.

But I think what really bothers me is that if this regime, this illegal regime, was given a seat on the council – in fact, the very fact that it’s running for the seat is a horrible affront to the families of the – and of the 400 political prisoners and those prisoner themselves that are currently being held by the regime, and also the families of those 7,000 people that have been killed by the regime in the last year.  And for those reasons and probably many more, the United States absolutely does not support the illegal Maduro regime’s attempt to obtain a seat on the Human Rights Council.

And with that, I’ll take your questions.

QUESTION:  So how is the vote?  How many votes are required?  Who votes those members?

MODERATOR:  Can you say your name and —

MR CARSTENS:  Yeah, I’m sorry.  Your name?

QUESTION:  Luis Alonso, AP.

MR CARSTENS:  Luis.  Yeah.  The regime – excuse me.  Tragically, I’m not quite sure on the specifics of that.  As I understand it, I think it’s a two-thirds vote, but I can get back to you on that as well.  So I apologize for that.

QUESTION:  But who vote there?

MR CARSTENS:  The members of the human rights – the members of the international community.

QUESTION:  All member-states of the UN vote?

MR CARSTENS:  Yes, sir.

QUESTION:  Ambassador?

MR CARSTENS:  Yes, sir.

QUESTION:  Alex Raufoglu from Turan News Agency of Azerbaijan.  Ambassador, I have two questions and I appreciate this background.  It’s very important.  As a non-member of the Human Rights Council, what kind of – what other leverages do we have that we can use against Venezuela at this point?  And my second question is about a different international organization, is the Non-Aligned Movement that is right now led by Maduro himself, and he will be in Azerbaijan from October 24th to November 2nd, that they will have a summit, a next summit.  I’m wondering if you have any message to the members of that movement and also maybe for the people of Azerbaijan.  What do they need to know about Maduro before rolling out a red carpet for his —



MR CARSTENS:   Yeah, great questions.  On a – if you’re not a part of the Human Rights Council or you’re not as closely tied to it, what’s happening right now, I think it’s important to just know there are going to be opportunities where you’re going to have chances to make alliances, vote, or else team up with sanctions.  There are multilateral organizations where, even though Venezuela is not a part of their problem set, they’re still being pulled into this because it’s an important part of what’s happening in the international community.

A good example is Azerbaijan is a member of OSCE.  Now, OSCE, of course, worries about Europe and, of course, the Caucasus and some of the other areas.  However, there are times when international organizations are still pulled into a broader international discussion, just like the European Union, for example.  The have decided that they are going to start working on sanctions against the illegal Maduro regime.  Why would they do that if they’re worried about Europe?  But this is an example where a multilateral organization is going beyond its territorial interests to support the international community, and that might be a chance for countries like Azerbaijan working in the OSCE to make their voice heard.

Now, as far as the movement that you’ve talked about, what they need to know – in all honesty, there are so many different reports and so many different information streams about what’s happening there that are bad, that impact negatively on the Venezuelan people and show Maduro for what he is.  But truly, right now the gold standard is the Michelle Bachelet report that came out from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  It came out on the 4th of July.  And if there’s a simple read that anyone would want to get to have a sense of who Maduro is and what he’s doing, I would direct them there.

Having said that, you can go also to members of civil society and NGOs.  Human Rights Watch, for example, keeps their website routinely updated about everything happening regarding the illegal Maduro regime.  So I would direct them there.  And that’s not a bad place to go as well.

I think if you’re an unaligned movement or you’re an NGO, you’re a member of civil society, sometimes there might be a reluctance to actually trust a government source or a multilateral organization.  So it’s not a bad thing to cast a wide net and take a look at other NGOs and other members of civil society to see what they’re saying.  And Human Rights Watch and some of the other NGOs have a pretty good reputation for digging in and trying to find the truth.

So a wonderful question.

QUESTION:  If I may, just one more question.


QUESTION:  The U.S. is leading the international campaign against Maduro.  We have some – we have a number of sanctions, and there are 50 who are already, if I’m not mistaken, the last time I checked, countries had supporting U.S., recognize opposition leader as the president in Venezuela.  My question is when we set these, let’s say, new boundaries – the sanctions – are we clear about possible consequences of hosting and hanging out with Maduro across the world?  So, like, Azerbaijan is hosting him and welcoming him.  Will that impact Azeri-U.S. or Azeri-Western relationship given the sanctions that might not be imposed?

MR CARSTENS:  So let me see if I understand your question.  You’re saying that because of the sanctions that we’re levying against Maduro, if he travels to a place like Azerbaijan, then a place like Azerbaijan might actually receive negative U.S. attention or that might – may fracture the relationship a little bit?

QUESTION:  Perfectly rendered.

MR CARSTENS:  Yeah.  These are things that people do talk about.  We want, of course, to let people know that the spotlight is on Maduro and the relationships that he’s trying to establish, and sometimes there are consequences for those relationships.  I think Azerbaijan accepting a visit from Maduro is nothing like, say, the support that Cuba is now giving to Venezuela, or Russia or China are trying to give Maduro.

So to be very frank, when we think of the countries that we’re very concerned about establishing the relationship, they’re the ones that already have a strong relationship and are basically propping up the Maduro regime. When you think about the Cuban military and intelligence services that are currently in Venezuela helping the Venezuelan forces improve their tactics, techniques, and procedures, not only in the conduct of military operations but in repressing the people, taking away their fundamental freedoms, torture, repressions, killings, and then the help that the Russians are giving them in sending down high-level technical expertise to include help with managing the internet and other forms of social repression, I mean, there’s a lot going on right now, and I definitely understand your question and appreciate it. But to be honest, there are so many important things happening with regards to Russia and Cuba and even China that that’s probably where our focus is right now.

I hope that answered your question.



QUESTION:  Maybe, I don’t know if you addressed this before —

MODERATOR:  Please state your name.

QUESTION:  My name is Juan Camilo Merlano from Caracol TV, Colombia media.

MR CARSTENS:  Pleasure to meet you.

QUESTION:  My pleasure, sir. Aren’t you, like, looking at – I don’t know – additional sanctions maybe to prohibit the transit of Maduro and Maduro cronies to the countries that are at the Grupo de Lima, Lima Group, as part of Grupo de Lima? Because they were saying that – well, the U.S. has looking forward to establishing sanctions and it will be good that Grupo de Lima, like, establishes sanctions as well that you prohibit the Maduro cronies’ transit through those countries. Is that possible, or you’re looking at it?

MR CARSTENS:  Well, this is one of those questions which I am sure you probably already know what I’m going to say, and that is we don’t really discuss our future sanctions and moves. When they – the day they roll out is the day they’d roll out, and at times even some people within the State Department are surprised that So-and-So was sanctioned at this time with this effect. So I would rather not talk about future sanction.

But what I can tell you is that we’ve been very aggressive about levying sanctions, targeted sanctions, against Maduro’s, I’d say, allies or his advisors and such, the people that he works with, in an effort to, in a way, keep them from stealing the wealth of Venezuela, in order to halt the corruption, to maybe reverse some of the corruption, and to maybe weaken them a little bit, because right now he has essentially surrounded himself with a very rapacious pack of corrupt officials that are robbing the Venezuelan people blind. There is a reason that the economy is not doing so well, and it’s not because of the targeted sanctions. It’s because his economy is poorly run, mismanaged, and there’s a lot of corruption. So that’s kind of what we’re focused on as opposed to, I think, a lot of travel movements and such.

Having said that, tragically, I know you’d love for me to answer that, but I’m just not able to.

QUESTION:  So they have the votes?

MR CARSTENS:  I’m sorry?

QUESTION:  Do they have the votes to get elected in the council?

MR CARSTENS:  I don’t – I spent some time working on Capitol Hill in my youth, when I was much younger and better looking, and that was the thing that we were always trying to divine, to run all over Capitol Hill to try to get a sense of where the votes were. And in this case, I can tell you from years of doing that, that it’s always hard to predict, and so I’d be foolish if I told you that we had the votes or not at this point.

QUESTION:  And if they get elected, what will be the U.S. response?

MR CARSTENS:  We’ll be deeply disappointed. As you know, we left the Human Rights Council, and as we’ve been very clear, really the driving force behind us leaving the Human Rights Council has to do with this issue, that at times egregious violators of human rights obtained seats on the Human Rights Council, and it destroys the credibility and the integrity of the organization, it allows these egregious human rights violators to protect themselves from UN factfinding missions and other such activities. And if Venezuela gets a seat on it, in a way, sadly, it will validate our concerns, and that’s not the direction we want it to go. I think we all benefit if the Human Rights Council establishes strong authority, strong integrity, and performs its functions as mandated in 6251.

MODERATOR:  Just checking to see if there’s any questions from our New York Foreign Press Center. Does anyone else have a follow-up question?

QUESTION:  Maybe – well, I just arrived late.

MR CARSTENS:  That’s okay. Ask one again. We’ll get to you.

QUESTION:  Yeah, the question of the Human Rights Council, I mean, there were, I guess, two other candidates, Brazil and Costa Rica, if I’m not wrong. What is happening with those positions? Are you looking forward to, I don’t know, to take more support to those countries and what happened with the Venezuela position?

MR CARSTENS:  I can answer it by saying that we are strongly against Venezuela obtaining a seat. That may sound a rather – like a passive statement to make in terms of whether we’re supporting other candidacies or not, but due to where we are right now on the Human Rights Council, we’d rather let the votes take place as they will without necessarily throwing strong support in any direction. But there is one thing that we are very clear on, and that is that Venezuela does not obtain a seat. We think that would be a very bad thing indeed.

QUESTION:  And this happens because the UN still recognizes Maduro as president.  So is the U.S. doing anything about it?  Because the OAS is different than the UN.


QUESTION:  But the UN’s never recognized Guaido.  It doesn’t seem like they are about to.

MR CARSTENS:  Well, I – yeah.

QUESTION:  So that would be the solution to avoid this?

MR CARSTENS:  I would love that.  We have – as you pointed out, you said 54 countries – I believe we’re up to 55 countries recognize Guaido as the interim president, and that would indeed solve the problem.  And if I can say, to us it’s so clear that Maduro’s on the wrong side of history and on the wrong side of human rights and the fundamental freedoms that we, as the United States and other freedom-loving countries, want everyone to share, that it’s – the divide is so clear that, to us, you either are on the side of the good side, or you’re on the bad side, because not taking a stand supports Maduro.

And so with 55 countries, we would, of course, love to see that increase every day.  And we’d like to build some irreversible momentum so that one day, either hopefully we can say goodbye to Maduro and move on to free and fair and transparent elections that are observed, or alternatively, the world basically decides that Maduro truly is on the wrong side and more countries will recognize Guaido.

But I think you’ve actually come to pretty much the right objective and solution there.

QUESTION:  So the UN is in the wrong side?

MR CARSTENS:  Well, it’s —

QUESTION:  As a body.

MR CARSTENS:  I won’t say as a body.  I mean, the UN’s made up of individual countries, so it’s hard to – you can’t just say that the UN’s wrong in this case.  And a good example is the report that Michelle Bachelet, who works for the UN – right – she came out with a very strong report that was, I thought, fantastically tough on the Maduro regime.  So I’m not going to say anything bad about the UN, because that’s – our fight’s not with the UN; our fight’s with Maduro.  And individual countries have to come to their own conclusions, and we would strongly encourage them to not be passive and not support Maduro, but rather come over to the side and recognize the interim Guaido government.

QUESTION:  And besides doing this press availability, are you talking directly to specific countries about this vote, specific vote?

MR CARSTENS:  All the time.  We are – as you can imagine, we are using every diplomatic engagement tool that we possibly can to make our beliefs known as to what we feel the outcome of this election should be, and that outcome specifically in this case, it’s not – again, not that we’re for specific countries or against specific countries, but except for one example – except for rather specifically Venezuela.  We do not want the former Maduro regime to get a seat on the Human Rights Council, and we’re doing everything we can to talk to other countries to try to convince them that that would not be in the HRC’s best interests or in the world’s best interests.

QUESTION:  How many countries have you flipped already?

MR CARSTENS:  Number one, as we were talking about, it’s hard to ever get a number of what you flipped.  Again, working on Capitol Hill, you could sit there and say so and so is definitely going to vote for you, and then the vote comes out and you’re absolutely surprised that they did not.  So number one, that’s very hard to gauge.  Number two, even if I knew that, I wouldn’t tell you.


MR CARSTENS:  That doesn’t mean that we can’t get along and have a beer together, but I just won’t tell you.  (Laughter.)

QUESTION:  Well, it’s early for a beer, but I’ll take it.

MR CARSTENS:  It’s Friday.


MODERATOR:  We’ll take one last question, if someone has a last question.

QUESTION:  I just want to clarify how many HRC members are amongst those 45 countries that are against the Maduro regime?  I’m just talking —

MR CARSTENS:   Oh, it’s —

QUESTION:  How many HRC members —


QUESTION:  — are amongst those 45 countries that do not recognize Maduro as president?  Can you sort of reach and start from there?  So how many of them are, I’ll ask.

MR CARSTENS:  Gosh.  I’ll have to get back with you with that number.  I actually think I know that number, but  —

QUESTION:  You mentioned 55.  So I haven’t —

MR CARSTENS:  No, 55 countries have currently recognized Guaido.  I think I know the number to your question, but I prefer to make sure you get the accurate one and get back to you on that one.  Okay?  So I owe you an answer.

QUESTION:  Thank you very much.

MODERATOR:  Any last comments?

MR CARSTENS:  No.  Really, just thank you so much, Doris, for having me here.  Foreign Press Center – very grateful.  For those in New York, would have loved to have had a question, but glad you’re here as well.  And I appreciate the chance to talk with all of you.  I hope the message is getting out, and we hope – hopefully on the 16th of October we’ll find that the former Maduro regime did not get a seat.  We would be very, very pleased.  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  Thank you so much.

U.S. Department of State

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