Independent UN rights experts on Wednesday warned that hundreds of Venezuelan cancer patients could die because they have been caught up in the excessively strict application of United States sanctions aimed at Venezuela and the state-owned oil company, Petroleum of Venezuela.
“The lives of Venezuelan transplant patients who are stranded in foreign countries, as well as those waiting to travel abroad for live-saving operations are under threat,” the experts said. “A trip abroad for treatment has become the only hope for hundreds of critically ill patients.”
The group of Special Rapporteurs said they had alerted the US Government, and other countries and entities with a stake in the situation, calling on them to “mitigate the unexpected consequences of sanctions, and reinstate treatment for people whose lives now are in danger.”
“They must take full responsibility for the effect their actions have on the fundamental rights to life and health of every individual around the world.”
The experts say that third countries, regional groupings, banks and private companies have been overly cautious in dealings with Venezuela, fearing that they might unintentionally violate US sanctions, placed on some individual Venezuelans and Government assets in 2015, and 2019.
As a consequence, money cannot be transferred out of Venezuela, and some patients have been stranded, or made destitute, in countries where they went for treatment, the experts said.
Under the 2019 sanctions, all Venezuelan State assets were frozen in the US, and all transactions with US citizens and companies outlawed.
The experts said that the key concern surrounds a programme run by the Simon Bolivar Foundation, the charitable arm of the US-based Citgo Petroleum Corporation, which helped cancer patients, including many children, travel abroad for transplants and for other live-saving treatment.
Hundreds of these patients used to be linked to a national transplant programme with the Government of Venezuela, said the independent UN experts, but their treatment was discontinued when the US denied the Government further control over Citgo.
“Targeting” the State-owned oil and gas company, “as a way to control the political agenda of Venezuela, has had devastating consequences for hundreds of people undergoing treatment for transplant rejection, both in Venezuela and abroad,” the experts said.
“People on a State waiting list for transplants have also been informed that their treatments will not continue.”
There are around 190 cancer patients on a waiting list for foreign treatment, and some 14 children, including three toddlers, died between 2017 and 2020 waiting for treatment under the programme, according to the experts.
These cases illustrate the need for full protection of fundamental human rights, the experts said: “States have an obligation to respect, protect and fulfil the human rights of every person affected by direct international action, even those outside their jurisdiction or effective control, no matter what their original intent was.
“While the right to health and the right to life are fundamental for every individual around the world, we call on all States, banks and private companies to take full responsibility for the effects of their actions on individuals, and to withdraw sanctions, zero risk and over compliance policies affecting core human rights”.
Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council and work on a voluntary basis. They are not UN staff, nor do they receive a salary. They are independent from any government or organization and serve purely in their individual capacity.