US sanctions may worsen Venezuela suffering, says UN rights chief

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A pro-government protester rallies against US sanctions with a sign reading "Trump unblock Venezuela" in Caracas on August 7, 2019Image source, Getty Images
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Pro-government protesters marched in Caracas against the US sanctions

The UN's human rights chief has criticised the latest US sanctions against Venezuela saying they would intensify the suffering of millions.

Michelle Bachelet, a former president of Chile, said the sanctions were "extremely broad" and would hit the most vulnerable sections of society.

The unilateral measures freeze all Venezuelan government assets in the US and ban commercial transactions.

They are aimed at piling pressure on President Nicolás Maduro to step down.

The US is one of more than 50 nations that do not recognise Mr Maduro as Venezuela's legitimate president.

What did Michelle Bachelet say?

"I am deeply worried about the potentially severe impact on the human rights of the people of Venezuela of the new set of unilateral sanctions imposed by the US this week," the UN human rights commissioner said in a statement.

"The sanctions are extremely broad and fail to contain sufficient measures to mitigate their impact on the most vulnerable sectors of the population."

Despite some exceptions for sales linked to food, clothing and medicine, she said the measures were "still likely to significantly exacerbate the crisis for millions of ordinary Venezuelans".

Image source, Reuters
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Michelle Bachelet has previously criticised the actions of Nicolás Maduro's government

Ms Bachelet has raised concern about the consequences of previous US sanctions against Venezuela. She has also criticised Mr Maduro's government, mainly over its ill-treatment of opponents.

In March she singled out Venezuela as an example of how "violations of civil and political rights" can accentuate inequality and worsening economic conditions.

What were the US measures?

On Monday US President Donald Trump signed an executive order stating that "all property and interests in property of the government of Venezuela that are in the United States... are blocked and may not be transferred, paid, exported, withdrawn, or otherwise dealt in".

The order also bars transactions with Venezuelan authorities whose assets are blocked, stating that "the making of any contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services by, to, or for the benefit of any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to this order".

Media caption,

Venezuela crisis: The four countries interested in the presidential battle

"The receipt of any contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services from any such person," is also banned.

US National Security Adviser John Bolton said the new sanctions could be imposed on "anyone who supports" Mr Maduro's government.

Image source, Getty Images
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Millions of Venezuelans have fled to neighbouring countries to escape economic hardship

The new measures, he added, would force countries and companies to choose between doing business with the US or with Venezuela.

He said America would use "every tool to end Maduro's dictatorship in Venezuela".

Venezuela's foreign ministry denounced the new sanctions and accused Washington of "arbitrary economic terrorism against the Venezuelan people".

What's the background?

The US, along with more than 50 other nations, has given its backing to the head of the National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, who declared himself interim president in January, arguing that Mr Maduro's re-election last year was fraudulent.

Mr Guaidó welcomed the new US sanctions arguing that they punish those "who do business with the regime".

But international pressure has so far failed to remove Mr Maduro from power.

Venezuelans have continued to flee the country's political and economic crisis in huge numbers. More than four million are now living abroad according to UN figures.