RELEASE ON EVENTS IN VENEZUELA
In light of recent events in Venezuela, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights expresses its most emphatic condemnation of the violence that cost the lives of at least 15 people and left more than a hundred injured. The Commission underscores the urgent need for an appropriate, impartial, and objective investigation of the crimes committed and for the perpetrators to be identified and punished. In particular, an investigation is needed into the persons who ordered, encouraged, or tolerated the presence of armed individuals and groups in the context of a civic march, and those persons who attempted to conceal those violent acts. In addition, all the victims must be allowed the possibility of pursuing justice through the applicable procedural channels. Ensuring that justice is done in these cases is an obligation incumbent on the authorities in power in Venezuela, not merely out of respect toward the victims, but also to demonstrate their commitment to the consolidation of institutionality and the rule of law.
On several occasions in recent months, the Commission communicated with President Chávez’s government to report violations of free expression and free association, believing that those incidents threatened democratic institutionality. The IACHR therefore regrets having to note new incidents that could constitute violations of the human rights enshrined in the American Convention on Human Rights, to which Venezuela is a party.
The IACHR is also concerned about the reported arrest of certain political figures with ties to the recently toppled government. The IACHR insists that the incidents of April 11 must be investigated, but it underscores the need for all stages of the corresponding investigations to be carried out in accordance with the judicial guarantees that the American Convention upholds. In particular, the State must guarantee the right of all detainees to be informed of the reasons for their arrest and of the authority ordering it, together with their right to receive assistance from legal counsel of their own choosing and to communicate freely and privately with that counsel.
In addition, the Commission is closely monitoring the unfolding of events arising from the removal or resignation of President Hugo Chávez Frías. The Commission deplores the dismissal, by a decree issued by the government that took office on April 12, of the highest officers of the judiciary and of independent officials within the executive branch, and the suspension of the mandate of the members of the legislature. These developments, in the IACHR’s opinion, could constitute an interruption of the constitutional order as defined in the Democratic Charter.
The IACHR urges Venezuela to promptly restore the rule of law and the democratic system of government by guaranteeing full observance of human rights and basic freedoms. Calling elections and immediately installing independent and impartial institutions will be essential steps in strengthening the rule of law. Given the situation prevailing in Venezuela, such measures will also be indispensable for fully guaranteeing the human rights of all Venezuela’s citizens.
The IACHR states its willingness to establish a dialogue, within the limits of its competence, with the authorities and people of Venezuela, in order to help bolster the defense and protection of human rights in a context of democracy and institutional legality.
Washington D.C., April 13, 2002.