"This emergency case rule is both not legally valid and it’s also illegitimate politically and historically"

Interview with Ertuğrul Kürkçü, member (HDP) of the Turkish Grand National Assembly and member in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe

Zeitgeschehen im Fokus What is the reason that Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has prolonged the state of emergency for the seventh time? What is his intention to act in such a way?

Ertuğrul Kürkçü The state of emergency in Turkey is not simply a reaction or a resistance against a failed coup d’état but it is rather a tool for Tayyip Erdoğan in order to prepare the ground for his emergency case state. Therefore, we cannot speak about emergency case in legal terms. But we should consider it as a political issue. The pretext for the declaration of the emergency case is also fabricated by Tayyip Erdoğan and his government.

Why is this so?

We now understand that they had all the information about the coup preparations. Therefore they waited for them to be acted out in order to be able to declare the state of emergency.

What was their intention?

The state of emergency gives them the right to rule the country by decrees and to derogate from the Turkish constitution, the European Convention on Human Rights and the United Nations Convention. They are issuing decrees which are not immediately related with the imminent threat as foreseen by law. They have been ruling the country and issued decrees on every aspect of social and political life. Therefore, this emergency case rule is both not legally valid and it’s also illegitimate politically and historically.

You said Erdoğan was informed about the planning of the coup d’état. What are the evidences for this valuation?

First of all, there are witnesses. Some Russian journalists and politicians declared, that they have informed the Turkish government of a possible coup d’état two days before it happened, and that was never denied. The second thing is those immediate informal explanations of what was happening. The government officials responsible for defending the government against the coup made formal explanations to our deputies in the parliament that the situation was as a reaction by the Gülen-Movement for the presumed purges in the military - and in the police and in the judiciary as well – as scheduled for annual military assignments and promotions in August. This explains why the Prime Minister in the first hours while the coup was already in progress said: «We are now facing a military insurrection». He didn’t use the term «coup». Another very symptomatic indication is that the first action taken by the government on the day after the coup attempt was to purge 2,700 judges. After a military insurrection or a coup, the first thing you can and you should do is to purge judges or soldiers? Obviously they had already made the preparations for the purge and were marking their time for the most available pretext to appear.

What is the conclusion you draw in view of these facts?

This means and proves that they had already filed lists of state-officials, progressive or dissident judges, military officers, academics etc. whom they had queued for purging. The inconsistent and ever fluctuating personal narrative of Tayyip Erdoğan himself on his whereabouts, the ministers’ and Prime Minister’s whereabouts is another major flaw in the government’s version of the course of events in the 15 – 16 July events-

It is very curious that on Friday evening no major ruling party and government figure was in Ankara. Furthermore, all the top commanders had gone to a wedding in Istanbul. This is another clue that the top brass should have been anticipating “something” extraordinary and taken measures in order to keep themselves outside of the plot as targets or keep a distance from responsibility should that coup fail.

The last issue is that the government and the majority in the Parliament, the government party barred the parliamentary inquiry commission from concluding a parliamentary investigation on the coup process. They didn’t call Tayyip Erdoğan before the parliamentary inquiry commission. The army chief of staff didn’t appear before the commission. The secret services chair didn’t appear before the commission. Without listening the major actors, the commission issued a very controversial report with reservations from the HDP and the main opposition party CHP. The inquiry commission narrative refrains from discussing the inconsistencies of Tayyip Erdoğan’s personal narrative. He has changed his first statement about the coup at least four times. At first, he said he got the information about the ongoing coup attempt from “my brother in law”. Then he said: “The MIT (national intelligence organization) chair informed me”. Then he said: “I got the information from the army chief of staff”. All at a different time. We, at least, can say the president’s narrative is not consistent, and it is marred by contradictions and controversial. This gives us the opportunity to construct our own narrative. And this is our narrative.

What was the aim of the coup d’état?

This coup is an abortive one. The first thing we can say is that they had no clear target. They had no effective means. They didn’t have an organization, so it gives us the impression that they might even be provoked for staging a coup. One story is that the army chief of staff had lit the green light for them for a coup but then moved back. This is one of the scenarios we can speak about. We can say that there was no clear target. When we look at their manifesto, we see a combination of concerns of political rights combined with concerns of security issues. The manifesto lacks a coherent logic and a framework. It gives us no idea about their intentions.

This fits to what I thought when I watched the television reports about the coup. This is not professional, but what is it? I had the impression of a lose arrangement.

In both ways. The attempt was nonprofessional, and the reaction was nonprofessional. Even after six hours the coup operation extended across Turkey, the armed forces chief of staff didn’t even think about ordering the soldiers to stay in their barracks. It started in the afternoon and only after 12 o’clock at midnight, the army was ordered to stay in the barracks. It is very interesting that the ruling APK grassroots organizations displayed and even more active reaction. The civilians were gathering before the army barracks. Ask any ordinary person in Istanbul where is the first barracks in Istanbul he cannot tell you. But this AKP people knew where they had to go, in Istanbul, in Ankara and elsewhere. They were directed before the barracks by police officers. The first places that they gathered were the police stations in their neighbourhoods and their vicinities. This gives us the impression that the AKP had previously exercised a simulation of a preemptive operation. This is my opinion.

Is there a public discussion about the events in Turkey?

No, all this is not publicly discussed in Turkey because the AKP both in political and journalistic means keeps the opposition under pressure and avoids a public discussion of alternative versions of the coup attempt. You are immediately defamed and singled out so that people are frightened. But among the people there is a general feeling that 15 July was a fake coup and a fake pretext for declaring an emergency case rule. This is a very widely shared idea across Turkey.

For you it is not dangerous to speak so openly about this?

Yes, there are some dangers. But if you don’t dare to speak the truth, so why are you a politician?

Mr. Kürkçü, thank you for this interview

Interview by Thomas Kaiser, Strasbourg

“I remain convinced that a democratic and just international order is indeed possible“

Interview with Professor Dr iur. et phil. Alfred M. de Zayas

Professor Dr jur. et phil. Alfred de Zayas (picture thk)

What is your experience as Special Rapporteur of the United Nations?

For the last six years, I have done my best to promote the practical implementation of human rights, but also to clarify the conditions for their realization, to identify the obstacles and propose possible solutions. In doing so, it was important to keep the right priorities in mind – peace and human dignity.

As the first rapporteur in this office, I strove to shed light on norms and doctrine in order to elucidate the scope and implications of concepts such as democracy and justice – while avoiding the temptation of following the fashion, or what I call the “flavour of the month”.

How did you apply your mandate?

I took the opportunity to give life to the six pages of Human Rights Council Resolution 18/6, applying it in concrete situations, thus demonstrating holistically how  all civil, cultural, economic,  political and social rights converge. The idea of a democratic and just world order has been the subject of many United Nations resolutions for several decades now, going back to the legendary Resolution on a New International Economic Order of 1974 (1 May 1974, A/RES/S-6/3201)

How did this mandate come about?

The function of the independent expert was created in September 2011 by the Human Rights Council, and I was appointed by the Council on 1 May 2012. Since then I have published 14 reports – 13 related to specific topics and one on my mission in Venezuela and Ecuador.

What is the international order based on?

The international order is that of multilateralism.The constitution of the World is the Charter of the United Nations, and its priorities are life, peace, family, culture, development.I insist on the spirituality and immanence of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – which was adopted 70 years ago– and further developed in International Human Rights Conventions.

What does a “democratic order” mean to you?

A democratic order means the correlation between the people’s will and the laws and policies that affect them - i.e. a direct or semi-direct democracy as in Switzerland is the most authentic.

What distinguishes an equitable order?

An equitable order includes a fair distribution of the common heritage of mankind as envisaged in the Charter of the United Nations and in the Declaration of the Right to Development.

What is the function of a rapporteur?

A rapporteur or independent expert (actually the same) is a professional who must remain impartial, judge independently and try to promote human rights through mediation, negotiation and constructive recommendations

What qualities should a rapporteur possess?

A rapporteur must be above all an “honest broker”, an honest negotiator and mediator, one who suggests viable solutions. The mainstream media and even the Council itself expect from us to play an antagonistic/intransigent role – like that of a gladiator. And worse, sometimes they expect from us to condemn certain states, but remain silent about others. The pressure is clearly noticeable – initiated by the zeitgeist, the media, the lobbies, but also by non-governmental organizations with their own agendas.However, we have a Code of Conduct and must act independently of any pressure or intimidation.

Isn’t that difficult, because many people are “advocating” human rights?

Yes , unfortunately, there is a veritable «human rights industry» and some rapporteurs do not always act objectively – These rapporteurs are opportunists who use human rights for their careers and enjoy being applauded for that. In civil society organizations there are those whom I dare call «mercenaries of human rights» - Condottieri.

Doesn’t this lead to a misuse of human rights?

Yes, I disapprove especially of the arrogance of those reporters who pretend that the magic solution is to be found in the game of “Naming and Shaming”.They do as if the only thing we need to do is to identify the culprits and then denounce and demonize them.

Is this methodology promising?

In my opinion, this approach is naive and counterproductive.There is nothing that is further apart from the real solution to complex human rights problems.Our task must be to listen, to learn, to look for the causes of problems.If we orientate ourselves on the results, then we reject this idea of “naming and shaming”, because – in order to be able to embarrass someone – we must be beyond suspicion ourselves.As long as the state which we “name and shame” does not recognize us as a moral authority, everything we say will be rejected as irrelevant. We must be oriented towards the results instead, and do everything possible to help the victims of human rights violations, to give them hope, to pay tribute.

To make the mandate a conciliatory ...

Yes, we need to team up with the state and its officials on an equal footing, horizontally, not vertically.  We must not talk to States from our high horses, but engage them in a spirit of cooperation rather than mere condemnation.

How did your mission in Venezuela and Ecuador proceed?

The mission was a success and showed concrete results– for example, the organizations of the United Nations that are on the ground in Venezuela and Ecuador, have intensified their cooperation with the government.I think that the United Nations can help the people thanks to their experience, their counselling services and their technical support.Although I am not a super rapporteur, I passed on requests to competent colleagues and have interceded with ministers on behalf of numerous victims.

This is a remarkable achievement; have you realized any further impact of your mission?

In Venezuela, 80 prisoners were released shortly after my mission.My report is ready now –57 pages including 10 attachments and 189 footnotes. It should be published soon – it is now in the hands of the United Nations editors.

You hit “a hot topic” with it; was there no reaction?

Of course, before, during, and after the mission, I suffered attacks on my person –a vulgar level of intimidation, harassment and threats  on Facebook and on the part of the “Twitterati”.These people do not understand human rights as an expression of human dignity, but rather as a weapon of war, as a method of defamation and demonization.I call this the “weaponization” of human rights.

What kind of goals do these people pursue?

These people do not want an independent investigation – they just want the condemnation of the State.I, on the other hand, want to help the Venezuelan people, and this requires working with the government and ensuring that other governments end the economic war and lift the sanctions, which have resulted in many deaths due to malnutrition and lack of medicines. There is no doubt about it:  economic sanctions kill.

How should the sanctions be judged under international law?

Some sanctions, such as arms embargoes, can be legitimate if the aim is to create an atmosphere of dialogue.By contrast, economic sanctions that seek to strangle a state and cause the deaths of many innocent people through starvation or lack of medicine are incompatible with the spirit and letter of the UN Charter. Already in the year 2000, the United Nations Sub-Commission on Human Rights publicly declared such sanctions as incompatible with human dignity and destructive of human rights.Since 2015, a Special Rapporteur, Idriss Jazairy, has been investigating the consequences of sanctions and the need to secure reparations to the victims.

How do you judge that Switzerland joins the sanctions against Venezuela?

For me as a newly minted Swiss inhabitant, it is a scandal, and completely incompatible with Switzerland’s neutrality rule ... Switzerland should instead try to mediate between government and opposition.

What do you feel when you think of the time as a rapporteur?

Gratitude for the opportunity to serve the cause of human rights.I thank my assistant(s), I thank many colleagues, and I also thank some media outlets, which offered me an occasional platform.But I will keep going, not as a rapporteur, butas Professor at the Geneva School of Diplomacy I will continue to teach human rights and will also be invited from different universities over and again, and I will continue to attend UN events.I remain convinced that great progress has been made since 1945 and that a democratic and just international order is indeed possible.For the realization of human rights, we have to prove patience, perseverance and passion.

Professor de Zayas, thank you very much for the interview.

Interview by Thomas Kaiser, Geneva

Translation Zeitgeschehen im Fokus

Venezuela: Clean copy of the revised version without track changes

Interview with Prof. Dr jur. et phil. Alfred de Zayas

Professor Dr jur. et phil. Alfred de Zayas (picture thk)


«The sanctions must be terminated and the economic war must end»

Interview with Professor Dr iur. et phil. Alfred M. de Zayas, UN Independent Expert on the Promotion of a Democratic and Equitable International Order.

From 26 November to 4 December 2017, Professor Dr Alfred M. de Zayas carried out an official mission in Venezuela. He had requested an invitation in August, which the Venezuelan Government granted in September, making him the first UN rapporteur since 1996 to be invited and to conduct an official UN visit to Venezuela. The purpose of the mission was to explore how the Bolivarian Revolution had implemented human rights – especially in the economic, social and cultural domain. It was his special concern to compare the coverage in the mainstream media of the United States and Europe with the Venezuelan reality on the ground. In order to get a sufficiently objective picture, the UN expert met with  representatives and activists of 35 non-governmental organizations specializing on human rights issues, with representatives of industry and commerce, members of the opposition National Assembly, with Church officials, with victims of violent demonstrations and with relatives of detainees. Apart from meetings with a large number of government ministers, he met twice with Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza and his staff. During his stay he could move freely, as has already been reported in «Zeitgeschehen im Fokus» (n. 18, 23/12/2017). He also gave a lecture at the University of Caracas. In the following interview, the UN expert reports about his impressions and experience in Venezuela.

Zeitgeschehen im Fokus: How would you assess the economic situation in Venezuela after you have stayed there?

Professor Alfred de Zayas The Bolivarian Revolution, which has taken place in Venezuela, developed a model that worked rather well in the first 10 years. That was partly due to the high oil price. Venezuela depends on oil revenues by 95 %. With these revenues, the state could finance many social projects. But now that the oil price has dropped by more than the half, the country faces massive disruptions in the acquisition and distribution of food, medicines and other products.

What distinguishes the model in Venezuela?

It is a social model that wants to achieve a fairer distribution of the country’s wealth. Meanwhile, 2 million homes have been handed over to the poorer part of the population. Thus at least 8 million persons have benefitted from affordable apartments. There is also the so-called system of CLAP (Comité Local de Abastecimiento y Producción – Local Committee for supply and production), in which the government distributes food parcels to the poor. Those who cannot pay for the packages, receive them for free, of course.

What does such a parcel contain?

I did open one when I was visiting one of the modern and very clean «Urbanizaciones» (government housing for the poor). There are 16 kg of food in it: sugar, rice, cooking oil, flour, cornmeal, milk powder, etc. A family gets such a parcel twice a month. Therefore, there is no “famine” in Venezuela, despite media reports and generalizations. There is, however, a shortage in several sectors, and some products are hard to get, but the population does not suffer from hunger as for example in many countries of Africa and Asia – or even in the favelas of São Paolo and other urban areas in Brazil and other Latin American countries. There are mainly problems in the timely distribution of imported products – but this is predominantly the responsibility of the private sector, which often enough deliberately boycotts the distribution, sometimes stocks products in large warehouses and then takes them to the black market instead of delivering them to supermarkets -- just to make a higher profit.

What is special about the «Bolivarian Revolution»?

It is an alternative model to capitalism, to unregulated free market economics. It is not «Marxism», and certainly not «Marxism-Leninism». It is an attempt to give the capitalist system a humane face. Since 1999, when Hugo Chávez came to power, a certain reorientation of the country took place, which could set a precedent for Latin America and many developing economies. There are major achievements, which the mainstream media systematically ignores – e.g.  illiteracy was eliminated within shortest time (as was the case in Castro’s Cuba). School education is free, from kindergarten to university. There is a system of free medical care, a system of support for young mothers, a major effort at building affordable housing and expanding the public transport system.

Today, if you read the New York Times or «inform» yourself about Venezuela on CNN or UN Watch etc., you repeatedly come across the concept of a “humanitarian crisis” ...

... I warn against this technical term, because a «humanitarian crisis» can be easily exploited to justify a so-called “humanitarian intervention” or to aim at a “regime change”, under the pretext that the government lets the population starve. Some states pretend that the Venezuelan government can no longer guarantee the rights of the people. Hence, a humanitarian crisis emerged and now they want to intervene militarily to «save» the Venezuelan people from a failed socialist experiment.

What is the situation on the ground?

I stayed in Venezuela for 8 days of intensive meetings back-to-back; I could move around freely wherever I wanted. I did not see any street children and I also did not see any person begging. I have not seen a single beggar in Caracas although I walked and drove across the entire city. I also walked by the poorer quarters, where I did see queues of people waiting for some subsidized or rationed products. The situation has many facets, and I do not claim that there is no hunger and no scarcity of medicine. I simply say that the existing cases of children dying of malnutrition or lack or medicine do not add up to a «humanitarian crisis».  I did not see any violence, although the press keeps telling us about it. As a UN official I have been in many places where you «smell» violence, where you sense tension in the air and feel that you yourself may be in danger.  That is not the case in Venezuela. There are homicides – many of them associated with drugs and international crime. Honduras is much worse.

People who beg are the order of the day in our western industrial nations. No-one would think of talking about a humanitarian crisis, for example in Germany, because there are beggars in the streets.

In Venezuela, I did not see beggars. No doubt, there is poverty, but the population is not depressed – certainly not in the same degree as the people of East Germany in the 70s, where people were dispirited and demotivated and went about with pale faces, sad and depressed. The population in the streets of Caracas is Latino in the best sense of the term, they make the best of things and do not let scarcity and boycotts turn them into zombies. Just like in any other city; everywhere there are cars, motorcycles and bicycles on the road.

Can the people supply themselves with food?

There are enough fruits and locally-grown vegetables. People eat bananas or mangoes in the streets. There is a certain lack of the products that the domestic and foreign monopolies determine.

What is the situation like in the supermarkets?

I have seen several food stores and markets – and I took photos of them. It is not true that the food stores are empty. Of course, some have empty shelves – I got such pictures from non-governmental organizations (NGOS) – but there was always enough of everything. Of course, there are some products that are imported because Venezuela cannot manufacture them itself. They are scarce commodity. But you can live very well without these products. The fact that the supply of hygienic items for women or diapers for the babies are scarce is a direct result of the failure of the private sector to import these goods and to distribute them to the supermarkets.  However, you can get everything on the black market – but at exorbitant prices.

Is a specific shortage created there to stir up the people’s dissatisfaction with the government?

There are studies and statistical data from several university professors who investigated this phenomenon – especially why and how supply shortfalls are getting worse, especially when elections or referendums are imminent. They are supposed to affect people negatively, so that they vote against the government. This is called “voto castigo” (penalty vote) in Spanish. If you read an article from the New York Times, it will say that there are bottlenecks in supply in Venezuela, for example also for medicines. However, you will not read anywhere why this is so. You will not read anywhere that the private sector does have the foreign exchange to import the necessary medicines. This is not said. It is not also said that a huge smuggling has emerged for subsidized products – subsidized Venezuelan rice or flour can be bought in Bogotá.

What are the reasons for these phenomena?

There are a number of reasons, which I was able to observe during my stay. I have to study them in more detail. I was given an extended documentation from various sources that I still have to digest. There are also very good books about this topic. An economist in Caracas, Professor Dr Pasqualina Curcio, carefully explained in her book how the economic war against Venezuela caused this situation of shortage, and that was no accident – it was deliberate, absolutely targeted. In the period around the elections - approximately two or three months earlier – the goods suddenly disappear. Especially hygiene items cannot be purchased any longer. However, warehouses were discovered, and that is also documented, that were full of these products. I was also given a pictured documentation on the matter.

Do you mean that shortages are artificially generated?

Yes, the goods are often not delivered to the supermarkets but traded on the black market at exorbitant prices. There are, of course, institutional problems and multiple inefficiencies in the socialistic model, about which I made concrete recommendations to the government. Yet another problem, which I discussed with several ministers, is the unnecessary price controls and artificial exchange rates – this all results in corruption and abuse. The government should instead give the most vulnerable persons direct financial support, rather than making use of a price control.

Why that?

The danger of price controls, as we know from the Soviet Union, is that parallel markets emerge and with them large-scale corruption. People are people, and if they can buy subsidized goods, the temptation to resell these subsidized goods at a higher price is too big. You can make a killing with subsidized corn flour, with subsidized rice, which you can then smuggle into Colombia, Brazil, Aruba and sell it there at great profit. Venezuela has a very long border with Colombia and Brazil. The Caribbean Islands are easily accessible, too.

Who is responsible for this process?

There is an internationally organized mafia that operates the process, but apparently the governments of the neighbouring countries do nothing to stop this smuggling. If a store in Bogotá offers cheap rice from Venezuela, we should assume that the traders know where the rice comes from: It is either stolen or smuggled. In any case it was brought into the country illegally. The government does nothing – or too little – against these supermarkets. Moreover, Colombia allows the Venezuelan currency to be changed at wildly fluctuating rates of exchange. This has devastating effects on the economy and financial situation in Venezuela.

What about agricultural production in the country?

Diversified agricultural production is now being systematically promoted, but this is a process that takes time and requires importing seeds and other goods. Venezuela no longer wants to be exclusively dependent on oil exports and wants to produce its own food. However, the procurement of seeds is in the hands of foreign monopolists, and the government has difficulties in obtaining seeds at decent prices.

To what extent do sanctions have an impact on the supply situation?

Direct and indirect sanctions have hit the economic situation in Venezuela seriously. The economic, financial and trade war against Venezuela reminds of the US measures against the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende in Chile in 1970-73 and against the Sandinista government of Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua in the 1980s.

Deliveries from abroad are traded in dollars. However authorized persons must sign for the payment in dollars. Many of the persons who have this right to sign are on the sanctions list. This means that no trading partner dares to accept their signature. Thus, the company cannot earn any money because no payment can be made, and the goods do not come to Venezuela. The suppliers are afraid that they will be penalized by US authorities – with fines of tens of thousands of dollars if they fail to comply with the unilateral sanctions regime of the United States.

For which goods or sectors do the sanctions apply?

That is the next problem. Nobody really knows how far they reach. They are based on so-called catch-all clauses, which can be interpreted one way or the other. But who wants to have to pay a fine? So many international companies are prudent and do not take unnecessary risks. For Venezuela this is devastating.

What would help the country?

The sanctions must be terminated. The economic war has to end, that would be the greatest help for the country. However, what we can observe in Venezuela is the result of a targeted economic war. There are many countries participating, even from Europe. The misinformation about Venezuela has been successful – even with people who should be better informed. You have to be on the spot to see that the situation is not like you read in The New York Times. If you look at the mainstream media, you get the impression that the country is close to collapse. In fact, the country is rich and with a bit of cooperation and solidarity it could sell its oil, its gold, its bauxite well. Venezuela must now trade a lot with China and India because of the very limited trade with the US and Europe.

Is the oil trade also subject to the sanctions?

Yes, partly. The sanctions are very complex. It is not the case that a sale cannot be done at all, but it is connected with so many obstacles, and there are so many restrictions and delays that many people say, «We would rather not do business with Venezuela, there is too much imponderability.»

During your stay you could certainly talk to the population. What impression have you gained here?

Many are somewhat resigned because they suffer from an economic war. But when it comes to elections, Maduro wins. The majority of the population does not make the government responsible for all that, but they accuse the United States, Europe, Colombia, etc. When the Constituent Assembly was elected, there had been very violent demonstrations prior to the election for four months. In the foreign media we read about those «peaceful» demonstrations. In fact, these were orgies of violence with Molotov cocktails and explosives. It was almost terrorism that hit many normal, non-political people when, for example, a supplier wanted to get from A to B, but the «guarimbas» (violent demonstrations with barricades) blocked his path. Several ordinary people were killed, who only wanted to go about their business. In addition, demonstrators attacked hospitals, nursery schools, burned ambulances and buses in order to intimidate the people. Is this not just classic terrorism?

Did the demonstrations succeed with these methods?

No, 8.5 millions of people went to the polls for the Constituent Assembly, in spite of the guarimbas and in spite of the violence. In the local elections of 15 December more than 9 million went to the polls. The opposition does not succeed in changing the people’s mind, but the polarization of the country continues to be a problem, because Chavistas are very strongly pro-government, and the MUD is very strongly against the government.  There is very little sense that «la patria es de todos» (the fatherland belongs to all). According to media reports in the US and Europe, the only solution is regime change, to chase the government from office. We must however not forget that this government was democratically elected in 1999, in 2002 it survived a coup because the people and the army opposed the coup and prevented the planned physical elimination of Chávez.  In 2004 a recall referendum was held, which Chávez won easily --- 70% of the population did not want to remove him from office. After his death in 2013, Maduro was elected President, in spite of a violent campaign, accompanied by terror and sabotage on the part of the opposition.

How did the government deal with all these organized attacks?

The government relied on the 1999 Constitution. However, a number of major mistakes including excessive force by the police, did occur. If a government is under such pressure, then it must act quickly. If one acts fast, one makes mistakes, often goes too far. This includes, for example, introducing economic measures that can be counter-productive, including subsidies and price controls.

What kind of agenda does the opposition follow?

They wish to cancel the Chávez and Maduro years and return to a purely capitalistic model. But there are at least 8 million Chávistas, and they will not disappear. These voters are convinced of the government’s program. These people will not allow the social achievements to be swept away. If the economy does not collapse as a result of sabotage, smuggling and sanctions, the government is likely to be reelected in 2018. The administration and the army are on the side of the government. Certainly, the plan in Washington is to launch a military attack on Venezuela by making use of disinformation about the allegedly miserable situation in the country with hunger, infant mortality and an economically desolate conditions, and then to chase the government out of office. We know this proceeding from other countries, so for example from September 1973 when the government of Salvador Allende was overthrown by a coup and Allende died.

How do you assess your stay?

I got a very different impression from the one I pictured to myself before I visited the country. In our media there is scarce interest in truly investigative journalism, in discovering what the root causes of Venezuela’s problems are. We get a caricature of the situation, and this caricature becomes dogma. Weeks before my journey, my independence, my professionalism, my honour were questioned. UN Watch published an article and called my visit a “fake investigation”, even before I had set foot on Venezuelan soil. Some NGOs have claimed that I was not the right Special Rapporteur for these questions. That was before I had announced anything at all about my journey. On my personal blog I showed pictures of Caracas, its churches, monuments, and a picture of a supermarket that was full of goods. After that there were particularly offensive attacks against me. UN-Watch found the picture and reacted to it. I had published the picture without any comment. I was attacked as a chavist, a castrist, a communist, etc. All I wanted to show is that the situation is not as they want us to believe. I had seen so many pictures of empty shelves that I thought it was legitimate to show a different photo in my private blog (which also reflected my observation in other supermarkets).

What did you suggest to the Venezuelan government?

I submitted to the foreign minister six pages of preliminary recommendations, among others institutional improvements, the elimination of price controls, the fight against smuggling and corruption, but always within the rule of law. They ought to respect the UN covenants on civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. They are already seeking dialogue with the opposition and showing commendable flexibility and patience. They should either release individuals who have been imprisoned for political reasons, or take them to court with a fair trial. And for the better management of the country they need technocrats, not only ideologists! Above all, the government must prove that it takes human rights seriously. Corruption must be fought at all levels, even with the help of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime in Vienna. In doing so, UN organizations, such as the World Health Organization, the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization), the International Labor Organization (ILO), etc. could help to ensure that the necessary improvements are translated into action.

What do you think of the conversations you had in the Dominican Republic?

Every opportunity of dialogue with the opposition must be taken. The previous meetings in Santo Domingo in November, December 2017 and January 2018 have already been fruitful. Further meetings are planned. It is in the interest of all who care for human rights and who care for the Venezuelan people to support these negotiations.  Unfortunately, a «human rights industry» has emerged that has instrumentalizes human rights as weapons of mass destruction against governments. This «industry» is not interested in solving the «humanitarian crisis», they want to use the hyperbolic «crisis» as a pretext for military intervention and regime change.  This «industry» does not want independent experts who travel to Venezuela to find out what the real situation is. They only want «experts» who go to Venezuela (or elsewhere) simply to grandstand and condemn governments.  If anyone means it with humanitarian aid, they should offer their cooperation to the government and send food and medicines without strings attached. If they are interested in the Venezuelan people, they will make sure that sanctions and boycotts are lifted, so that the Venezuelan government can function normally, without discrimination, in the international community, so that Venezuela can import and export free of sabotage and political ostracism.

Professor de Zayas, thank you for this conversation.

Interview by Thomas Kaiser, Geneva



«In modern international law the right to self-determination is of greater significance than the territorial principle»

Interview with Prof. Dr jur. et phil. Alfred de Zayas

Professor Dr jur. et phil. Alfred de Zayas (picture thk)

Zeitgeschehen im Fokus: It seems to be a favourite weapon of the United States to impose sanctions against unpopular countries, or to oblige  "vassal states", in this case the EU, to impose  sanctions, e.g. against Russia in the context of the Ukraine crisis. Recently, Obama accused Russia of having manipulated the US elections. But let us first stand by the Ukraine crisis. How should we assess it from the perspective of international law?

Professor Alfred de Zayas: No sanctions can be imposed as a reprisal against the exercise of the right to self-determination. The Crimean population has the right to determine their own destiny by referendum, and neither the United States nor the European Union can prohibit this. The old principle of the territorial integrity of states is not absolute and certainly not more important than human rights. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and its fragmentation into 15 republics, the destruction of the territorial integrity of Yugoslavia and the emergence of 7 new republics, after the friendly dissolution of the Czechoslovak State and the emergence of independent Czech and Slovak republics, it is obvious that the principle of the territorial integrity of states must yield to the peoples’ right to self-determination. Of course, we need stable borders, but if people do not want to live together any longer, peace is much more important than territorial integrity, and they should not be forced to stay together, because sooner or later this will lead to violence and oppression. Moreover, since the UN Charter and Article 1 of the UN-Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the right to self-determination has been regarded as jus cogens, i. e. peremptory international law. One could impose sanctions for the refusal of the right to self-determination, as for example in Rhodesia and South Africa, but not as a protest against its realization. Besides, the Guidelines accompanying the Helsinki Act of 1975 allows for the peaceful modification of national frontiers.

What does that mean in the case of the Crimea, which was the alleged trigger for the sanctions?

The people of the Crimea, like any other people, have the right to self-determination. The desire did not come out of the blue. It was the consequence of the coup d’état, co-financed by the West, against the legitimate government of Ukraine represented by Viktor Yanukovych. If the EU and the US wanted to install a  pro-Western government, they should  have waited until the next elections and followed democratic principles, the rule of law and the constitution of the Ukraine. Therew was, however, covert and not so covert intervention in contravention with the principles enunciated in the Helsinki Act and General Assembly resolutions 2625 and 3314. This resulted in the Maidan putsch and an undemocratic regime change with a distinct anti-Russian tendency. No wonder the majority of the Crimean population  rejected the violent "regime change" by a referendum on 16 March 2014, pursuant to which they decided to separate from the Ukraine, a decision which was duly confirmed by the Crimean Parliament. Although criticism of the referendum has been voiced by different parties, it should also be mentioned that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe OSCE was invited to send observers and declined. The United Nations could also have played a constructive role by supporting the democratic process and observing the referendum. Notwithstanding the above, one must concede that the Crimean people exercised the right to self-determination in a valid way.

However, the media continue to talk of an annexation of Crimea.

If, on 23 February 2014, Russia had sent its tanks and soldiers to overthrow the Crimean Parliament, militarily occupied the territory and unilaterally declared it a part of Russia, that would have been an annexation. Here we should also remember a bit of history, since the Crimea had been a part of Russia and the Soviet Union for more than two centuries. In 1954 the Crimea was transferred to Ukraine by Khrushchev by virtue of an administrative act, without any consultation of the majority Russian population or democratic plebiscite. Thus, what happened in the 1950s had no legitimacy in human rights terms. Return of the Crimea to Russia three years ago effectively corrects the 1950s undemocratic transference. However, a Crimean referendum could and should have been carried out in the 1990s at the time of the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and the result would have been the same. The UN could have been asked to organize and supervise a referendum such as it did in Ethiopia / Eritrea, Sudan and East Timor.

So you can say, Russia ...

... has not illegally occupied the Crimea. First, the Parliament of the Crimea decided to ask for admission to the Russian Federation. This was formally and bureaucratically examined. On 20 March 2014 the Duma in Moscow acceded to the Crimean request and on 21 March 2014 the reintegration of the Crimea into Russia became effective upon Putin’s signature. Furthermore, the Russian Constitutional Court was also seized of the matter and held that the annexation of the Crimea was in conformity with the Russian Constitution. If one speaks of the rule of law, here it has been complied with. The Crimea thus returned to Russia at the request of its population, not by virtue of a Russian invasion. This is legitimate, as several independent professors of international law have stated, among others Dr. Karl Albrecht Schachtschneider of the University of Erlangen. Unfortunately there are still too many "fake news" about the Crimea.

This means that the sanctions against Russia lack legitimacy under international law.

Exactly.  However, states often apply international law in an arbitrary manner. They refer to the principle of territorial integrity, without putting it into context. It should also be noted that in 1999 NATO destroyed the territorial integrity of Serbia - by an illegal war and the bombing of civilian targets in Serbia. Kosovo emerged from that illegal war. It was NATO that rejected the principle of territorial integrity and thus created a precedent that other peoples aspiring to self-determination can invoke. The emergence of Kosovo is proof that in modern international law the right to self-determination is of greater significance than the territorial principle. Compared to Kosovo, the self-determination of the Crimea was achieved without war and corresponded to the wishes of the majority of the population.

What happened in Kosovo?

The separation of Kosovo from Serbia resulted from an illegal use of force in contravention to article 2(4) of the UN Charter, without the approval of the United Nations, so that the birth of the state of Kosovo is highly problematic. Even the post-war Security Council Resolution 1244 of 10 June 1999 speaks of the territorial integrity of Serbia. But then the unilateral declaration of independence of Kosovo followed, then the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice of 22 July 2010 and the recognition by more than 100 states. According to this, no one can pretend that the principle of territorial integrity is somehow superior to the right of self-determination. Kosovo is not "unique" or sui generis.

This is a big difference to the Crimea.

Yes, the process in the Crimea was largely compliant with international law. What  the sanctions against Russia illustrate is that NATO adamantly refuses to accept the reality that the  Kosovo precedent necessarily has consequences and will continue to generate consequences. Unfortunately, the unfounded sanctions have developed their own dynamic. This has also resulted in a vicious circle of sanctions and counter-sanctions. In order to interrupt this vicious circle, the UN Human Rights Council appointed a UN Independent Expert in 2014, who has written several relevant reports. But who reads or cares about UN resolutions and reports?

What do you mean?

What is so obvious is either ignored or even negated. Only a few politicians in the West dare say the sanctions are illegal. The media dare not say that it was a mistake to impose sanctions. Nobody wants to recognize that they are counterproductive, and so the sanctions are constantly being extended. In fact, the EU has done this on 15 December 2016.

What was the result?

As a result, the Russian counter-sanctions  were also extended. However, nobody suffers more than the European farmers and the workers of corporations trading with Russia. In the end, it is always the most vulnerable that suffer from such sanctions.

Is there no resistance from the corporations?

This could have been expected, because in many other commercial conflicts the corporations turn directly to arbitral tribunals when their profits are reduced by state laws. If a group such as Bilcon sued Canada because they wanted to make a quarry in an ecologically sensitive area and the expected permit was denied, it would be logical to expect companies affected by illegitimate sanctions to go to arbitration. But no group has sued any EU country for the massive interruption of business with Russia and the resulting millions of losses. A remarkable lack of sincerity, coherence, ethics becomes obvious. It leaves you almost breathless: the tobacco company Philipp Morris even filed a lawsuit against the state of Uruguay, which had passed a law to protect the population from smoking. Why do export companies that suffer millions of losses not file lawsuits against EU states because of these illegal sanctions?

Yes, this is indeed amazing.

My hope is that the sanctions will finally be lifted by both sides and the victims will be compensated. The sanctions have not had any legitimacy since the first day of their entry into force. In 2000, the former Human Rights Subcommittee published a longer study in which this kind of sanctions was declared illegal under international law.

What was the reasoning?

If the sanctions do not and cannot reach their aim, they must be rescinded because they have negative consequences for human rights. It was clear from the beginning that the sanctions were only an expression of the political competition and discontent with Russia. It was clear that the sanctions would in no way influence Russia. After nearly three years, it is obvious that it does not make sense to extend them.

The US has again imposed sanctions on Russia for allegedly manipulating the presidential elections. How do you now assess this step of the US and the fact that Russia refrains from taking retorsion measures?

It is not without irony that a country which has repeatedly intervened in the internal affairs of many other states in Latin America, Asia, Africa and even Europe now claims to be a "victim" of such manipulations itself. Well. To begin with, no conclusive proof has been provided, and I am by no means convinced of the level or existence of Russian interference. Let's see whether the evidence will be revealed one day - or whether the repetitive and unconvincing anti-Putin propaganda prevails. Let us hope that the government of President Trump will adopt a more realistic policy towards Russia and put an end to the EU’s utilitarian Russophobia. As we have learned from Trump's "Intelligence Briefing," some government agencies cannot escape their own prejudices. One cannot impose sanctions without evidence, and Julian Assange, who should know about it, has said several times that Russia was not the source of hacking: "a 14-year old could have hacked Podesta". We do not need a new war against Russia - neither hot nor cold. What we need is peace, détente, truthful reporting, honest media, and a sense for proportion.

The Russophobia seems to be part of Western “tradition”?

Yes. Already in the Crimean war 1854-56 this whole range of fake news and war-mongering was avidly pursued by England and France. The imperialism of the British crown, the hypocrisy of the British press, the interventionism and arrogance of  prime ministers George Earl of Aberdeen and Lord Palmerston, the opportunism of Napoleon III are the image of today’s Russophobia. It is worth reading the book of the British historian Orlando Figes "Crimea" to understand the instrumentalization of bogeymen. Have we already forgotten that the US boycotted the Summer Olympics in Moscow in 1980 and that the American press sparked an extremely primitive hysteria against Putin before and during the winter games in Sochi in 2014 - barely a month before the Maidan coup? The Russians are rather weary of being abused by the western states as a bogeyman.

Professor de Zayas, thank you very much for the interview.

Interview Thomas Kaiser

*The interview corresponds to the personal opinion of Professor de Zayas and was not officially conducted in his capacity as an independent expert at the UN. Cf. www.alfredezayas.com and http://dezayasalfred.wordpress.com


20 years of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) – Free trade agreements under scrutiny

By Dr phil. Henriette Hanke Güttinger, historian

Investors and corporations benefit – the majority of populations suffers losses

A number of free trade agreements are currently being negotiated: CETA between the EU and Canada, TTIP/TAFTA between the US and the EU, and TiSA, the Agreement on Trade in Services, to which fifty states – including Switzerland – are party. Negotiations are taking place behind closed doors, and no participation or voice is granted to the citizens in the countries concerned. According to what has leaked out up to date, the contents of the proposed free trade agreements are based on the NAFTA Free Trade Agreement of 1994, which was signed by the US, Canada and Mexico. Twenty years of practical experience with NAFTA show perfectly clearly where such free trade agreements lead to. Investors and major corporations benefit while the majority of the populations in the contracting states – even in the US – slide over onto the loser’s side.

With the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement NAFTA in 1994, the then largest single market worldwide emerged, in which all tariffs and trade restrictions were practically abolished and have remained so until today. To begin with, the NAFTA embraced the US, Canada and the emerging country Mexico, and thus 250 million Americans, 90 million Mexicans and 27 million Canadians, with a gross national product of more than seven billion dollars annually. The US accounted for 85% of this sum, Canada for 10% and Mexico for 5%. This shows that the United States dominated their contractual partners Canada and Mexico from the beginning, or, to put it straight: “NAFTA put an elephant to bed with two mice”[1]. In the US, the agreement met with serious misgivings and stubborn resistance on the part of Democrats, trade unions and the environmental movement. Nonetheless, Clinton managed to push through the deal. In this process, the central argument was: “NAFTA means jobs – American jobs and well-paying American jobs.”[2] Twenty years later, it is becoming apparent that the objections to NAFTA were more than justified.

Tools of American foreign policy after 1989 – free trade agreements

There is an intimate correlation between NAFTA and the realignment of American foreign policy after the collapse of the Soviet Union. During the Cold War, the emphasis had been on a strategy of military containment, the “global containment” to challenge the socialist states. After 1989, the United States sought to assert itself as the leading power of a unipolar world order. The reorientation of its foreign policy, which was developed under Clinton in 1993 as a “Strategy of Enlargement” served this purpose. In essence, this was meant to enforce global free trade, free markets and democratisation as understood by the US. States which did not submit to these ideas and insisted on their right to self-determination were to be forced into line with a carrot and a stick. The newly established WTO as well as a global network of trade agreements was to serve the enforcement of the “Strategy of Enlargement”. The aim was globalisation tailor-made for US economic interests. NAFTA fits this framework.[3] The currently pending free trade agreements ranging from CETA to TiSA have to be seen in this context as well.

20 years of NAFTA – the consequences

NAFTA has now been in force for twenty years. Its consequences are clearly visible in the countries involved.

Corporations and investors are suing states

Since 1994, the volume of trade has tripled. Corporations and investors have been the main beneficiaries of NAFTA. The contract protects corporations and investors from expropriation and government action which could affect their returns. In the twenty years of the NAFTA’s being in operation, numerous legal actions were initiated by corporations and investors, such as against the State of Canada, which had prohibited the import of gasoline containing the poisonous MMT as an additive. Because of this, the US Ethyl Corporation filed a suit against Canada in 1997. A settlement was reached. Canada revoked the interdiction and paid a high indemnity sum.[4]

Jobs are lost

In the US, jobs have been lost most notably in the industrial sector. According to the “taz” (Tageszeitung), the NAFTA is directly to blame for the loss of about 700,000 jobs. In 2014 the US Bureau of Labor Statistics noted that due to the neo-liberal global economy five million jobs have disappeared in American industry. “Wages are stagnating in all three countries, and families are struggling to pay the costs of health insurance, education, housing and pension insurance,” says the president of the American Federation of trade unions AFL-CIO.[5]

Sell-out of Mexican agriculture

Since in the negotiations Canada enforced the exclusion of Mexico's agriculture from the agreement, NAFTA includes the agricultural sector only of the US and Mexico. Between agriculture in the US and in Mexico there was originally a fundamental difference. While the US had a modern industrialised agriculture, a large part of the labour-intensive Mexican agriculture was operated in cooperatives, the “ejidos”. Since the Mexican Revolution of 1920, the “ejidos” had been protected by the Mexican Constitution and could not be sold. During the NAFTA negotiations, the negotiators of the United States called for access to Mexican land. President Carlos Salina gave in to this pressure and enacted the Agricultural Act of 1992, which annulled the protection of the “ejidos”. The consequences ensued accordingly. The Mexican agriculture, which was the basis of existence for a third of the population, lost out in the competition with the industrialised US agriculture. With NAFTA, American subsidised maize came onto the Mexican market, and this was cheaper than the maize produced by Mexican peasant farmers. The situation was similar in respect to other agricultural products. Many “ejidos” and peasant farmers had to abandon their farms and sell their land. Transnational investors were the gainers.[6] Other smallholders abandoned food production and began cultivating opium and marijuana. Accordingly, drug trafficking and the crimes of violence associated with it increased.[7] The Mexican labour market was not able to provide jobs for the former farmers. Accordingly, poverty and illegal emigration to the United States increased massively.


Negative consequences of globalisation as have become apparent also after twenty years’ experience with the NAFTA induce a deeper reflection on how it is all to go on. Conclusions can be drawn from historical experience. This debate is being conducted widely, and criticism of a free trade which undermines economies, is becoming louder and clearer. The population must be allowed to take part in the discussion about “What kind of economy do we want?” in all the countries. That is the foundation for the exercise of the right to self-determination, as it is required by international law. •

[1] “NAFTA put an elephant in bed with two mice” Martin Walker: Clinton, The President They Deserve, London 1997, p. 292, quoted in Patrick Keller: Von der Eindämmung zur Erweiterung – Bill Clinton und die Neuorientierung der amerikanischen Aussenpolitik, Bonn 2008, p. 131 (From Containment to Enlargement: Bill Clinton and the Re-Orientation of American Foreign Policy, Bonn: Bouvier 2008).
[2] “NAFTA means jobs – American jobs, and good paying American jobs”. Clinton in: Keller: Von der Eindämmung zur Erweiterung, p.135
[3] cf. Keller: Von der Eindämmung zur Erweiterung, pp. 9-25
[4] Source: taz.de from 1 January 2014, 20 years free trade. Fewer jobs, fewer peasant farmers.
[5] Richard L. Trumka quoted in Barbara Eisenmann: NAFTA Free Trade Agreement or blueprint of the neo-liberal investment regime, Deutschlandfunk (Germany World Service) of 21 November 2014
[6] Jens Winter: Transnationale Arbeitskonflikte. Das Beispiel der hegemonialen Konstellation im NAFTA-Raum (Transnational labour disputes. The example of the hegemonic constellation in the NAFTA region), Münster 2007, pp. 135-137
[7] This connection is attested by the following study, which is available on the internet: Oeindrila Dube, Omar Garcia-Ponce, Kevin Thom: From Maize to Haze: Agricultural Shocks and the Growth of the Mexican Drug Sector.

„International trade agreements like CETA, TTIP, TPP, TiSA etc. are unethical and contrary to the public interest“

Interview with Prof. Dr jur. et phil. Alfred de Zayas

Professor Dr jur. et phil. Alfred de Zayas (picture thk)
Professor Dr jur. et phil. Alfred de Zayas (picture thk)

These agreements aim at replacing the state

Interview with Prof. Dr jur. et phil. Alfred de Zayas

Zeitgeschehen im Fokus: Professor de Zayas, you are proposing a new concept which you call “R2A”, the State responsibility to act. What do you mean by that?

Alfred de Zayas: All states do not only have a responsibility but an obligation to actively work for the welfare of the people, to anticipate problems and to solve them pre-emptively. Responsibility to Act (R2A) follows from the ontological responsibility of governments, parliaments and courts to do all they can for their citizens, and do so not only passively. Parliaments and presidents are elected and courts are installed in order to work for the common good.

Why do we need this new concept of Responsibility to Act?

The media often write about the so-called Responsibility to Protect (R2P). That is a dangerous concept, a labeling scam. R2P aims at eroding the UN Charter. It allows a state to interfere in another state's domestic affairs.  It allows powerful States to pursue a regime change in a foreign country under the pretext of human rights violations. This is a neo-imperialistic policy launched in 2005 and initially approved by the UN General Assembly.  However, – as is often the case – most State did not immediately realize the danger that R2P entails.  This became evident in a debate at the General Assembly in July 2009, during which the President of the Assembly, Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann clearly stated that R2P could not be used in a manner contrary to the UN Charter and that four benchmark questions would first have to be examined.  It would mean that a state could interfere by so-called humanitarian intervention – in terms of International Law á la carte – in Jugoslavia, Libya, Syria, Iraq, Iran, or wherever, and trigger a regime change.  That is inacceptable and a considerable danger to regional and international peace and security.

And what is now the substance of Responsibility to Act?

In my view, the Responsibility to Act, in contrast to R2P, entails the obligation by governments, parliaments and courts to act according to the letter and spirit of the UN Charter and the Human Rights Covenants, the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights  (ICCPR) and the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).

What does that mean in detail?

If a danger from outside, like one of those so-called free trade agreements TTIP, TPP, Ceta, TiSA, etc, threatens the independence and sovereignty of a State, all must take action and not just let it happen. I would like to direct the attention towards this obligation and declare  treaties illegitimate that are being adopted without  participation of the population, without any public debate, without a referendum. One has to challenge their validity before the courts, e.g. the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in San Jose, the African Court in Arusha, the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg, the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

What are actually the tasks of the national state? To what end do we live in a state?

The main task of the National State is to ensure social peace and progress in the country. That means that human rights have to be observed in the health care system, in the work process. Public courts have the responsibility to enforce the law and to ensure that human rights are observed.  Individuals must have recourse to a variety of judicial and administrative mechanisms. In international law there are many norms; however, there is no mechanism which today effectively protects individuals from human rights violations by states, investors, transnational corporations

Are there such mechanisms at another level?

Yes, indeed, and the absence of such mechanisms in the human rights field remains an anomaly, e.g. when we compare with the effectiveness of WTO dispute-settlement bodies. With the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), a privatized arbitration tribunal, corporations can enforce their decisions. All these trade agreements have mechanisms to coerce states. A transnational corporation can compel a state to do something or to refrain from doing something.

Have there already been some efforts in that direction? 

The UN Human Rights Council has initiated the “Open-ended Intergouvernmental Working Group on Transnational Corporations and Human Rights”. It is to negotiate an agreement stipulating the obligations of investors and transnational corporations and also allowing sanctions.

When will this mechanism be applied?

We haven't got so far, yet. The agreement has to be accepted by the  UN General Assembly and ratified by the states. In case chemical or pharmaceutical companies, the oil or gas mining or quarrying industries harm the people's health or contaminate the environment, they must be made to pay for that. It is not acceptable that corporations are only subjected to self-regulation. Criminal law has a say as well. Many corporations make use of bribery, as we learned in case of the Monaco Unaoil scandal, others do not pay any taxes, as we learned from the Panama Papers. All these  acts must be prosecuted. Even Christine Lagarde is thinking of applying national and international criminal law in order to penalize corruption.

What are the specific rights that are being violated by these trade agreements?

A vast number, actually: Article 1 of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as well as the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which stipulates the people's right to self-determination. This is ius cogens,  peremptory norm. So each people has a right to self-determination and sovereignty. The state cannot hand this sovereignty over to private corporations, since the state's sovereignty is a component of the concept of the state. There is no state without sovereignty. Otherwise it would be nothing but a puppet of another powerful country or of a corporation. As long as a state is a member of the world community, it must be able to exercise its sovereignty. Moreover, if a sovereign state submits itself to international jurisdiction, this must be a sovereign decision, which the state may revoke at any time.

Could you please explain the relation between international jurisdiction and sovereignty in more detail?

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) cannot assume universal jurisdiction, only over states which have submitted a revocable declaration or which have subjected themselves ad hoc to its jurisdiction, in order to settle disputes with its help. Since this is possible with these courts, it should be possible in case of agreements with individuals and corporations. Sovereignty by definition is higher than any private entity. What all these agreements like TTIP, TPP, CETA, TiSA are actually about, is a coup against the Westphalian State. The target is that in future corporations may exclusively decide  instead of the states and the peoples. Of all things now! For, when taking into consideration what we learned from Greenpeace Netherlands, the whole thing would have to be stopped. This is immoral, or as international law terms it contra bonos mores, against international public order..

What basic rights are violated by these international agreements?

The Right to Life, Article 6 of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. This includes the Right to Health. If somebody cannot buy generic medicines, and the pharma-industry insists on demanding huge prices for something with actually low production costs, only in order to generate greater profits, this means that poor people, who cannot afford these drugs, have to suffer for long or must even die.

How can that be contained?

Of course, the pharma-industry should be allowed to make a profit but not at that scale. Excess is the problem with trade and capitalism. Companies want to make a huge profits, at the expense of the people and their rights. This must be contained by national and international regulations.

How do you judge the secrecy involved? 

This refers to article 19 of the Covenant of Civil and Political Rights. This article emphasizes not only the right to freedom of expression but also the right to information. And as we have learned from leaks of Greenpeace and Wikileaks, these agreements were conducted in secrecy and  everything possible was done to hide it from the people. Everything was blocked sytematically to prevent people from conducting a democratic debate and participating in the process of decision. Article 25 of the Covenant stipulates that everybody living in a democracy has the right to take part in the conduct of public affairs, including the elaboration of laws that will affect them.

That means that the agreements are unlawful

The way these agreements came into existence is certainly unlawful. The same is true for parts of the agreements themselves, where they go against the essence of the state. The impacts of other bilateral and multilateral agreements like NAFTA (North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement) overthrew a number of human rights, as e.g. the right to work, the right to dignified working conditions, the right to health, etc.. CETA, TTIPP, TPP, TiSA, etc. will have similar adverse human rights  impacts. Moreover, these agreements constitute a threat against the rights of special  population groups like the Autochtones, the indigenous of North and South America, the Aborigines in Australia, and other minorities. Article 27 of the Covenant  stipulates the minorities' right to enjoy their own culture and a right to their way of living. They have a right that the state protects their culture and their “lebensraum” pro-actively. There are many expertises by the Human Rights Committee concerning the Samis in Finland or Sweden, to prevent their expulsion or the cutting down of their trees. They cannot live their lives – as granted to them in article 27 – if the riches of the country are being exploited and the natural living conditions are being destroyed in the process.

The difference in treatment between domestic and transnational corporations is striking. 

Yes, here we notice the violation of the Covenant's Article 26, the right to equality. It is really abnormal that a positive discrimination for foreign corporations is being specified. Solely foreign investors and corporations are allowed to sue. If a national corporation is subjected to a certain state control, if taxes are raised and the corporations are asked to pay, they will have to comply but they cannot file a suit.

Politicians in Switzerland always submit the argument that these agreements were absolutely necessary, since otherwise we would not be able to compete…

...not at all! World trade is healthy and expanding. It will continue to  run and the corporations will continue to make good profits. These agreements pursue only one goal, i.e.  replacing the state. The idea is that in future the international capital, that means the corporations are to determine everything. A state will no longer be able to freely determine the taxes and freely decide on how the money is to be spent. In case such decisions by the state impairs a cooperation, the state, actually the state's tax payers will be forced to pay for the corporation's losses. We are dealing with a big lie, here: the agreements are not necessary. The whole thing is – as I said – immoral. All agreements that are immoral, are illegal and they mustbe revoked according to Article 53 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. UNCTAD, the Conference of Trade and Development should conduct a world conference in Geneva in order to reform the complete investments regime along the lines of human rights.

Who can eliminate these agreements? 

The United Nations – i.e. the General Assembly pursuant to article 96 of the UN charter -- should request an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice. Since there is a separate Court for EU law for Germany, France, the Netherlands and the EU, the European Court of Justice (ECJ)   should now raise its voice as well, because CETA, TTIP, TISA are incompatible with the Lisbon Treaty. It is impossible to enforce EU law, if one transfers this competence to the international corporations or to a pseudo-court, as was proposed  by Cecilia Malmström. The Investment Court System (ICS)  is a rebranding exercise and suffers from the same fundamental flaws as ISDS. It is a one-way street. The transnational investors alone are empowered to sue, the states aren't; the investors have only rights but no obligations.

What  can be done against this disastrous development? 

There should be referenda in all EU countries as well as in other states. Polls can be conducted in  states where the right of initiative and referendum is not laid down in the constitution, other than in Switzerland. People should take to the streets to demonstrate and express in big letters that they want to have a say, that they want a referendum. I am convinced if referenda are conducted in Europe, 90 percent of the people will reject these agreements. Parliaments must check these agreements thoroughly and refuse to ratify them. Some trade agreements are certainly sensible, but these mega-treaties are beneficial exclusively for the corporations – they are disastrous for the people, for the rest of us! 

Professor de Zayas, thank you very much for the interview

Venezuela, the spearhead of the Latin-American movement against Neo-liberalism and Neo-colonialism

Walter Suter

Walter Suter (picture thk)
Walter Suter (picture thk)

Background to the current tense situation in Venezuela

Walter Suter*

Venezuela's situation is alarming. The economy is not working well, people are suffering. However, in the Swiss media we read only little about the background. Thing are stirred up, above all. Disaster scenarios are conjured up and the Maduro administration is blamed for everything. Thus the opposition hopes for the president to break down under the stress of criticism and to resign prematurely.

It is a fact that the economic situation in Venezuela is not at its best; even government friendly circles are talking about the bad  supply conditions, but the reasons are manifold. The opposition tries to bring the government down to its knees by fuelling the bad mood. Although Maduro, after their victory in the parliamentary elections, proposed to the opposition to jointly work on a solution for the economic problems, the oppositional camp denied any cooperation. Obviously, their plan is to steer the country into such a disaster that Maduro will throw in the towel. However, this is a very simple pattern which will hardly contribute to relieve the situation.

“Relieving the population’s suffering”

At the beginning of this year, the government issued a decree to alleviate the economic emergency. The opposition immediately rejected it as unconstitutional and did not display any willingness to cooperate with the executive in any sector. The Supreme Court had to decide on the possible unconstitutionality and judged that the decree conformed with the constitution. This emergency decree was not about ideological differences but about relieving the population’s suffering. The opposition refuses any further negotiations unless the government fulfils certain prerequisites. These include for example the release of political prisoners, the amnesty act and the request that the government fix the date for a referendum to vote the government out of office (recall referendum).

The procedure for a recall referendum is laid down in the constitution (and in a regulation of implementation by the National Electoral Council CNE) and is not subject to the government’s will. The accusation that the government was delaying it is obviously unfounded. The independent National Electoral Council is responsible for the correctness of the procedure as one of the five executive bodies. As is the case in our country as well, the council has to check on the validity of the signatures. After 200,000 signatures have been checked and declared valid, a new collection of signatures can be started. As soon as the necessary 4 million signatures have been collected within a certain period of time, the vote can be taken. After the recent scrutinizing of almost 2 million signatures that had been handed in, 600,000 of them had to be declared invalid. Representatives of all political parties are allowed to scrutinize the votes. Therefore it is absurd to talk about the CNE's illegal proceedings in the process of scrutinizing.

Despite the destructive attitude of the opposition, the administration is interested in talking together. With the help of UNASUR, both parties agreed on a mediator in the person of Rodriguez Zapatero, supported by the ex-presidents Fernández (Dominican Republic) and Torrijos (Panamá). They are now trying to put relations on new grounds and adopt a neutral attitude. The government allowed Zapatero to talk to the arrested Leonardo López, which was astonishing for the prisoner himself. López had called up a violent overthrow and street fighting in Venezuela in January 2014, as a result of which 43 people, mainly supporters of the government and policemen, were killed and about 800 people were injured. A court sentenced him to 13 years imprisonment. Despite this measure he expresses his opinion from inside the prison via twitter and other electronic media and calls for resistance and protest against the government.

Opposition treats the constitution with contempt

Once again Maduro offered negotiations to the opposition alliance MUD (Table of Democratic Union) at the beginning of this year, just as he had done in 2014 shortly before the opposition called up to protests.

The opposition’s programme has only one objective: Down with Maduro! And in 2014 the plan was to get the people on to the streets until Maduro would resign. The opposition does not have any political programme; their only programme is to seize the power. And they would stoop to anything to have their way. While the Maduro administration abides by the constitution, which was adopted by the people in 1999 with an 80% vote , and has never violated it in any way – although the opposition always accuses them of having done so – it is this very opposition that treats the constitution and its institutions with contempt: In 2002 they triggered a coup against Chavez, followed by the sabotage of oil production, which resulted in an income loss for the country of about 10 billion dollar, and violent riots in 2004. In 2013, the very night after Maduro’s election, opposition leader Capriles called upon his supporters to take to the streets and allowed to live out to their rage. The result was 11 dead in the centres for basic health care, who were evidently killed by supporters of the opposition. This was the answer of the counter candidate who before had called himself a democrat in the night of the election: rebellion against the constitutional power. The authorities refrained from arresting and condemning Capriles because they did not want to fuel he fire.

“Conflicts taken to the streets”

As mentioned above, the opposition took the conflicts to the streets again in 2014, led by López. If something similar happened in Switzerland, the Breach of the Peace Act would be applied leading to imprisonment in severe cases.

The accusation that the Supreme Court had been bribed was never verified. In Venezuela there are five independently acting state powers. One of them is the Supreme Court. According to the country's constitution, the judges are elected by parliament. The Venezuelan constitution grants a right to veto on parliamentary decisions to the government and the president respectively. Maduro made use of this right several times. If he puts in his veto, the affair is going back to parliament. In two cases, the parliament did not accept his veto. If there is a parliamentary deadlock between the autonomous powers, the constitution provides for the Supreme Court as arbiter. Next, they decide whether the draft law is constitutional or not. In the above-mentioned two cases the Supreme Court agreed with the government and rejected the law as unconstitutional.

Parliament passes unconstitutional law

Soon after the elections, the opposition–dominated parliament started to try and enforce its policies by all available means. This included a draft law on amnesty for all those who had taken part in the violent riots against the government and those who would do so in the future. They were promised immunity from prosecution. The law listed all offences committed by supporters of the opposition: ranging from unconstitutional operations up to murder. Furthermore, the opposition wanted to stop the act on residential building subsidies, which together with the health care centres were one of the achievements of the Chavez administration. So far, 1.5 million impoverished people had been able to acquire  a flat. These apartments belong to the government and are placed at the poor people’s disposal. In the past, his had put a stop to speculation. The opposition’s draft law now intended a comprehensive privatization and would thus open the door to speculation. Since the constitution stipulates the fight against poverty and the creation of cheap housing – in fact a human right – the new law was unconstitutional and was therefore rejected by the Supreme Court.

With all these draft laws we cannot help but thinking that the opposition's intention is to provoke the government and then, when the law is rejected, accuse the government of dictatorial manoeuvring. The fact that those, who play these games, want to be an alternative to the existing government is extremely alarming.

“Exploiting the miserable economic situation for their own power interests”

It is obvious that the oppositional forces want to seize power. It would be too obvious if they did so by means of a coup d’état that would include the military’s support, which so far has not yet been the case. Therefore the current poor supply condition in the country is just what they are waiting for while frequently demanding Maduro’s withdrawal. The opposition wants to exploit the bad economic situation for their power interests.

The main reason for the bad economic situation is the collapse of the oil price. Even though the government has been looking for other sources of income in recent years, development was rather slow. For too long, oil had secured sufficient state income and the financing of social welfare which guaranteed the poorer parts pf the population to live in dignity. After the oil price fell by two thirds, these deficits cause a huge gap in the treasury, which had consisted of oil revenues by 95 percent. Venezuela has not yet succeeded in setting up economic companies that would establish stable middle classes.

The poor supply conditions also have to do with the delivery and distribution of goods that is controlled by private companies which have partially boycotted the delivery. Instead of fairly supplying all supermarkets, they delivered their goods in a very unfair way. What we read in the newspapers is that there are long queues in front of the shops. However, they never mention the background.

“Staple foods going abroad”

Another aspect of the supply crisis that should not be underestimated is the misuse of subsidies for staple food. In order to fight hunger, staple foods are sold at cheaper prices by the state.

This did not only have positive effects, because at a local level there developed a so called “hoarding culture” , when individuals bought the cheaper foodstuff in large quantities and then sold them at excessive prices to people queuing up for groceries. Moreover, smuggling to Columbia took place where the cheap good from Venezuela could be sold at much higher prices. This smuggling is often organized by Columbians living in Venezuela, about 5 million people, with best connections to their homeland. Many staple foods thus flow off abroad and are no longer at the Venezuelan people’s disposal. This severely weakened the domestic economy.

It is obvious that not only the opposition plays a destructive role but the US is also not friends with the Chávistas. The rejection of neo-liberalism in the countries Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Argentina etc., modelled on Hugo Chávez’ policy did not make Venezuela an ally of the US. We can easily imagine the fact that the US want to get their backyard under control again; especially since they are causing one disaster after the other in the Middle East.

Venezuela is the spearhead of the anti-neoliberal and anti-neo-colonial movement in Latin America. Therefore destabilizing manoeuvres will be enforced with special persistence and endurance.

It remains to be seen whether the administration in Caracas will succeed in gaining control over these severe problems. The mountain that they will have to overcome is high, but the Venezuelan people have already had a long history of suffering, before they set off on a new path 17 years ago. And they will not leave this path so easy.




*Walter Suter has been a retired ambassador to Venezuela since 2008 and has been living in Berne since then. From September 2003 to August 2007 he was Switzerland's official representative in Venezuela. As a former member of the FDFA he has known southern America since the 1970s. His former employments on the Latin American continent led him to Argentina, Uruguay, Chile and Paraguay, where he witnessed several political revolutions and transitional processes. Today he is actively involved in solidarity work for the promotion of democratization processes in Latin America.

The sanctions against Syria are “disastrous and destructive”

Interview with Elias Khoury

Elias Khoury (picture thk)
Elias Khoury (picture thk)

Unilateral sanctions are illegal under international law

Interview with Elias Khoury

The situation of the civilian population in Syria is terrible. When using our mainstream media as a source, the main figure to blame is Assad, who allegedly is taking action against his own people. Although we often hear reports about the so-called moderate opposition who are systematically murdering and torturing, the image of the evil Assad doggedly persists. However, in addition to the military conflict, which is obviously and admittedly fuelled from abroad, there are people trying to force Syria to its knees economically. In the subsequent discussion, the Syrian diplomat Elias Khoury (see box) tries to explain more precisely how this works and what it means for the civilian population.

For years Syria has been subjected to economic sanctions. What impact do they have on the already very serious situation in Syria?

First I want to comment on the word sanctions. There are legal sanctions, i.e. measures that have been adopted by the UN Security Council. These mandatory measures are directed against a state to maintain “peace and international security” or to restore them in case they are threatened by the state concerned. These sanctions are basically temporary and should neither endanger universal human rights nor the international right to self-determination of the respective state.

Is it that kind of sanctions the Syrian people suffer from?

In fact, the Security Council has, thanks to the double veto of Russia and China, not taken such a decision. But there are other unilateral sanctions, which are incompatible with international law; they are therefore illegal because they have not been adopted by the Security Council. These sanctions affecting Syria today have been unilaterally adopted by regional countries such as the Gulf States, mainly Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates and Turkey, the European Union, the United States and other like-minded allied nations.

What impact do these sanctions have?

They are disastrous and destructive. They intend to ruin the Syrian state and deeply corrode its power, since it does not suit the states which are striving for supremacy. A fatal effect of these sanctions is that Syria is deprived of its natural resources. The above-mentioned states want to establish a dominant rule and thereby violate the people’s right to self-determination. They force the country into a state of poverty so that they can rule and master it more easily.

What are the legal fundamentals under international law that have been violated?

These sanctions are contrary to the purposes and the principles of the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Declaration of the General Assembly of 4 December 1986, which recognize the right to development as well as all other human rights. This declaration reaffirms the right to self-determination and sovereignty with respect to the natural resources of each country. Such sanctions are contrary to the first article which the two International Covenants, namely the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights have in common, because the sanctions bar the people's right to exploit their natural resources for their basic needs.

What does this mean for Syria?

This means that sanctions – which in reality affect the population and prevent economic development – do violate international law. It is even worse – and  I mention the Syrian oil as one of many examples – that  countries now boycott Syria which have boycotted the purchase of oil, as long as the oil was still under the control of the Syrian state. However, they lifted the embargo, to allow terrorist groups like ISIS and al-Nusra to control the oil and to smuggle it to Turkey, Israel, as well as to other private companies.

This means that the state loses a major source of income?

The oil revenues are part of the state budget and cover a large part of the costs. They finance the health care system and the educational sector. Both are free for Syria's population. It is, by the way, one of the very few countries where you have free access to hospitals and universities.

So the oil production is not in private hands?

No. This goes back to a strategic national decision stipulating that the oil is not private but is owned by the state.

This means that in addition to the internal conflicts the country is economically weakened from outside.

Yes, but it is only a very small detail. Preventing the country from financing the health care system and the education sector is a deliberate strategy to destroy the independence and development of this country. At the same time ISIS is funded and provided with weapons and men, who come from a hundred countries to fight the Syrians and destroy the country’s economic infrastructure and its cultural wealth.

This makes clear why ISIS have such large financial resources at their disposal.

ISIS has many financial sources, even banks, as well as other support, such as “gifts being passed under the counter”, but the organization also gets military, financial, even technological support and any kind of necessary information services in order to increase its dominance in the region.

Who provides this support?

The US are the masters of the game; they pull the strings, while claiming that they are fighting ISIS. However, the opposite is true, because they even increase the influence of ISIS. It happened, for example that the embargo on Iraqi oil was loosened as soon as ISIS had taken over Mossul and the oil region and had seized the local banks’ gold reserves. This cannot happen without the help and support by the US, who control the air space in the region.

What effects do the sanctions have on the health care system?

Devastating effects. For example you cannot buy medicine against cancer, since the payment by bank transfer is no longer accepted. The treatment of cancer and other serious diseases is free in Syria. Banks cannot perform any money transfer and therefore they cannot pay for the tests in laboratories. It is forbidden to sell medicines to Syria. So it happens that expired drugs from Turkey and Jordan are channelled to Syria. There is a real trade with these drugs going on. Therefore, there are deaths, mainly among children. One can neither buy spare parts for health equipment nor material to repair decomposed or destroyed factories. These are partially dismantled and sold to Turkey. This happens especially in the region of Aleppo. So there is a plan to impoverish the people and let them die.

Just as has been the case in Iraq?

Yes. However, in Iraq 25 NGOs had achieved the introduction of the program “Oil for Food” at the time in order to alleviate human misery. There is nothing like that in Syria, today. In Kobane and Aleppo terrorist groups have dismantled hospitals and factories and donated the equipment to Turkey or sold them at symbolic prices, even to the string-pullers who reside in Turkey. Ultimately, the economic situation in Syria has become very dangerous, because there are no natural resources etc. in order to finance the state budget and to renew the industrial sector. The countries, which have imposed sanctions, want to determine Syria's kind of state model, instead of the Syrian people themselves. That is what you frequently hear the leaders of Saudi Arabia, United Kingdom, Qatar, France and other countries say, who interfere in the internal affairs of Syria.

What objective do these countries pursue?

They say that there could be no future in Syria with Basher Al-Assad. They, who are no Syrians, want to decide on that, because Assad puts up resistance to the terrorist's attack and the multinational oil companies. It's an affair, prearranged from outside, making use of disinformation to deliberately poison public opinion. The public must know about that, otherwise the situation is assessed incorrectly all the time. Therefore, I am very glad that there are media that grant a different view on the Syrian tragedy.

Mr. Khoury, thank you for the interview.

Interview Thomas Kaiser

Translation from the French language by Verena Graf

thk. Elias Khoury is originally Syrian and under Hafez Al-Assad has committed himself as a student peacefully for more democracy, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and participation in public life. He then left the country and studied in France, where he received his PhD in Development Economics and Planning at the University of Grenoble, before he came to Switzerland 42 years ago. For more than 30 years he has acquired great knowledge of international law and international humanitarian law in a diplomatic mission to the UN in Geneva. Since 2000, he has acquired the Swiss citizenship. He is retired and he represents the NGO “Union of Arab Jurists” at the UN. He emphasizes that his opposition in Syria at the time was not financed from outside, but had had a real democratic concern which is miles away from what is happening in Syria today. Elias Khouri also sees the cause of the Syrian disaster in the illegal interference from outside which prevents Assad from implementing reforms and modernizing the country. 

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

Article 1

  1. All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.
  2. All peoples may, for their own ends, freely dispose of their natural wealth and resources without prejudice to any obligations arising out of international economic co-operation, based upon the principle of mutual benefit, and international law. In no case may a people be deprived of its own means of subsistence.

American States oppose intervention in Venezuela

Interview with Carolus Wimmer

Carolus Wimmer (picture thk)
Carolus Wimmer (picture thk)

“US policy is determined by the major corporations”

Interview with Carolus Wimmer *


At two meetings in June, the Organization of American States (OAS) discussed the situation in Venezuela. Intervening in Venezuela was in the air, something that the Democratic Charter of the OAS allows in case a State's constitution is violated by its government. In both meetings this idea was not supported, because the majority of states refused to intervene in Venezuela, since there had been no violation of the Constitution by Venezuelan Government. In the following interview Carolus Wimmer takes a close look at the events around the OAS.

The Organization of American States recently met for two conferences. How do you assess the results of these conferences with respect to Venezuela?

In order to profoundly understand the situation in Venezuela and to become aware that the current development does not only concern Venezuela but means a threat to all our countries, one must know the following: Last November's hearings of the US Senate’s Commission for military defence, armed section, dealt with the threat by terrorism. They declared that the nation states were considered the main risk to the internal security of the United States

What is that supposed to mean?

This means that all states on our globe are considered to pose a threat to the internal security of the United States. Among them are first of all the resource-rich countries, particularly those of the Middle East, which have fossil fuels and minerals, followed by the countries of Latin America and last not least the remaining countries.

How should we deal with that?

It is important to see that it is insufficient to restrict our view to Venezuela. But this is something that often makes the discussion with other countries so very difficult, when they ask why we do not yield to the United States or deal with them in a different manner. They think US policy could be changed then. But this is wrong. US policy will never change, because it is determined by the large corporations. In this context, we seek the dialogue, however, guided by the principle that all peoples have the right to decide, what government and what system they want to have in their own national states.

This should be standard since 1945, at least since the founding of the UN.

We indeed have a lot of support for this approach, as became obvious at the present occasion here in Geneva. Furthermore, there is no state model that you can simply impose on another state. But you can of course be inspired by other countries, including Venezuela. We do not only consider Latin America, but we let ourselves be guided by important experiences, which Venezuela may benefit from in various areas, in order to build a just and democratic state.

Switzerland has also played an important role for Venezuela...

… yes, when the Constitution was drafted and the referendum was introduced, which had not existed before. Special meetings with the representatives of Switzerland were held. Inspired by the possibility of the referendum in Switzerland an appropriate method for our country was developed taking our experience and history into consideration. The "referendo revocatorio" (recall referendum): the possibility that any person elected may be voted out of office after only half of his or her term. That does not exist in Switzerland, but this is an example of the wealth in ideas, which is the result when countries cooperate in all fields.

What may Venezuela have to face in this tense situation?

This is obvious, when you consider the declarations of the two commanders of the US Southern Command, the former and the present one, whose fourth fleet is surrounding South America. The option to intervene militarily is still imminent. Both John Kelly, the former commander, as well as the present commander Kurt Tidd, clearly expressed that the government in Venezuela must be changed, which will only be possible however in the presidential election in 2018.

What are Venezuela’s possibilities to prevent an intervention?

We hope very much to be able to prevent a war. The Latin American integration has made progress in recent years, with governments that are politically and ideologically differently aligned. On June 23 the OAS held a meeting and only four governments of states called for the intervention in the Venezuelan situation. These were, as might be expected, the United States, then Mexico, Costa Rica and Paraguay. All other governments either supported Venezuela or did not issue any response.

What does this solidarity with Venezuela mean?

If the US enforced an intervention in Venezuela, any other state would also have to expect to experience the same destiny. Yesterday, the Venezuelan Foreign Minister said if that set a precedent it would mean that democracy in all our countries was in danger. It is about the peaceful coexistence of neighbouring states. There are states with different political and economic backgrounds, but they meet and have consultations. There is no alternative to that.

You mentioned the meeting of 23 June. Was that a regular meeting or was it specially convened on the subject?

This meeting was specially convened in order to discuss the situation in Venezuela. The Secretary General convoked it, as is his authority. This was the second conference; the week before he had already raised this issue. Even then, he suffered a defeat, because only 11 countries were against Venezuela and advocated the application of the “Carta democratic” (Democratic Charter), and that was not the majority. On 23 June, it became even more obvious: countries that had previously spoken against Venezuela, such as Brazil or Argentina – with totally unstable governments – no longer advocated the application of the Charter.

What does this Charter say?

This so-called “Democratic Charter” is an article in the Statute of the OAS and stipulates the following: If disregard for the constitution of a state is imminent or if it is even violated, the State can ask for support by the OAS’ Member States. But that does not mean any interference or even military action, merely the political dialogue is to be promoted in order to protect and strengthen democracy.

Does Venezuela face the risk of its government ignoring the constitution?

No. With respect to Venezuela, this Charter can be applied by no means; the Constitution has not been violated. There is no chaos, not even a humanitarian crisis. For the US this has always been the excuse – which, by the way, the United States had not needed for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – to initiate a coup by means of the “Carta Democratica”. Three times already, the US have tried to exert their influence in this way: in 2002 with the coup against Chávez, which the OAS had supported but which was put down after 48 hours; in 2009 in Honduras, where the OAS supported the successful coup initiated by the US; and in 2012 for the third time against President Lugo in Paraguay. The “Carta democratic” has so far always been a pretext for not having to seek a political solution, but to overthrow the legal president by military or pseudo-legal means.

How can the Latin American states prevent an intervention?

There are two examples of peaceful coexistence and of peaceful solution of the problems. A few years ago, when Chávez was still alive, there was an imminent danger of war between Colombia and Venezuela. In Colombia there are several US military bases and the threat of intervention existed imminently. With an immediate convening of UNASUR (Union of South American Nations), the warmongering – most likely supported by the US – could be stopped. Another example occurred between Colombia and Ecuador, when Colombia bombed the guerrillas on the territory of Ecuador, which might have been a reason for war, if you want to have war. An escalation was however immediately prevented, especially by the commitment of the former Brazilian president Lula da Silva. This was a proof that the threat of war can be averted if the US does not sit at table. We are committed to go on like this, since we constantly live with this risk.

The meeting a week before June 23 was also convened because of the situation in Venezuela?

No. Something else had been on the agenda, but the Secretary-General raised this issue on his own, which is extremely unusual. He is playing a dubious role. For instance, he wanted the opposition to participate in the meeting and not the government. The Foreign Minister of Venezuela Delcy Rodríguez said very clearly that no government could accept that. In other countries there is also an opposition, but in such meetings only the government representatives should take part. The opposition, in contrast, can march in front of the conference building and protest.

It seems that the Latin American countries have become more independent.

The development is new. In the past, the US generally prevailed, and there was no debate. Now there is a debate, and they cannot enforce their view so easily. For us it is very important that we can engage in dialogue and there is no other option. We also seek the EU's support. That does not mean for the government alone but for the dialogue in general, which is the only solution. Those who can help are very welcome, just like the three former presidents who volunteered to help in the beginning, because the beginning is always the most difficult.

Has that been successful in Venezuela?

Not until now. The leader of the opposition Capriles and Parliament President Ramos Allup have so far altogether rejected the dialogue. We hope that help from outside will revive the dialogue so that they may sit down and talk and a civil war may be avoided. At the moment we do not expect an intervention by the United States; that would be very odd, indeed. They have had a lot of flops in recent years, so they would hardly dare to intervene directly. But fuelling a civil war is always possible. We could witness in Ukraine how that can be done. In Venezuela as well there is something like a fascist mentality which is extremely dangerous. This is a new phenomenon. In the past in Venezuela, there were attempts to organize a total chaos which could end in a civil war, just like in Ukraine. Despite all the problems and criticism, the majority of the population supports the Maduro government, and the even greater part does not want war in Venezuela. This is the fundament on which we base our great hope for a peaceful solution to the conflict.

Mr Wimmer, thank you for the interview.

Interview Thomas Kaiser

* Carolus Wimmer is a native Venezuelan with German roots. He is a member of the Communist Party and International Secretary of the Communist Party of Venezuela. He is elected deputy representative of the federal state of Trojillo and has been a representative to the Latin American Parliament twice in the last 10 years.

“Reestablishing the confidence has become more difficult, but it is still possible”

Interview with Rustu Demirkaya*

Rüstü Demirkaya (Bild thk)
Rüstü Demirkaya (Bild thk)

On the situation of Kurds in Turkey

Interview with Rustu Demirkaya*

The people’s right to self-determination, as it was formulated in the 14-points plan of US President Woodrow Wilson in March 1918, would have granted the Kurds the right to form their own state. The establishment of Kurdistan was also provided in the Treaty of Sèvres in 1920, which stipulated the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, but it failed due to the opposition of both Turkey and the colonial powers. To date, there has not been any Kurdish state. The Kurds, after all a nation of 23 million, live scattered across four states, Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey, under due conditions. In connection with the war in Syria, the Kurds have again come to the fore in the media because they have inflicted severe defeats on ISIS, more than any other belligerent party. Things have happened that cannot be more contradictory. While the Germans delivered weapons to the Kurds in Iraq in the fight against ISIS, NATO partner Turkey fought against the Kurds with extreme hardness. In connection with the overall development in the Middle East, the Kurdish issue plays an important role. In the following interview, the Kurdish-Turkish journalist Rüstü Demirkaya sets out his view of things.

The Kurdish people have as yet had no state of their own, and so the Kurds live in different countries. Could you give an overview of the Kurds' situation?

If you look at history, you will find that the Kurds have always lived in this region. They have neither had an independent state nor have they ruled over other peoples. They have also never accepted any foreign domination. This has a long tradition.

How has the situation of the Kurds developed in recent years?

Until the last Iraq war in 2003, the Kurds have had more or less autonomy in Iraq, which has become constitutional after the fall of Saddam Hussein.

In Syria Kurds were without any rights until the so-called Arab Spring. They had no legal status, not even a civil status. With the war against ISIS, the de facto Kurdish autonomy began in Syria. Currently, they are going to turn it into a legal status under international law.

What has changed in Iraq as far as the Kurds are concerned?

The main change is the de facto autonomy, which is embedded in the Iraqi federal constitution. The federal Kurdistan region of Iraq is ruled by the Barzani clan. The government Barzani is authoritarian and therefore undemocratic. The opposition is suppressed, journalists are arrested, and control over economic resources remains in their hands. The people are living in extremely poor conditions. Barzani’s policy objective is a Kurdish nation-state, which the oppositional Kurds reject in general, because the Kurdish region consists of different ethnic groups and religious communities there. Probably, a new government in its beginnings must behave like that so that a democratic culture can be built.

What has the life of the Kurds been like since the civil war in Syria?

Through the civil war in Syria, a power vacuum originated that the Kurds took advantage of. They set up a self-governing system that was established and legitimized by people's councils. It is based on the equality of all ethnic and religious communities as well as the equality of women. This process is therefore accompanied by a strong struggle for women’s emancipation. The current status that the Kurdish-Syrian Federation SRDK proclaimed a few months ago, is seeking recognition under international law.

What was life like for the Kurds in Turkey, and has it changed in recent times?

When I was a child, it was forbidden to listen to Kurdish music. We had to hide the cassettes with Kurdish music. In the Turkish part of Kurdistan, a state of war prevailed from the beginning. The Turkish state annexed Kurdistan deviously in 1923 and later it ruled with violence and repression. This was opposed by the Kurds with counter-violence and the establishment of an armed People's Army.

What has happened in recent years?

During the almost 30 years of war 4,000 villages were evacuated and millions of people exiled from their habitats. 12,000 people have disappeared after their arrest. About 100 Kurdish journalists have been murdered because they reported  these events. The Kurdish parties were banned overnight and their representatives were arrested, etc.

Has this situation changed under Erdogan?

Then in 2002, Erdogan’s AKP came to power and introduced fake solutions such as Kurdish television, which were however not protected by the constitution. This uncertain to and fro has continued until 2015. After the Kurds had victoriously emerged from the civil war, the Erdogan government took back those unprotected concessions to the Kurds and began a new dimension of war against the Kurds. The images from the war zone do not differ from those of the Syrian Civil War or the war in Vietnam at the time.

Since 2013 there had been a peace process between the Kurds and Turkey, which was then terminated by the Turkish government. What was the reason? What has the situation been like since the change in Erdogan’s policy towards the Kurds?

The success of the Kurds in Syria against ISIS, which had just attacked the Kurds with the support of Erdogan, inspired the Kurds in Turkey. Self-governing communities were proclaimed, which the Turkish state did not want to enshrine in the Constitution. Meanwhile, the HDP, the Kurdish party, which was elected into parliament with 59 representatives, has developed self-confidence. In the previous federal election the party had a very big success with 80 MPs, which strengthened the will for self-government. Erdogan has promised for 13 years to solve the Kurdish issue. Therefore, he got the votes of Kurds, who he needed for the reconstruction of Turkey into a presidential system. However, things have changed after the parliamentary elections on 7 June 2015.

What plans does Erdogan pursue?

He wanted - and still wants - to be the new Ottoman Sultan. He wanted and wants to dominate the Middle East. By his response to the attempted coup, Erdogan can reach the objective that he has always pursued. Building on the Ottoman Empire will be possible only when he cuts off the opposition and, where necessary, can carry out purges. His pleaded objective in trying to build a democratic state is as well a farce as with the coup leaders, who have spoken about wanting to save democracy. But that will not work.

Due to his Kurdish phobia, Erdogan has lost much both in Syria and in Turkey. The success of the Kurdish resistance shattered all his plans. He now takes revenge on the Kurds. These were the main reasons why he led the Turkish state into a new war violating international law. Now after the defeated coup he can eliminate those who were against his policies.

What is the war like?

Through this war Erdogan wants to create civil war conditions and aggressive chauvinism against the Kurds. So far 11 Kurdish cities have been razed to the ground by warplanes and armoured artillery. In the fight of the Turkish security forces against the Kurds, about a thousand people have been killed in recent months; men, women, children. Weeks of curfews were imposed on cities.

What does this mean for people?

This means: no water, no electricity, no food, no medical care, access ban for the press and other observers. Those who dare to leave the house risk their lives, whether they supported the PKK or not. They shoot with heavy artillery and tanks, i.e. imprecise weapons that always mean the death of bystanders. In Cizre e.g. more than 200 civilians were burned alive in a basement where they had sought shelter. Among the victims was my sister Berjin Demirkaya. Weeks later, the Turkish state has handed over 3 charred bone fragments as the mortal remains to my father.

This is abhorrent and absolutely inhuman. It reminds me of the situation of Tamils during the civil war.

Yes, Erdogan sees the actions by the Sinhalese against Tamils as a model for Turkey. He has already said so publicly. The military raids against the Kurdish civilian population are extremely brutal. While one city after another is razed to the ground, the Turkish government explains that they plan to rebuild the cities. They have already begun to issue reconstruction contracts to companies that are close to Erdogan. Currently the Government is accommodating Syrian “refugees” in the newly built apartments. The Kurds are turned out. These Syrians cannot be called “refugees” at all. They are actually ISIS fighters who attacked and stormed the Kurdish cities in Syria and Turkey. All these war crimes have been documented at the United Nations and various international organizations.

How do people deal with the changed situation in the Kurdish regions of Turkey?

The displaced people have emigrated into neighboring provinces. The self-administration councils and municipalities are trying to help people mainly with donations and relief supplies, often sent from abroad to the “Kurdish Red Moon”, because the state has cancelled the funds that the municipalities were entitled to. An example of such assistance is the campaign “Godfather Family”, in which a family living in Europe is matched with an affected family from the war zones, so that the necessary help directly reaches the affected areas. The Turkish state wants yet to tighten the population’s misery to break the will of the Kurds. The curfew is still imposed. Many people cannot return home. Since many homes were destroyed, they do not know where to go. Some houses were looted.

What do the European neighbors say?

The European states do not want to fall out with Erdogan. They want to solve the refugee problem in this way: remaining silent. Europe sits and watches as Erdogan burns the Kurds alive.

After all these adversities and all the bestiality one cannot help to look for a clue of the solution to the conflict. What could a solution to the conflict look like?

The war cannot last for all eternity. To see the solution you have to think about the reasons of the conflict.

Especially the Turkish state has to change structures and its paradigm. And all this must be constitutionally safeguarded. This will reestablish confidence between the Kurds and the Turkish government. Especially with the recent war, Erdogan has destroyed exactly this confidence within a year. Reestablishing it has become more difficult, but it is still possible.

What does it take?

The Turkish side must fundamentally change its policies. In Turkey, different peoples and religious communities have had a home for millennia, not only the Turks. The new state and political and legal structures should reflect that, otherwise Turkey would become a new Syria with far-reaching implications and consequences for Europe. It does not require its own Kurdish state, but it needs a democratic solution in Turkey, which woiuld take all nations and religious communities  into consideration. Then Turkey could be a real model for the Middle East.

Mr. Demirkaya, thanks for the interview.

Interview Thomas Kaiser


* Rüstü Demirkaya is a Kurd from Turkey. He is 32 years old and has lived in Switzerland since 2009. From 2002 he has worked for the news agency DIHA at the newspaper “Ozgür Gündem” as a reporter and editor focusing on Human Rights. Because of his reports several lawsuits were filed against him. He was detained and released again after 7 months, thanks to the support of international reporter and human rights organizations. Later they wanted to arrest him again and sentence him to 10 years in prison. He then fled to Switzerland in December 2009. He reports and writes for the above mentioned newsagency and newspaper.

«Syria was an oasis in the Middle East»

Interview with Professor Dr. iur. et phil. Alfred de Zayas

Professor Dr. iur. et phil. Alfred de Zayas  (Bild thk)
Professor Dr. iur. et phil. Alfred de Zayas (Bild thk)

Third States must not intervene by supporting insurgents in a civil war

Interview with Professor Dr. iur. et phil. Alfred de Zayas

Zeitgeschehen im Fokus: With Russian support, government forces in Syria have liberated Aleppo from rebel hands. There is much criticism of Assad's and his allies’ actions. How would you assess the situation from the perspective of international law?

Professor Alfred de Zayas: From a legal perspective, this is a civil war. The Geneva Red Cross Conventions of 1949 and the Protocols of 1977 lay down the international law of international and internal armed conflict. On both sides war crimes have been committed, which must be investigated and punished. It is particularly important to consider that in a civil war situation, all other states have an obligation to neutrality and non-interference. Foreign States are not allowed to intervene because intervention is a serious violation of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the state, as well as a violation of the international prohibition of the use of force as stipulated in Article 2 (4) of the UN Charter.

But Russia is on the ground and helps in the fight against the rebels.

An intervention based on a resolution of the Security Council under Chapter VII would be compatible with international law, but the Security Council has not approved foreign military intervention. The only other legal possibility of intervention exists when the government of the country that finds itself in a civil war situation formally asks a third country for help. After all, Assad is the legitimate head of government and was elected according to the constitution of the country. He is thus the head of state of Syria. While third States may not support rebels, the Head of State may ask other countries for help. This happened with regard to Russia.

Does anybody care if a state interferes illegally?

There are judgments of the International Court of Justice. In 1985, the United States was condemned in connection with its actions in Nicaragua, because it had supplied a rebel group in Nicaragua with arms and money, in contravention of international law.

So we would actually have an instrument that could be used here.

Yes, we can go back a little further in history. During the American Civil War, the English supported the Southern States. Not because they sympathized with the Southern states, it was business. They delivered weapons and built ships for the Confederacy. After the North had won the civil war, the then US President Ulysses S. Grant asked the British to pay. The negotiations took place here in Geneva at the Hôtel de Ville. This was the first international court of arbitration called Alabama Claims, finding that England had violated international law because it had interfered on the side of the rebels. England accepted the verdict and paid $15.5 million.

Thus, the ban on non-interference is nothing new and cannot surprise anyone either.

There should be no surprise, but politicians invoke international law at their pleasure, and what does not suit them is simply ignored. In addition, the media do not understand international law and anyway do not report on issues they do not like. There are several resolutions of the UN General Assembly, which prohibit interference in the internal affairs by other states, for example in Resolution 2625 on Friendly Relations between States, Resolution 3314, the Declaration on Aggression. In other words, interference in all countries supporting the rebels in Syria is aggression under international law, so it is prohibited by Article 5 of the Rome Statute.

Applied to Syria this would mean...

... that those states which support the rebels have violated the sovereignty and the country's territorial integrity, for which they are liable to reparation as in the  Alabama claims arbitration. The main issue, of course, is to come to the negotiating table and reach a comprehensive cease fire and a peace agreement as quickly as possible, as stipulated in Article 2 (3) of the UN Charter. As far as I can remember, Assad has always been open to peace through negotiations, through diplomacy.

Why has this not happened so far?

A number of states did not want it. The interventionists have hoped to achieve a military victory against Assad. That would probably have been the case if Assad had not turned to Russia. Without Russian assistance, which is, as I said, in conformity with international law, Assad would already have fallen. This does not entail impunity for war crimes. Any excesses and war crimes committed by the Assad government or by Russian forces should, of course, be investigated.

How do you assess the situation now?

It looks like Assad may now achieve a military victory. Then we must see how quickly the international community provides concrete help for the victims of the war. This, of course, means that we have to recognize the facts and accept that it is now about the Syrian people and that we have to help and compensate all those who have suffered there. However, you hear quite different tones. A number of States want Assad as a war criminal before the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.

What do you think about it?

The state of war in the Middle East is prolonged by the demonization of Assad and the insistence that he be deposed. The etiquette of the war criminal has been imprinted on him. This is, however, very selective and manifests  the intellectual and emotional dishonesty of many politicians, because nobody talks about bringing the interventionists, including other heads of state in the region, before the ICC, although they  bear responsibility for grave war crimes and crimes against humanity.

What do you think of specifically?

The ICC will have little credibility for  as long as the most serious crimes of the 21st century, namely the crimes associated with the Iraq war, Afghanistan war, Libyan war and Yemen war, continue to enjoy impunity. If Assad were to be prosecuted, then a whole series of other heads of state would have to be brought to court as well.

It is obvious that the acceptance of this Court is decreasing.

Since this court has not been neutral in some cases, a whole series of states have denounced the statute. And if the policy of the International Criminal Court is not changed, a lot more states will certainly follow this notice. For it is still a weapon of the stronger against the weaker.

Is the plan to accuse Assad there not also a result of misinformation about the whole situation in Syria?

Yes, the media has played a decisive role in disseminating false information, including fake films and videos. They have accused Assad and Russia of many war crimes, without, however, providing any evidence. On the other hand, when the rebels used chemical weapons and thus committed significant crimes of war, these crimes were not reported, or they were trivialized. I have noticed this so often in the last five years. You can no longer rely on the press. The media are a major weapon in this war. What we complain about is well described with the recent neologisms: "Fake news" and "Post-truth" reporting. There is also the problem of selective reporting or non-reporting.  That is why it is prudent to consult different news services, while nurturing a certain level of healthy scepticism.

One has the impression that the majority of the media is on the side of the rebels.

Yes, reporting has been pretty biased against Assad. Even  the NGOs have been irresponsible and relied on biased sources. Aid organizations, such as the ICRC, have a constitutional commitment to be neutral. Yet, in recent weeks, a number of Russian doctors were killed by the rebels and apparently a small field hospital  in the west of Aleppo was bombed by the rebels. Unfortunately, the ICRC did not comment accordingly.

What does that mean?

An internationally recognized and credible organization will thereby lose credibility. I think this is extremely regrettable. I hope that hostilities will end soon so that the reconstruction of the country can begin. My appeal to all European states: Help these poor people. The one million refugees will then return home.  But they cannot be expected to return if they  only find rubble.  All States should help Syria rebuild its infrastructure, water supply, electricity, houses, etc. . One must make it possible for them to return in safety and dignity and to lead  a dignified life in Syria. Before the Civil War, Syria was an oasis in the Middle East in which a high degree of prosperity, education, training opportunities and tolerance between religions prevailed. But just as Iraq, Lebanon and Libya have been destroyed, Syria has been the victim of yet another attempt at “regime change”. By the way, as far as neologisms are concerned, I can no longer hear the propagandistic word "Arab Spring". For the population of these countries it has not been a green spring, but a red chaos of the interventionists.

What do you think of the development in Aleppo?

I do not want to characterize it as a "victory" of Assad, as some media do. Assad has merely restored the authority of the Syrian state over Aleppo after four years of occupation by "rebels" and terrorists. It is not about the "fall" of Aleppo, as we can hear and read on CNN and BBC, but about its "liberation". In any case, it is good for the poor population that Aleppo's bombardments have ended. We will see whether the EU and the US will now provide humanitarian aid after they have long financed the "rebels". That would at least be a part of the reparation for what they have done there. But when I read the reports in the New York Times or Washington Post, I have only a moderate hope that the West finally decides for peace. The spirit of  "regime change" still exists.

Russia was no longer elected to the Human Rights Council because of its deployment in Syria. This was a political decision. How do you rate it?

True enough – and yet another proof of how politicized the Human Rights Council is - even more so than the former Human Rights Commission.

Professor de Zayas, thank you very much for the interview.

Interview Thomas Kaiser

The interview corresponds to the personal opinion of Professor de Zayas and was not officially conducted in his capacity as an independent expert at the UNO. See also www.alfreddezayas.com and http://dezayasalfred.wordpress.com


“Fidel Castro attempted to create a different society”

Interview with Professor Dr. iur. et phil. Alfred de Zayas

Professor Dr. iur. et phil. Alfred de Zayas  (Bild thk)
Professor Dr. iur. et phil. Alfred de Zayas (Bild thk)

The United States must pay reparation to Cuba

Interview with Professor Dr. iur. et phil. Alfred de Zayas

The Cubans lost their Fidel Castro a few weeks ago. There were various obituaries. Most media have described him as a “dictator” or “autocrat”, some also called him the “last communist”. Such commentaries always raise the question of what is propaganda and manipulation or what is a realistic way of looking at an issue. Zeitgeschehen im Fokus asked the historian and US expert in international law and elected representative to the UN, Professor Alfred de Zayas, about his opinion.

Zeitgeschehen im Fokus: Professor de Zayas, how do you assess the era of Fidel Castro; what is his life-time achievement?

Professor Alfred de Zayas: As a practicing Catholic I followed the visits and statements of Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis when they travelled to Cuba and had personal contacts with Fidel Castro. The lessons which we draw from the Gospel, and in particular from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew V), are pertinent.  A former student at Cuba’s De La Salle and Belen schools, Fidel Castro attempted to create another society built on solidarity and mutual aid, a society which was not materialistic, and did not build on capital or consumption. This model is actually much closer to the ideal of the Sermon on the Mount than we know it in other Christian countries. As a life-time achievement I see his consistent struggle for the sovereignty of Cuba and against the interference of the United States in the internal affairs of the country. No other politician in the world has dared to say so clearly “No” to the United States. And Castro has proved that it is possible, even if the consequences - especially the embargo – were quite serious. Of course, Castro has done some things that were not in order, for example in the area of freedom of expression as defined by Article 19 of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (CCPR) or in the area of political activity as defined by Article 25 CCPR. For many years he restricted the right to emigrate to the US and elsewhere, in violation of article 12 CCPR.  But he was never a bloody dictator like Batista, Somoza, Videla, and Pinochet - or like so many in Latin America. I am convinced that if free elections had been held in the 60s, 70s and 80s, Castro would have won these elections hands down.

What did he do differently?

He was committed to the equality of races, peoples and religions. Like no other political leader, he supported international solidarity, when crises arose in various regions of the world, when natural catastrophes hit countries, as for example Ebola in Africa or an earthquake in Haiti. Castro was the man of the first hour. He sent thousands of doctors to all of these places. This meant help which he could provide more quickly and often more efficiently than the rich countries. He also supported the decolonisation movement in Africa and elsewhere and was a friend of Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu.

This model was repeatedly condemned, especially by the USA.

The Cuban model was amalgamated with Soviet communism, and yet it had little in common with it. Fidel Castro was depicted as an atheist and destroyer of the Church.  The Churches in Cuba, however, continued functioning under him – although many Church dignitaries had been great supporters of the former governing elites.  Cuba has a history of 58 years, in which the country could assert its sovereignty, its independence from the United States, its rejection of corruption, colonialism and imperialism. This alone – these 58 years of standing upright despite some attempts to assassinate him and despite the 57 years of embargo against the country - deserves respect.

Why could he stay so long?

If he had not been esteemed by a considerable proportion of Cuba’s population, he could not have held the reins of power for so long. If he had been a corrupt tyrant, a despot, a puppet, as we know them from Africa or Latin America, he would have been overthrown long ago. One thing is significant: in the years of the greatest hardships, when, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, everyone predicted that Castro would also fall, the country did not waver. We are now 25 years later, and the government has remained stable.

What was his recipe for success?

The people did not live in fear and there was no Soviet-style structure that brutally suppressed them, such as in communist Poland, the GDR, Hungary, or Czechoslovakia. It is because a majority of the people accepted that a fair distribution of the resources was necessary, that competition without solidarity was not a good model. Because of the embargo there was rationing, but the people had enough to eat. They have free education up to the university. They have the best medical care you can think of. And there is little or no corruption.

How was it before the era of Fidel Castro?

Before 1959, Cuba was a cross-roads for organized crime, for the mafia, for drug trafficking. The country was the brothel of the United States. It is understandable that in the 1950s a large part of the Cuban population was so unhappy with this situation that they actively supported the liberation war against Batista. Even the elites contributed money to the revolution.  Initially Castro’s revolution was not Marxist-oriented and  had absolutely no relations or assistance from the USSR.

However, there was a close cooperation with the USSR ...

... Castro was almost forced into the arms of the Soviet Union, because the US absolutely refused to negotiate with him, to try to meet him half-way, a quarter way? The US government wanted to have Cuba as it was before the revolution, under the puppet Fulgencio Batista; and as punishment for Cuba’s intransigence they imposed the embargo on the country.

Is this still in force today and violates international law?

The embargo has already been condemned 25 times by the United Nations General Assembly. These unilateral sanctions are clearly in contravention of international law. They violate customary law, they violate right of free-trade, they violate the sovereignty of the country. Each country has the right to choose its own government form. This has been recognized in Article 1 of the CCPR. This has been recognized in the UN Charter, in several Resolutions of the General Assembly, among them Res. 2625 and 3314, etc.

Why is the embargo still in force?

International law is not a directly applicable law, it is not self-executing; it requires an authority, such as the International Court of Justice or the International Criminal Court, which then makes a judgment on the subject and stipulates the obligations. It also needs goodwill.

What impact did the embargo have on Cuba?

The embargo totally isolated Cuba, and this also helped the government to stay in power. Thus the Castro brothers are still in power 58 years after the revolution. If you are forced to live with what you have, if you cannot import, if you cannot export, the ingenuity comes into play and solutions are sought and found. They have restructured and reorganized in a manner that is impressive.

What is Cuba’s problem today?

The extraterritoriality of the application of the legislation of the United States, including the Helms-Burton Act of 1996, made it very difficult for foreign banks, but also for corporations, to conduct any business with Cuba. This violates international law. But the US holds the whip in its hand, because the corporations want to be able to do their business in the USA, especially since they also have branches there. When they do business with Cuba, they must be afraid to lose their business in the US. It is a massive economic threat. In addition, there are enormous financial penalties that the Treasury Department in the US has imposed on European banks and corporations. These go into the billions.

What should happen now?

The blockade should be lifted, but it has not been as yet.  Obama has made some concessions and it is not at all certain that Trump will not undo these. Bearing in mind that international law has been violated for 57 years, which has resulted in immense economic losses; there should be some kind of compensation. Cuba has suffered economic harm estimated at over 1000 billion US dollars, even without counting any interest thereon, and even without considering the damage resulting from the failed US invasion of 1961 (Bay of Pigs). This damage should be repaid according to the principle of State responsibility for internationally wrongful acts (Chorzow Factory Case, 1928).

After the revolution Cuba has also nationalized industries?

What Cuba has confiscated at the time, for example US corporations or American investments in Cuba, is, by comparison, peccata minuta.

How could we help Cuba to avail itself of its rights?

In order to solve the whole problem, we could of course think of a peace conference. If we remember Versailles: the Germans paid the last reparations a few years ago. The United States should pay reparation to Cuba - but can deduct losses from US corporations.

How do you want to make up for 1,000 billion?

This is a huge effort. It does not even include all those deaths attributable to the embargo. Since medicines were lacking and medical equipment or parts thereof could not be imported, some people perished. They could have been saved. But because a medical device lacked a small spare part, the patient could not be cured. However, missing spare parts could not be obtained, neither through Europe nor through third countries.

This is devastating, but nobody is talking about it.

Yes, there is enormous civil and criminal liability. But hitherto these have been facts without consequences, facts that we know, but about which we do not talk. When we speak of justice and peace, we must call for the universal application of international law and human rights principles.  We must reject the impunity of the perpetrators.  We must recommit to human dignity as required under the UN Charter and the Human Rights Covenants.  Maybe the new Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, would like to offer his good offices to achieve justice and reconciliation in the Cuban conext.

It is worth reading again what the Popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis said and wrote about Castro.

Professor de Zayas, thank you very much for the interview.

Interview Thomas Kaiser

The interview corresponds with the personal opinion of Professor de Zayas and was not officially conducted in his capacity as an independent expert at the UN. See also www.alfreddezayas.com and http://dezayasalfred.wordpress.com


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