COMMISSION VOICES CONCERN AT THE CONTINUING DETERIORATION
Inter-American Commission has been following the situation in the
Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela closely since 1999 and it has acted
within its mandates to safeguard observance of human rights in that
country and to alert the international community to the serious
deterioration in its institutions.
the recent 117th regular session of the Inter-American Commission on Human
Rights, held in Washington, D.C., from February 20 to March 7, 2003, the
Inter-American Commission continued gathering information on the status of
the rule of law in Venezuela and decided to make the following
observations based on the mandate assigned to it by Article 41 of the
Commission received information from representatives of various
nongovernmental human rights organizations, from segments of civil
society, the media, and representatives of the state.
The IACHR appreciates the Venezuelan Government’s request for a
hearing to discuss matters related to freedom of expression.
a view to cooperating with the Government and with Venezuelan society and
fulfilling its mandate, the Commission had planned to conduct a series of
visits to Venezuela in response to an invitation from President Hugo Chávez
made during its visit in May 2002. However,
the Government of Venezuela has repeatedly refused to set dates for those
visits. The IACHR considers that the Commission’s presence will
contribute significantly to a strengthening of the defense and promotion
of human rights in a context of democracy and lawful institutions.
respect to the current situation of institutions in Venezuela, the
Commission wishes to state the following:
The IACHR is concerned at the extreme political polarization and
consequent acts of violence periodically occurring between demonstrators
representing different sectors. The
Commission has been told that between March 2002 and the first two weeks
of this year, more than 40 people were killed and approximately 750
wounded in connection with street protests.
The events of January 4, 2003 were particularly serious.
On that day, demonstrators called out by the opposition were
heading from different parts of the city to the national monument known as
“Los Próceres,” when a violent clash occurred between the different
groups taking part, in which the Military Police, the Metropolitan Police,
and the National Guard intervened.
Two people were shot dead and eight wounded in the fighting.
Commission continues to be concerned at the precarious situation of human
rights defenders. Specifically, in the case of some members of the
nongovernmental organization COFAVIC, the Commission asked the
Inter-American Court of Human Rights to adopt provisional measures because
they had received death threats and been subjected to other hostile acts.
On November 27, 2002, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights
ordered the provisional measures requested and set the date for a hearing
to listen the positions of the Commission and the Government.
Following that hearing, which took place in San José, Costa Rica,
the Court issued a resolution on February 21 advising that the State had
not effectively implemented the provisional measures.
The Commission reiterates its concern over
the activities of armed civilian groups engaging in political violence and
the fact that they act with impunity.
The violence has escalated with the continuing activities of
vigilante groups with ties to the police in several states of the interior
in what appear to be social cleansing operations.
According to information received by the IACHR, in the State of
Portuguesa alone, such groups have allegedly been involved in over 100
Commission notes with concern the impunity with which human rights
violations are typically carried out, and the disregard for the State’s
obligation to investigate and punish those responsible.
The Commission learned that only rarely do investigations of human
rights offenses get beyond the initial prosecuting attorney’s inquiry.
The IACHR reiterates the unwaivable international obligation of the
State to investigate, try, and punish those responsible for human rights
offenses and to make reparation for the harm done to the victims.
On numerous occasions, the IACHR has pointed to the grave
consequences of impunity for effective rule of law.
Commission notes that those responsible for the acts of violence in
connection with the attempted coup d’état in April 2002 have still not
been identified and that inquiries into those events have made no
significant headway almost one year after they happened.
it gives cause for concern that the Supreme Court of Justice issued a
judgment on August 24, 2002, eliminating the possibility of a preliminary
hearing on the merits to bring criminal charges against the senior
military commanders involved in the thwarted coup of April 11 that year.
The Commission notes that the legal effect of that decision is to
prevent inquiries into the responsibilities that may have been incurred by
those who disrupted the democratic order in Venezuela.
Commission observes with concern that most judges in the judiciary enjoy
only provisional status. Provisional
judges have no job stability rights, which seriously impairs the autonomy
and independence of the judiciary. The
IACHR has been advised that even after three years of reorganization in
the judiciary; over 70 percent of the judges are still provisional
appointees. The Committee underscores the importance of abiding by
domestic laws and international obligations derived from the American
Convention by immediately expediting the process of correcting the current
state of affairs in which a significant number of Venezuelan judges have
only provisional status.
of expression in Venezuela is another area of particular concern.
The Commission has also noted an alarming and widespread increase
in attacks on the media and journalists, particularly those covering
political events and rallies. The
IACHR has been told that no thorough and exhaustive investigation into
these acts has been carried out. Hostile remarks about the press by senior
government officials and the impunity of those investigated for attacking
journalists have contributed to an atmosphere of intimidation curbing the
full exercise of freedom of expression in Venezuela.
The Commission also requested– and the Inter-American Court
granted–provisional measures in the case of attacks and threats against
journalists. In its resolution of February 21, 2003, the Inter-American
Court stated that the State had not implemented those measures.
The Commission expresses its concern over the failure to implement
the provisional measures ordered by the Court and the precautionary
measures of the Commission. Compliance
with the decisions of the Commission and the Court is essential to
guarantee protection of the human rights of the inhabitants of Venezuela.
Commission was also informed of a bill on Social Responsibility in Radio
and Television, widely known as the Contents Law, which contains
provisions that are clearly incompatible with the freedom of expression
proclaimed in the American Convention. The IACHR has also stated its concern at the start of
administrative proceedings by the Ministry of Infrastructure that could
lead to an order to revoke the administrative license or television
franchise of various enterprises in Venezuela.
The regulations invoked to conduct these proceedings contradict
international obligations entered into by Venezuela.
a hearing held in Washington on February 25 at the request of the
Government of Venezuela, the Commission asked for detailed information on
the status of proceedings against General Carlos Alfonso Martínez, who
was arrested on December 30, 2002, in connection with the demonstrations
that lasted several weeks in the square known as Plaza Francia de
Altamira, in Caracas. The
State has still not responded to the request for information made on that
occasion. In October 2002,
the IACHR condemned statements by military personnel calling upon their
comrades-in-arms to revolt against the civilian authorities.
Nevertheless, the detention of General Alfonso in military
facilities for over two months without having brought specific criminal
charges against him is a grave violation of the right to personal liberty
and to due process of the law. It
is paradoxical that the preliminary hearing prior to the bringing of any
criminal charges, a privilege that the Bolivarian Constitution grants to
senior military officers, has in this case been used against General
Alfonso in order to keep him in a situation of prolonged arbitrary
IACHR has similar objections to the arrest warrant issued against the
leader of the opposition, Mr. Carlos Fernández, and several other
leaders. In this case, it
appears to us to be difficult to justify the decision to apply criminal
law standards to what, in principle, represents exercise of freedom of
expression and association. At
the very least, the Venezuelan authorities should prove that illicit
deeds, not just words, justify actions that deprive citizens of their
The IACHR expresses its extreme concern
over the murder of three dissident soldiers, Army private Darwin Arguello,
Able Seaman Angel Sales (Navy), Junior Technician Félix Pinto (Air Force)
and Gabriela Peroza (adolescent). The
bodies were found on a vacant lot of the Parque Caiza district on the road
to Guarenas (on the outskirts of Caracas).
The Commission reminds the State once again of its international
obligation to conduct a serious investigation and to punish those
responsible for these murders.
The dangerous escalation of political
violence is reflected in the attacks, using explosives, in recent weeks
against diplomatic missions of Colombia and Spain in Caracas and against
oil installations in the State of Zulia.
The Commission would like to urge the Government to investigate
these attacks as a matter of urgency in order to avoid recurrences that
could have increasingly grave consequences.
Since 1999, the IACHR has issued statements
through various mechanisms regarding the ongoing deterioration of the rule
of law in Venezuela and, pursuant to its mandate to raise awareness among
the peoples of the Americas, it has warned the international community of
the increasingly dire human rights situation.
As the crisis went from bad to worse, the Commission resorted to
the various different mechanisms contemplated in the American Convention
to protect human rights. The
information conveyed to the IACHR on the exacerbation of the crisis has
pointed above all to the extreme degree of polarization in Venezuelan
society, the political violence, extrajudicial executions, arbitrary
arrests, disproportionate use of force, restrictions on freedom of
expression, the activities of death squads, and impunity.
In its last press release, in December 2002, the Committee
underscored key aspects of the institutional crisis, such as the lack of
independence of the judiciary, the restrictions on freedom of expression,
the fact that the Armed Forces were taking on a deliberative role, the
extreme polarization of society, the activities of death squads, the lack
of credibility of oversight bodies, and the absence of coordination among
the different security forces.
In the Commission’s opinion, all these
situations point to the frailty of the very foundations required for the
rule of law in a democratic system according to the American Convention on
Human Rights and other international instruments.
The Commission notes with extreme concern that in the time that has
elapsed since the last press release in December 2002, Venezuela’s
institutions have continued to deteriorate.
The IACHR reiterates these observations as
a contribution to the work of the international community and, in
particular, that of the Secretary General of the OAS, Dr. César Gaviria,
and the Group of Friends, in the hopes that they will lend support to
their efforts. In that
connection, the IACHR welcomes the signing of the first agreement reached
at the negotiating table between the Opposition and the Government on
preventing acts of violence and trusts that the agreement will foster
greater observance of human rights and help to consolidate the rule of
law. The IACHR urges the
Government and the opposition to make every effort to comply with this
Washington, D.C., March 10, 2003