HUNDREDS OF VENEZUELAN CANCER PATIENTS could die because they have been caught up in the excessively strict application of US sanctions aimed at Venezuela and the state-owned oil company Petroleum of Venezuela (PDVSA), independent experts appointed by the Human Rights Council said in a statement issued on 21 July 2021.

“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.”

According to experts on the matter, “this issue has been brought to the attention of the Government of the United States of America, other countries and entities.” They have also called on these countries and entities “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.”

Third countries, groups of countries, banks and private companies have been overly cautious in dealings with Venezuela because they fear unintentionally violating US sanctions, the UN experts said. As a consequence, money cannot be transferred out of Venezuela, and some patients have been stranded and destitute, in countries where they went for treatment.

At issue is a programme run by the Simon Bolivar Foundation, the charitable arm of the United States-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, but their treatment was discontinued when the United States refused the control of Citgo Petroleum Corporation to the Venezuelan government.

“Targeting PDVSA 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 some 190 cancer patients on a waiting list for foreign treatment, and some 14 children, including three toddlers,who died between 2017 and 2020 waiting for treatment under the programme.

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”.

* Source: Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights