Amnesty International Report 2015/16 - The State of the World's Human Rights - Venezuela

Human rights defenders and journalists continued to face attacks and intimidation. Political opponents of the government faced unfair trials and imprisonment. There were further reports of excessive use of force by the police and security forces resulting in dozens of deaths, some in circumstances suggesting that they were unlawful killings. Most of those responsible for grave human rights violations during the 2014 protests were not brought to justice and there were concerns about the independence of the judiciary. Colombian refugees and asylum-seekers were deported, forcibly evicted and ill-treated. Prison overcrowding and violence continued. Survivors of gender-based violence faced significant obstacles in getting access to justice.

Background

Parliamentary elections in December saw the coalition Democratic Unity Roundtable gain two-thirds of seats.

In July, a draft National Human Rights Plan was issued for consultation with all sectors of society. It included proposals to reform the judiciary, prison system and security forces, as well as proposals to end discrimination and improve the rights of vulnerable groups such as Indigenous Peoples, women, children, Afro-descendant communities, domestic workers and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people. The consultation was ongoing at the end of the year.

The decision in 2012 by Venezuela to withdraw from the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights continued to deny victims of human rights violations and their relatives whose rights had not been guaranteed in the national courts access to justice.

Interference in the judicial system by officials at the highest levels of the administration called into question their commitment to the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law. There was concern that the temporary nature of positions held by more than 60% of judges made them susceptible to political pressure.

Freedom of expression

In June, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ordered Venezuela to reinstate the broadcasting licence of Radio Caracas Television, which had been withdrawn in 2007. The authorities had not complied with the ruling by the end of the year.

Owners of media outlets and journalists who were critical of the authorities faced defamation charges, attacks and intimidation.1

Human rights defenders

Human rights defenders were attacked and intimidated.

Both President Maduro and the President of the National Assembly, among others, accused named defenders on national television of damaging the country’s reputation and undermining the government. Several human rights defenders were subsequently harassed. For example, in March, Marco Antonio Ponce of the Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict and another 11 human rights defenders returning from presenting their concerns before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights were followed, photographed and filmed by unidentified men in Caracas airport.2

In April, Carlos Lusverti, a human rights defender and professor of human rights at the Andrés Bello Catholic University, was shot and injured for the second time in 15 months, in an apparent robbery attempt.

In October, Marino Alvarado Betancourt of the Venezuelan Programme for Education and Action on Human Rights and his nine-year-old son were attacked and robbed by three armed men in their home.3

In April, Víctor Martínez, a campaigner against corruption and human rights violations committed by Lara State Police, was threatened by two armed men outside his home in Barquisimeto, Lara State. The threat appeared linked to his criticism of the police; at the time of the attack he was under police protection, which he claimed was sporadic.4

Excessive use of force

In January, the Ministry of Defence issued Resolution 008610 allowing all sections of the armed forces to be deployed in public order operations. It also allowed the use of firearms to be authorized during the policing of public protests. The Resolution failed to send a clear message that excessive use of force in such operations would not be tolerated.

Excessive use of force by security forces continued to be reported and resulted in the death of 14-year-old Kluiberth Roa Núñez, who was hit by a rubber bullet fired by the security forces in Táchira State as he was walking near a protest.5

Arbitrary detentions

In September, Leopoldo López, a prisoner of conscience and leader of the opposition Popular Will party, was convicted of conspiracy to commit a crime, incitement, arson and causing damage to public property during the 2014 protests. He was sentenced to 13 years and nine months in prison. There was no credible evidence to support the charges and public statements made before his conviction by the authorities; the President called for his imprisonment, thus seriously undermining his right to a fair trial.6

In January, a judge ordered that Rosmit Mantilla, an LGBTI rights activist and Popular Will member, face trial on charges including incitement, arson and conspiracy to commit a crime during the 2014 protests, despite the lack of credible evidence against him. He remained in pre-trial detention at the end of the year.

In March, Emilio Baduel Cafarelli and Alexander Tirado Lara were sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment. They had been convicted of incitement, intimidation using explosives and conspiracy to commit a crime during the 2014 protests. The Public Prosecutor failed to provide evidence to substantiate the charges and the judge disregarded forensic evidence that showed neither man had handled any explosives or inflammable substances.

Refugees and asylum-seekers

In August, nearly 2,000 Colombian citizens, including refugees and asylum-seekers, were deported in the course of a few days, without the opportunity to challenge their expulsion or to gather their belongings. In some cases children were separated from their parents. Scores were forcibly evicted or had their houses destroyed and some of those detained were ill-treated.7

The deportations were in response to the deaths of three officers and a civilian in the context of security and anti-smuggling operations. At the end of the year, nine municipalities in the border state of Táchira remained under a state of emergency and the border remained closed in the states of Zulia, Táchira and Apure and in part of Amazonas.

Police and security forces

Although recent official data was not available, the Venezuelan Violence Observatory reported that the country had the second highest homicide rate in the region.

In July, Operation Liberation and Protection of the People was implemented by security forces to tackle the high crime rate. Reports were received of possible extrajudicial executions, excessive use of force, arbitrary arrests and forced evictions of those suspected of having committed a crime as well as their families.

According to the Ministry of Justice, a month after the operation commenced, 52 civilians had died in armed clashes with the security forces. The high number of civilian casualties, in contrast to the absence of any police injuries or fatalities, suggested that security forces may have used excessive force or carried out extrajudicial executions.

According to human rights organizations, 90% of the more than 4,000 people detained during the first three months of the operation were subsequently released without charge, suggesting high numbers of arbitrary arrests.

In August, in a community south of Valencia, Carabobo State, security forces allegedly detained all men over 15 years of age and demolished all of the community’s houses, leaving at least 200 families homeless.

Impunity

Progress was slow in bringing to justice those responsible for the killing of 43 people, including security force personnel, and the ill-treatment of protesters during protests in 2014. According to the Public Prosecutor’s Office, 238 investigations had been initiated by February but charges were filed in only 13 cases.

No one had been brought to justice for the killing of eight members of the Barrios family or the threats and intimidation against other family members in Aragua State since 1998.8

Prison conditions

Prisons remained seriously overcrowded despite several reforms to the system since 2013. According to the Venezuelan Prisons Observatory (OVP), prisons overall were holding over three times the number of prisoners they were designed to house. In this context, the prison authorities were unable to protect the rights of prisoners, such as the rights to health and physical integrity. Uprisings and protests, including self-harming, to demand better prison conditions remained common. OVP reported over 1,200 incidents of self-harm in the first six months of the year. In addition, it reported the deaths of 109 inmates and at least 30 injuries as a result of violence in prison facilities, during the same period. The large number of weapons in detention facilities remained a concern.

Violence against women and girls

Implementation of the 2007 legislation criminalizing gender-based violence remained slow due to a lack of resources. Legal aid and access to justice, as well as other effective protection measures such as shelters, had not materialized by the end of the year.

Statistics from the Public Prosecutor’s Office indicated that of the more than 70,000 complaints of gender-based violence received during 2014, less than 1% went to trial. According to women’s rights organizations, 96% of the cases that did reach the courts did not result in convictions.

Rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people

LGBTI organizations expressed concern at entrenched discrimination. There were continuing reports of violence against LGBTI people. Those responsible were rarely held to account as complaints were not investigated or prosecuted.

There was no specific provision in law criminalizing hate crimes based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression.

Sexual and reproductive rights

Access to contraceptives, including emergency contraception, was limited and generally available only to those who could afford it. Abortion was criminalized in all cases except when the life of the woman or girl was at risk.

According to a 2015 report by the WHO, maternal mortality had increased to 110 per 100,000 live births. This was significantly higher than the regional average of 63 per 100,000 live births.

Indigenous Peoples’ rights

There was no legal provision to guarantee and regulate consultation with Indigenous Peoples over matters affecting their livelihoods. Those defending Indigenous Peoples’ rights reported that the right to free, prior and informed consent was not upheld by the authorities when granting licences to extract natural resources in Indigenous territories.

Concerns were raised at the slow progress of the process for the demarcation of Indigenous Peoples’ territories, which started in 2011. By the end of the year, only 12% of Indigenous territory was estimated to have been demarcated.

  1. Venezuela: Journalist beaten and threatened: Horacio Giusti (AMR 53/1714/2015)
  2. Human rights in Venezuela before the United Nations Human Rights Committee (AMR 53/1942/2015)
  3. Venezuela: Armed assault against human rights defender must be thoroughly investigated (News story, 2 October)
  4. Venezuela: Human rights defender attacked again: Víctor Martínez (AMR 53/1450/2015)
  5. Venezuela: The faces of impunity: a year after the protests, victims still await justice (AMR 53/1239/2015)
  6. Venezuela: Opposition leader sentenced unjustly: Leopoldo López (AMR 53/2449/2015)
  7. Venezuela: Concerns over grave human rights violations on the border with Colombia (AMR 53/2329/2015)
  8. Venezuela: Submission to the United Nations Human Rights Committee 114th Session, 29 June-24 July 2015 (AMR 53/1769/2015)