Since the year 2000, the Inter-American Commission on Human
Rights (IACHR) has followed the human rights situation in Venezuela with
concern. Initially, the
Commission, through its Rapporteur for the Freedom of Expression,
sounded a warning as to the environment of hostility being promoted,
from the highest levels of the State, as a means of directly and
indirectly pressuring the media and journalists.
Since then, the IACHR has observed the deterioration of the human
rights situation in Venezuela, seriously compromising the rule of law.
On December 12, 2002, the Commission issued a press release
expressing its serious concern about the worsening of the crisis in
Venezuela and urged the OAS member States to take immediate actions to
“immediately employ all available means to work with Venezuelans in
seeking an urgent solution that will prevent further loss of human life
and ensure Venezuelans that the rule of law will remain fully in
Considering that the situation in Venezuela fits within the
criteria used by the Commission for including an analysis of the human
rights situation in a member state in Chapter IV, the Commission has
decided to reproduce here the preliminary observations expressed in the
press release issued upon the conclusion of its on-site visit of May
6-10, 2002, along with general remarks on the unfolding situation.
At present, the IACHR is preparing the special report on the
visit in which, it will present its general and comprehensive
observations on the human rights situation in Venezuela.
That report will incorporate the IACHR’s conclusions and final
recommendations on the human rights situation in Venezuela, which will
be sent to the state for its observations, in keeping with the
During the on-site visit to Venezuela, the IACHR noted with
concern that the lack of independence of the judiciary, the limitations
on the freedom of expression, the apparent readiness of the Armed Forces
to become involved in politics, the extreme polarization of society, the
action of death squads, the scant credibility of the oversight
institutions due to uncertainty surrounding the constitutionality of
their designation and the partiality of their actions, the lack of
coordination among the security forces, all represented a clear
weakening of the fundamental pillars of the rule of law in a democracy,
in the terms of the American Convention and the Inter-American
Democratic Charter. In addition to the conditions observed during the
visit, the IACHR has received information on the ongoing attacks,
threats, and other acts of violence in recent months, which represent a
clear deterioration of the human rights situation.
In addition, the IACHR is concerned about the marked intervention
of the Armed Forces in operations to control public security, the
appearance of armed civilian groups that operate outside the law, the
situation of refugees, and the existence of a patter of impunity in the
Venezuelan justice system.
In its press release on December 12, the Commission indicated,
among other things, that pursuant to its protection functions, the IACHR
made use of the various mechanisms provided for in the American
Convention and its Rules of Procedure to respond to the critical
situation in Venezuela. In
effect, the IACHR made two visits to the country, issued nine press
releases, and adopted decisions on 13 precautionary measures to protect
the rights to life, personal integrity, and freedom of expression, among
others, of human rights defenders, journalists, deputies, victims of the
events of April 11, and witnesses and family members of the victims of
the para-police groups.
During the serious events of last April 11, the Commission
condemned the coup d’etat perpetrated against the
constitutional order, which cost dozens of lives and more than 100
persons wounded. In addition, on April 13, 2002, based on public
information, and given the gravity of the situation, the Commission
requested information on the incommunicado detention of President Hugo
Chávez Frías and precautionary measures related to the liberty,
physical integrity, and judicial guarantees of Mr. Tarek William Saab,
Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations of the National Assembly.
Given the irregularity in the implementation of the precautionary
measures, the IACHR requested of the Inter-American Court of Human
Rights that it issue provisional measures to protect the life and
personal integrity of Liliana Ortega, Yris Medina Cova, Hilda Páez,
Maritza Romero, Aura Liscano, Alicia de González, and Carmen Alicia
Mendoza, all members of the non-governmental human rights organization
called Committee of Relatives of Victims of the Events of February-March
1989 (COFAVIC); of journalists Luisiana Ríos, Luis Augusto Contreras
Alvarado, Armando Amaya, and Eduardo Sapene; and Mr. Luis Enrique Uzcátegui
Jiménez. The three
provisional measures sought were granted by the Court on December 2,
Given the seriousness of the situation, and in consideration of
the will expressed by the Government of Venezuela during the on-site
visit, the Commission had planned to carry out a series of follow-up
visits, which thus far has not been possible due to the failure of the
Venezuelan state to determine the dates.
Finally, the IACHR recognizes the efforts of the General
Secretariat of the OAS to seek a peaceful solution to Venezuela’s
political crisis by establishing negotiations between the Government of
President Chávez and the Coordinadora Democrática with the
technical support of the UNDP and the Carter Center.
The IACHR considers that mainly through dialogue among all the
sectors of Venezuelan society it will be possible to resolve the current
political crisis. In this connection, the IACHR once again urges all sectors of
Venezuelan society to seek peaceful, negotiated solutions within the
democratic institutional framework.
In a letter dated December 18, 2002, the Commission provided the
State a copy of this draft report on the general human rights situation
in Venezuela, to which the presented written observations on January 21,
2003. In its observations,
the Government made a presentation about the rule of law in Venezuela
and provided information about its compliance with the provisional
measures ordered by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
These observations will be duly considered by the Commission in
its Special Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Venezuela.
below is a copy of Press Release Nº 23/02 issued by the Commission at
the conclusion of its visit in May of 2002.
INTER-AMERICAN COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS CONCLUDES
VISIT TO THE BOLIVARIAN REPUBLIC OF VENEZUELA
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) today
concluded an on-site visit to the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela,
which was undertaken by invitation of President Hugo Chávez Frias.
The visit, from May 6 to 10, included the participation of the
President of the Commission, Juan E. Méndez; the First Vice-President,
Marta Altolaguirre; and Commissioners Robert K. Goldman, Julio Prado
Vallejo, and Susana Villarán. Also participating were the Executive
Secretary of the IACHR, Santiago A. Canton, the newly-designated
Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, Eduardo Bertoni, and staff from
the Executive Secretariat.
During a press conference, the Commission, through its President,
Juan Méndez, condemned the tragic events of April that took the lives
of at least 16 persons. In addition, he recalled that during the tragic
events of April the Commission condemned the deaths and the acts of
violence, repudiated the coup d’etat, and sought precautionary
measures on behalf of Tarek William Saab, and information about the
incommunicado detention of Hugo Chávez Frías.
President Hugo Chávez Frías, in his meeting with the IACHR,
thanked the Commission for its actions.
Regarding the April events, the IACHR stated that “it is an
international obligation of the state to investigate and prosecute the
persons responsible for the events of April, in keeping with the rules
of due process, and to ensure that they not remain in impunity.”
The IACHR expressed its concern over the polarization of
Venezuelan society, which found its most tragic and serious expression
in the April incidents. In
this regard, the IACHR stated that the call to national dialogue by
President Chávez represents a substantive stride forward.
The IACHR “values this important initiative, although it notes
that the forum for dialogue announced does not reflect an effort to
include all the social and political sectors.”
In addition, the IACHR called upon the opposition groups to
abandon sectarianism and to participate in the dialogue, and it appealed
to “all groups to make possible, in a climate of tolerance, active
participation in the democratic discussion, with creative and inclusive
proposals, so that the process of national dialogue can be truly
fruitful and successful in the shortest possible time.”
The new Constitution
With respect to the Constitution, the IACHR valued a large number
of innovative provisions, such as, among others, according
constitutional rank to human rights treaties, obligating the State to
investigate and punish crimes against human rights, limiting the use of
military justice, and eliminating time limits for prosecuting crimes
against human rights.
The IACHR added that notwithstanding these reforms, the
Constitution includes various elements that may hinder the effective
observance of the rule of law. The
constitutional machinery does not provide, in important situations, for
checks and balances as a means of controlling the exercise of public
authority and of guaranteeing the observance of human rights.
The main legislative powers were derived under a regime
authorizing the Executive branch to exercise them, with no defined
limits. Also troubling for
the Commission is the so-called “transitory regime.”
The IACHR considers that in the case of Venezuela, the
transitional provisions have lasted beyond the normal and proper time
frame, and have included directives with legislative content that go
beyond the nature of a transitory regime.
The administration of justice
The Commission heard questions raised about the legitimacy of the
process used to choose the highest-ranking members of the Judiciary, the
Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman, the Public Ministry, and the
Office of the Comptroller General of the Republic. Such procedures are
not provided for in the Venezuelan Constitution.
The information received indicates that those authorities were
not nominated by the committees established for that purpose by the
Constitution, but on the basis of a law that was passed by the National
Assembly after the Constitution was approved, called the “Special Law
for the Ratification or Designation of the Officers of the Citizen Power
(Poder Ciudadano) and Members
of the Supreme Court of Justice.”
Another aspect related to the autonomy and independence of the
Judiciary has to do with the provisional status of judges. The IACHR is
aware that the problem of provisional judges in Venezuela is
long-standing. According to the information provided to the IACHR during the
visit, at present, 60% to 90% of the judges are provisional, which, in
the Commission’s view, has a negative impact on the stability,
independence, and autonomy that should govern the Judiciary.
The Commission expresses the importance of
Freedom of expression
As regards freedom of expression, the Commission, through its
Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, has been closely monitoring the
protection of this right in Venezuela through its annual reports and the
report provided to the IACHR on the visit by the Executive Secretary,
Santiago A. Canton, in February 2002.
The IACHR has found that while it is possible to direct
criticisms at the authorities, they result in acts of intimidation that
limit the possibility of free expression.
The IACHR finds that in Venezuela newspapers have not been shut
down, nor have journalists been detained.
Nonetheless, free expression cannot be limited to the absence of
censorship, shutdowns of newspapers, or arbitrary detentions of those
who speak freely. In the
particular case of journalists, the IACHR received information
describing verbal and physical assaults in recent months, and recalled
that it is a responsibility of the state to provide protection to
citizens, including social communicators, through strong measures aimed
at disarming sectors of the civilian population who operate outside the
law and who have been involved in such incidents.
addition, the IACHR has observed with concern the scant information or,
on occasion, total lack of information, available to Venezuelan society
during the institutional crisis of last April.
The IACHR noted that “although there may be many justifications
to explain this lack of information, to the extent that the suppression
of information has resulted from editorial decisions motivated by
political considerations, it should be subject to a necessary process of
analysis by the Venezuelan media as to their role at that time.”
The armed forces and security forces
for the armed forces and the security forces, during the visit the IACHR
received expressions of concern over the undue influence of the armed
forces in the country’s political life, as well as excessive
engagement by the armed forces in political decision-making.
The IACHR takes this opportunity to recall that, in keeping with
Article 4 of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, the constitutional
subordination of all state institutions to civil authority is
The right to form and join trade unions
the IACHR learned of a clear conflict regarding the right to form and
join trade unions. The IACHR was informed that once the elections were
held, in keeping with the rules of the National Electoral Council, the
elected directors of the CTV union federation were not recognized by the
national authorities. The American Convention protects the right to
elect and to be elected, and to form and join trade unions. Accordingly,
the IACHR urged the Venezuelan State to resolve as soon as possible, and
in keeping with Venezuela’s international obligations, the conflict
that came about due to the failure of the authorities to recognize the
freely elected authorities of the CTV.
IACHR noted that political participation, the right of association, and
freedom of expression are all rights guaranteed in the American
Convention, and in this regard, the "Bolivarian Circles," as
free groups of citizens or grass-roots organizations that support the
President’s political project, may, under certain conditions, be a
suitable channel for the exercise of these rights.
Nonetheless, the IACHR understands that the expression of certain
partisan political ideas cannot be accorded privilege to the detriment
of others, nor can there be any justification for acts of violence or
restrictions on the rights of third persons with different political
outlooks or given professional roles, especially if they receive public
financing. The Commission
reminds the Government that it is a responsibility of the State to
ensure the effective exercise of the rights of all inhabitants of
international responsibility of the State is triggered if groups of
civilians are freely violating rights, with the support or acquiescence
of the Government. Therefore, the Commission calls on the Government to
seriously investigate the acts of violence attributed to some Bolivarian
Circles, and to adopt, with the utmost urgency, all actions necessary
for preventing the recurrence of such acts.
In particular, it is essential that the monopoly over the use of
force be vested exclusively in the public security forces; the complete
disarming of any group of civilians should take place immediately.
The death squads (grupos
to information received by the IACHR, and particularly based on what has
been pointed out by the Human Rights Ombudsman, there are death squads
(“grupos de exterminio”)
made up of State security officers operating in the states of
Portuguesa, Yaracuy, Anzoátegui, Bolívar, Miranda, and Aragua.
In its visit to the state of Portuguesa, the Commission observed
with serious concern that the death squads are not only an illegal means
of social control, but that, in the particular case of Portuguesa, they
are part of a criminal organization that operates for monetary gain
within the state police force, and that continues operating and
threatening the family members of victims and witnesses, who are
the gravity of the situation, the Commission demands a serious and
complete investigation into these death squads, the prosecution and
punishment of the persons responsible without delay, and reparations for
the harm caused. In
addition, it requests that the Venezuelan State grant effective measures
of protection to the witnesses and the victims’ next-of-kin.
The Commission considers it crucial to increase the human,
technical, and logistical resources earmarked for investigating these
death squads, and to remove the members of the security forces involved
the IACHR noted that the main source of democratic legitimacy is that
granted by the popular will as expressed in free, periodic, and
universal elections. Yet elections in themselves are not sufficient to
ensure a fully effective democracy.
As indicated by the Inter-American Democratic Charter, essential
elements of democracy include, among others, respect for human rights
and fundamental freedoms; access to power and the exercise of power
subject to the rule of law; the holding of periodic, free, and fair
elections, with universal and secret balloting, as the expression of
popular sovereignty; a plural regime of political parties and
organizations; and the separation of powers and independence of the
branches of government. In
addition, fundamental components of the exercise of democracy include
transparency in government activities, openness, accountability of the
government in public administration, respect for social rights, and
freedom of expression and of the press.
The constitutional subordination of all state institutions to the
legally-constituted civilian authority and respect for the rule of law
by all entities and sectors of society are also fundamental for
IACHR considers that the lack of independence of the Judiciary, the
limitations on freedom of expression, the proclivity of the Armed Forces
to engage in politics, the extreme polarization of society, the action
of the death squads, the scant credibility of the oversight institutions
due to the uncertainty surrounding the constitutionality of their
designation and the partiality of their actions, and the lack of
coordination among the security forces, represent a clear weakness of
the basic elements of the rule of law in a democracy, in the terms of
the American Convention and the Inter-American Democratic Charter.
Accordingly, the Commission calls for the rule of law to be
strengthened in Venezuela as soon as possible.
the current situation in Venezuela, international protection of human
rights become even more fundamental. In this regard, it is especially
important that the Government of President Chávez comply fully with the
decisions and recommendations of the organs of the inter-American
system, in their decisions in individual cases, in their judgments, and,
in particular, in the requests for precautionary measures issued to
protect persons at grave risk, when necessary to prevent irreparable
IACHR will continue observing closely the development of the human
rights situation in Venezuela. The
visit culminating today was an excellent opportunity to achieve this
aim, and to further the dialogue that the Commission maintains, within
its competence, with the Venezuelan authorities and Venezuelan society. The IACHR reiterates its offer to work with the Government of
Venezuela and with Venezuelan society as a whole to contribute to the
strengthening of the defense and promotion of human rights in the
context of democracy and a legal institutional framework.
In addition, it hopes to conduct another visit in the near future
to follow up on the recommendations and conclusions presented in this
May 10, 2002
PRELIMINARY OBSERVATIONS OF THE
COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS
THE CONCLUSION OF ITS VISIT TO
BOLIVARIAN REPUBLIC OF VENEZUELA
On this date, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
(IACHR) concluded its on-site visit to the Bolivarian Republic of
Venezuela. The visit–undertaken at the invitation of the Government of
President Hugo Chávez Frías–took place May 6 to 10, 2002. The
purpose was to observe the human rights situation in Venezuela.
The IACHR is a principal organ of the Organization of American
States (OAS) whose mandate is to promote the observance of human rights
in the Hemisphere, and whose powers derive from the American Convention
on Human Rights and the Charter of the OAS, both of which have been
ratified by the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.
The Commission is made up of seven members elected, in their
personal capacities, by the OAS General Assembly. The Delegation of the
IACHR for this visit, its first to Venezuela, is made up of its
President, Juan E. Méndez; the First Vice-President, Marta
Altolaguirre; and Commissioners Robert K. Goldman, Julio Prado Vallejo,
and Susan Villarán. Also
participating in the visit were Executive Secretary Santiago A. Canton,
and attorneys Milton Castillo, Mario López, María Claudia Pulido, Débora
Benchoam, and Ariel Dulitzky, as well as the newly-designated Rapporteur
for Freedom of Expression, Eduardo Bertoni. The delegation had the
administrative support of Martha Lucía Keller, Nadia Hansen, and Gloria
The IACHR notes that it was completely free to meet with the
persons of its choice, and to travel to any part of Venezuelan territory
as it deemed advisable. The Government of Venezuela gave the Commission
its full assistance and cooperation to enable it to carry out its
program. The Commission
would like to thank the Government of President Chávez for so
facilitating the visit. In
addition, the IACHR is pleased to have received the invitations of
President Hugo Chávez Frías and Vice-President José Vicente Rangel to
the Commission to visit Venezuela as many times as it deems necessary to
give continuity to its observation of the human rights situation in the
During its visit, the IACHR met with authorities from the
different branches of government, including the President of the
Republic, Hugo Chávez Frías.
Meetings were also held with non-governmental human rights
organizations, representatives of the Venezuelan Bishops
Conference, political leaders, journalists and representatives of the
media, representatives of trade unions, victims and relatives of
victims, and other representatives of civil society active at the
national and local levels. The IACHR maintained contact with
international organizations including the office of the United Nations
High Commissioner for Refugees. In addition, it received information and
testimony on the situation in all regions of the country, especially in
the state of Portuguesa, which was visited by a delegation from the
In the context of its collaboration with the Government, and for
the purpose of contributing to the search for greater protection of
fundamental rights in Venezuela, the Commission, based on the functions
and powers granted to it by Article 41 of the American Convention on
Human Rights, hereby makes public its preliminary observations on its
impressions prior to and during the visit. The final conclusions and
recommendations will be set forth in a report on the situation of human
rights in Venezuela, which will be forwarded to the Venezuelan State for
its consideration and made public soon.
The purpose of this visit has been to make a preliminary
evaluation as to the observance of human rights in Venezuela. During its
visit, the Commission has observed various crucial issues. Even so,
after the events of April, these preliminary observations will focus on
aspects relating to the observance of human rights in the context of the
rule of law. The other issues on which the Commission received
information in the course of this visit, such as women’s rights, the
situation of indigenous peoples, the rights of children, the prison
situation, and treatment of refugees, will continue to be analyzed by
the IACHR pursuant to its powers as defined in the Convention and its
THE RULE OF LAW IN VENEZUELA
The IACHR highlights the importance of democracy and the rule of
law for the effective protection of human rights.
In a democratic society, the rights and freedoms inherent to the
person, the guarantees for their exercise, and the rule of law
constitute a triad, each of whose elements is defined, complete, and
takes on meaning in relation to the others.
Democracy is grounded in the principle that political sovereignty
vests in the people, and that in exercising that sovereignty, the people
elect their representatives to exercise political power, respecting the
rights of minorities. The representatives thus exercise a mandate from
their constituents, who aspire to a dignified life, in liberty and
democracy, which can only be attained by placing effective limits on
public power and the necessary checks and balances among the organs of
the state. The observance
of human rights requires a legal and institutional order in which the
laws come before the will of those who govern, and in which there is
control by some institutions over others for the purpose of preserving
the purity of the expression of the popular will: the rule of law.
The Commission considers that only through the effective exercise
of representative democracy can all human rights be fully guaranteed.
Democracy and the rule of law are necessary conditions for
attaining the observance of and respect for human rights in a given
society. According to the Inter-American Democratic Charter, the
essential elements of democracy include, among others, respect for human
rights and fundamental freedoms; access to power and the exercise of
power subject to the rule of law; the holding of periodic, free, and
fair elections based on universal suffrage and secret balloting as an
expression of popular sovereignty; a pluralistic regime of political
parties and organizations; and the separation of powers and independence
of the branches of government. Other fundamental components of the
exercise of democracy are transparency of government activity,
responsible public administration by governments, respect for social
rights, and freedom of expression and of the press (Inter-American
Democratic Charter, Articles 4 and 5).
The rule of law and the events of April
regards the events of April, the Commission expressed its repudiation of
the coup d’etat in due course. The
breakdown of the constitutional order constituted a violation of basic
principles of international law in force in the Americas, reflected
mainly in the Inter-American Democratic Charter, and of rights enshrined
in the American Convention. Nothing justifies a break with the
constitutional order or an effort to impede the operation of key
institutions such as the various branches of government.
The Commission recalls that in the investigation, determination
of responsibilities, and punishment of the persons responsible for this
attack on the democratic institutional framework, the Venezuelan State
is called upon to set an example of impartiality and respect for human
rights, which implies, among other things, full respect for judicial
guarantees and all other rights and guarantees for persons investigated
for these acts. The IACHR
will closely monitor the development of these processes and its
compliance with the provisions of the American Convention on Human
Rights that enshrine judicial guarantees.
April 13, 2002, the Commission requested information on the
incommunicado detention of President Hugo Chávez Frías, and issued
precautionary measures to safeguard the liberty, physical integrity, and
judicial guarantees of Mr. Tarek William Saab, Chairman of the Foreign
Relations Committee of the National Assembly.
In his meeting with the IACHR, President Chávez thanked the
Commission for its actions.
IACHR expresses its most forceful condemnation of the violent events
that cost dozens of lives and left more than 100 wounded. It is not for the IACHR, in keeping with its competence, to
determine the individual criminal liabilities for those events, but it
is within its purview to insist on the international obligation of the
State to investigate and prosecute the persons responsible for the
events of April 11 to 14, in keeping with the rules of due process, and
to ensure that they not remain in impunity.
It is striking that, almost one month afterwards, the exact
number of deaths is not known, nor are the exact circumstances of these
deaths. The IACHR
underscores the need for and urgency of an in-depth, impartial, and
objective investigation into the crimes committed, and the determination
of the liabilities and the respective punishments.
It is especially necessary to investigate the responsibilities of
those who have ordered, fostered, or tolerated the presence of armed
civilian individuals and groups in the context of several mass
mobilizations, and of those who have sought to cover up and silence
those acts of violence. The
Commission notes with concern that one month after the events, only
three or four persons have been indicted for these acts.
In addition, all the victims should be offered the possibility of
having access to justice through the procedural mechanisms in force.
Commission had the opportunity to receive the testimony of numerous
victims who were injured, as well as the next-of-kin of persons who were
killed in the events of April. Without
prejudice to the individual liabilities that it is for the Venezuelan
judicial authorities to determine, the IACHR, through the testimony of
several persons, has been able to make a preliminary finding that armed
civilians participated in the opposition march and the pro-government
rally organized in downtown Caracas on April 11, and there were serious
problems of lack of coordination between the National Guard and the
Metropolitan Police. In
addition, it is especially worrisome that the large majority of victims
expressed great distrust of the authorities in charge of carrying out
the judicial investigations, because they have allegedly failed to
undertake a serious and transparent investigation.
should be underscored that prior to the events of April, the IACHR was
profoundly concerned to learn of the existence of an extreme
polarization of Venezuelan society, which had its most tragic and grave
expression in the events of April 10, 11, 12, 13, and 14.
In the report of the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom
of Expression for the year 2000, the IACHR stated that during that year,
President Hugo Chávez made certain statements that could be considered
as intended to intimidate the press and journalists.
His attitude may have contributed to creating an environment of
intimidation of the press that does not foster public debate and the
exchange of opinions and ideas, which are necessary for coexistence in
democracy. In addition, during the visit by the Executive Secretary in
February 2002, an atmosphere of intolerance and political polarization
was found which, if maintained, could have threatened the full and
responsible exercise of freedom of expression and the rule of law, which
is aimed at safeguarding democratic institutions.
President stated that the events of April required an in-depth analysis
and convened a national dialogue. In the view of the Commission, this
response represents a substantial step forward.
The IACHR has observed with concern that excessive polarization
persists among the government, political parties, labor unions, business
organizations, civil society, representatives of some other government
bodies, and the media. The
IACHR notes that the announced roundtable for dialogue does not yet
include all social and political groups. The IACHR urges opposition
groups to abandon sectarianism and to engage in the dialogue.
The first step should imply that the opposition and the
government agree upon minimal conditions for the roundtables for
dialogue, in particular, their composition, mechanics, and agenda.
The dialogue should be truly plural, broad, sincere, and
effective. This requires
that all the fundamental actors in national life be able to sit down at
the same table, in order to reach the agreements and points of consensus
necessary for democratic, peaceful, and responsible coexistence.
The Commission appeals to the various factions to be tolerant so
as to allow for active participation in the democratic discussion, with
creative and inclusive proposals. In this way, the process of national
dialogue can be truly fruitful and successful in the briefest possible
time. The IACHR offers to
assist this process in the areas of its competence.
National Assembly has decided to form a Truth Commission, which will
undertake to investigate the facts.
The IACHR has always supported truth commissions in the various
parts of the hemisphere where they have been established.
In particular, the Truth Commission can make a very important
contribution to Venezuelan democracy, ensuring that the investigation
into the events of April is undertaken in such a manner that its
conclusions are accepted by all, and that the persons responsible
receive the full weight of the law.
The IACHR is of the view that successful Truth Commissions are
those that: are made up of individuals who are highly credible and have
experience in human rights; are endowed with the necessary financial and
human resources; have full access to scientific expert witness opinions
and other elements of a criminal investigation; do not interfere unduly
with the functions of other organs; enjoy a reasonable time to exhaust
all lines of investigation; and, finally, are based on a serious
political commitment to accept their conclusions and implement their
recommendations, in keeping with the legal order.
Finally, the IACHR recalls that the investigations of this and
other truth commissions do not relieve the State of its duty to
investigate and punish judicially the persons responsible for human
Inter-American Commission considers it important to highlight the work
done by Venezuela’s non-governmental human rights organizations during
the constitutional crisis. These
organizations of Venezuelan men and women committed to truth and justice
have produced the most credible preliminary inquiries into the events of
Recent political changes
the analysis of the current human rights situation in Venezuela, the
foregoing general considerations take on special relevance, considering
that Venezuela has undergone a series of profound political changes in
the past several years. Venezuela had not seen so many political changes
since 1958, when the Pérez Jiménez dictatorship was overthrown and
replaced by a democratic government. The decline in influence of the
traditional political parties, and the call for and holding of the
National Constituent Assembly culminated with the adoption of a new
fundamental law has created new institutions (such as the Poder Ciudadano, or Citizen Power) that give expression to the
political changes that have taken place in Venezuela. Indeed, President Chávez himself has repeatedly referred to
the existence of a “New Republic.” The country’s official name has
even been changed, which suggests the substantial and profound political
change Venezuelan society is undergoing.
These profound political changes require that one analyze their
impact on the strengthening of democracy and on the observance of the
rule of law. In this press
release, the Commission will analyze the following issues, in addition
to the events of April: the new Constitution, the Judiciary, freedom of
expression, the Armed Forces and security forces, the right to form and
join trade unions, the National Electoral Council, and civil society.
The New Constitution
new Constitution contains a series of provisions that will make it
possible to strengthen Venezuela as a democratic state under the rule of
law whose action is organized around the dignity of the human person. These innovative provisions include according constitutional
rank to human rights treaties; obligating the State to investigate and
punish, under the law, crimes against human rights; limiting the
military justice system by ruling out the possibility of military trials
of military (and civilian) personnel for crimes against human rights;
establishing no statute of limitations for crimes against human rights;
prohibiting pardons and amnesty for serious human rights violations;
establishing the right to lodge petitions or complaints before the
international organs created for that purpose; expressing the commitment
of the Venezuelan State to adopt, in keeping with the procedures laid
out in its Constitution and laws, the measures necessary to carry out
the decisions of the international mechanisms; and establishing the
obligation to make reparations to the victims of human rights
violations. Apart from
these general provisions, the new Constitution has enshrined important
special provisions on human rights, as in the chapter on the rights of
indigenous peoples and environmental rights, and economic, social, and
cultural rights, the prohibition on forced disappearance of persons, and
the creation of new institutions for the protection of human rights,
such as the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman (Defensoría del
Pueblo) and the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of
Commission considers these profound constitutional changes to be
positive and hopes that the full implementation of all its norms is
attained as soon as possible. The
constitutional provisions outlined, if faithfully implemented, will help
improve the protection of human rights in Venezuela.
these significant constitutional advances, the Commission notes that the
Constitution also includes various parts that may hinder effective
observance of the rule of law. These
provisions include the requirement for a preliminary proceeding on the
merits (antejuicio de mérito)
for high-ranking officers of the Armed Forces prior to starting any
investigation into a crime (Article 266(3)); the stipulation of the
Office of the Comptroller General of the National Armed Forces without
clarifying its relationship with the Office of the Comptroller General
of the Republic (Article 291); and the participation of the National
Electoral Council in trade union elections.
Article 58, which stipulates the right to timely,
accurate, and impartial information, has been criticized, among
others by this Commission. Furthermore,
Article 203 includes the concept of leyes
habilitantes, or enabling statutes, and allows for the possibility
of a delegation of legislative powers to the President of the Republic,
without establishing limits on the content of this delegation.
In so doing, new crimes may be established by Executive
decrees–as has already happened–and not through statutes adopted by
the National Assembly, in violation of the requirements of the American
Convention on Human Rights. In
addition, the Constitution has suppressed some constitutional provisions
that are important for the rule of law, such as legislative review of
military promotions, the provision that established the non-involvement
of the Armed Forces in political decision-making, and the prohibition on
the military authority and the civilian authority being exercised
the constitutional gains and the backsliding in the new Constitution are
reflected in the day-to-day situation in Venezuela. For important situations, the constitutional machinery does
not provide for checks and balances as a means of controlling the
exercise of public power and to ensure the observance of human rights.
Thus, for example, the main legislative powers were derived under
an enabling regime granted to the Executive branch that does not
establish clear limits on the nature of the matters that can be the
subject of such legislative powers.
important issue, from the constitutional standpoint, is what has been
called the “transitory regime”; it is of concern to the Commission
insofar as it limits the full implementation of the Constitution. The
Transition Regime of the Public Power was approved by the National
Constituent Assembly on December 22, 1999, before the entry into force
of the new Constitution, mainly to ensure the survival of provisions
tacitly derogated by the approved constitutional text, until the new
statutes required are enacted. While such transition regimes are common
when new constitutions are adopted, in Venezuela, this regime has
endured beyond the normal time frame, and has included guidelines for
executive enactment of legislative provisions beyond what is normally
within the scope of a transitory regime. The information received by the
Commission indicates that the transitory regime led, for example, to the
failure to set in motion the mechanisms provided for in the Constitution
for the designation of the magistrates of the Supreme Court of Justice,
the Human Rights Ombudsman, the Attorney General, and the Comptroller
General. This is all
because the Supreme Court of Justice has held that for the Constitution
to come fully into force, several specific statutes needs to be adopted,
which has yet to happen. The
failure of the Constitution to come fully into force, together with the
variety of official constitutional texts, creates a situation of
juridical insecurity making it difficult to fully consolidate the rule
of law. The Commission hopes that the transitory regime is concluded as
soon as possible, to which end it is essential that the legislative
branch adopt the legislation necessary to develop the constitutional
The Judicial branch
The composition of the Supreme Court of Justice and the
25. The Commission received comments questioning the legitimacy of the election of the current members of the Supreme Court of Justice, the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman, the Public Ministry, and the Office of the Comptroller General. As a result of the failure to follow the constitutional procedures for choosing those officials, the persons appointed to fill those positions do not have the requisite independence.
this respect, the Commission was informed that the Constitution of the
Bolivarian Republic adopted in 1999 provided for a “Judicial
Nominations Committee” made up of different sectors of society. The current members of the Supreme Court of Justice, as well
as the Human Rights Ombudsman, the Attorney General, and the Comptroller
General were not nominated by such committees as required by the
Constitution, but rather pursuant to a law issued by the National
Assembly after the adoption of the Constitution called the “Special
Law for the Ratification or Designation of Officers of the Citizen Power
and Justices of the Supreme Court of Justice” for the first
constitutional period. The
constitutional reforms made to the way these authorities are chosen were
not used in this case. Those provisions were aimed precisely at limiting
undue interference, ensuring greater independence and impartiality, and
allowing various voices of society to be heard in the selection of such
Commission also noted that questions have been raised regarding the
exercise of the powers of the Judicial branch without the proper
independence and impartiality. On
several occasions, the Supreme Court of Justice is said to have made
only decisions favoring the interests of the Executive branch.
Decisions were mentioned, among others, in response to questions
raised about the Special Law for the Ratification or Designation of the
Officers of the Citizen Power and Judges of the Supreme Court of
Justice, and the decision as to the duration of the presidential term.
Commission is concerned about the possible lack of independence and
autonomy of the other branches of government, vis-a-vis the
Executive, as they would indicate that the balance of power and the
possibility of keeping a check on the abuses of power that should be
characteristic of the rule of law might be seriously weakened.
In this respect, the IACHR must note that the separation of
powers and independence of the branches of government is an essential
element of democracy, according to Article 3 of the Inter-American
Commission considers it urgent to adopt the organic laws so as to
establish the mechanisms provided for in the Constitution of the
Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela for the selection of the members of the
Supreme Court of Justice, as well as the Human Rights Ombudsman, the
Attorney General, and the Comptroller General.
provisional status of judges
issue having to do with the autonomy and independence of the Judicial
branch is the provisional status of judges. After almost three years of
re-organization of the Judicial branch, a significant number of the
judges – from 60% to 90%, depending on the source – are provisional.
This affects the stability, independence, and autonomy that
should prevail in the Judiciary.
31. The Commission is aware that the problem of
provisional judges pre-dates the present administration by several
years. Nonetheless, the
Commission has been informed that the problem of provisional judges has
become more severe and more widespread since the current administration
began the process of restructuring the Judiciary.
The President of the Supreme Court of Justice informed the IACHR
of progress made in correcting that situation.
Judicial branch has been established to ensure compliance with the laws,
and is undoubtedly the fundamental organ for protecting human rights.
In the inter-American human rights system, the adequate
functioning of the Judiciary is an essential element for preventing the
abuse of power by State organs, and, accordingly, for protecting human
rights. In order for the
Judicial branch to be able to perform effectively its role in
overseeing, ensuring, and protecting human rights, it is not sufficient
that it exist formally; it must also be independent and impartial.
Commission expresses the importance of speeding up the process aimed at
reversing the situation in which a significant number of Venezuelan
judges are provisional, immediately and in keeping with its domestic
laws and its international obligations under the American Convention.
The need for judges to be designated with full guarantees cannot
justify the persistence of their provisional status for a lengthy
Freedom of expression
importance that the IACHR attributes to respect for freedom of
expression is evident in the appointment of a Special Rapporteur for
Freedom of Expression, which had wide-ranging support from the Heads of
State and Government of the Hemisphere.
It should be recalled that during the Summit of the Americas held
in Chile in April 1998, the Heads of State and Government made public
their concern over the status of freedom of expression in the countries
of the Hemisphere. Respect for this right is an essential requirement
for the very existence of a democratic society and contributes to the
protection of other fundamental rights.
Commission, through the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression,
has paid special attention to the status of freedom of expression in
Venezuela in its annual reports and in the report submitted to the IACHR
after its first visit, in February of this year.
Based on the information received during this visit, one can
conclude that many of the observations of the IACHR and its Office of
the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression during the above-noted
visits still apply.
noted above, the IACHR has found that while it is possible to criticize
the authorities, criticism brings on intimidation, which limits the
possibility of free expression. In this regard, the IACHR finds that in
Venezuela newspapers have not been shut down, nor have journalists been
protection of free expression cannot be limited to the absence of
censorship, newspaper closings, or arbitrary detentions of those who
speak freely, and journalists need an atmosphere of security and
guarantees. In the particular case of journalists, the Commission found
repeated verbal and physical attacks in recent months and days.
It is the responsibility of the State to provide protection to
citizens, including social communicators, through forceful measures
aimed at disarming sectors of the civilian population who operate
outside the law, and who could be involved in such acts.
has been received on other ways in which the full exercise of the
freedom of expression has been hindered. These include the laws that
criminalize offensive speech aimed at public officials, known as
contempt laws (leyes de vilipendio or leyes
de desacato). The IACHR has already held that such laws are
incompatible with Article 13 of the Convention.
Another example is the abusive use of emergency broadcast
systems. The IACHR issued a press release, in a timely fashion,
condemning the abusive and unnecessary use of this mechanism, which,
used in a highly discretionary manner, and for purposes alien to the
public interest, may constitute a form of censorship.
The IACHR has been pleased to receive the information provided
during this visit that indicates that to date there has been a
considerable decline in the use of this mechanism.
Nonetheless, the IACHR expects that in the future, clear criteria
will be considered for the use of such emergency broadcast systems that
take account of the public interest and real emergencies or truly
compelling national needs. The various kinds of pressure brought to bear
on the broadcast media by initiating administrative proceedings which,
if abusive, also constitute an indirect restriction on the freedom of
expression, are a third example.
difficulty of public access to information continues to go unanswered;
accordingly, any initiative by the government to facilitate free access
to information will contribute to ensuring that the citizenry is better
IACHR has been concerned by the scant information, or at times total
lack of information, available to Venezuelan society during the days of
the institutional crisis of April.
Although there may be any number of justifications to explain
this lack of information, to the extent that the suppression of
information resulted from politically-motived editorial decisions, this
should be the subject of an essential process of reflection by the
Venezuelan media about their role at that moment.
the IACHR states its recognition of the valor of journalists who have
continued to pursue their activities, even at risk to their physical
integrity. As noted above, the IACHR considers that the intimidation of
journalists has a devastating effect on democracy, thus it calls on
Venezuelan society to embark upon a period of profound reflection, and
highlights the need for the various sectors of society and of the
government to refrain from identifying the journalists and other social
communicators as their opponents’ allies.
The Armed Forces and the Security Forces
its on-site visit, the IACHR was concerned to hear several accounts of
the undue influence of the Armed Forces in the political life of the
country, and the existence of excessive involvement by the Armed Forces
in political decisions. That concern can be traced back to the fact that
the 1999 Venezuelan Constitution removed a rule traditionally included
in the constitutions that preceded it, according to which the Armed
Forces are an “apolitical and non-deliberating” body. Also of special concern to the Commission is that the
government and the social sectors have incited the Armed Forces or
groups of officers to support them, and even to alter the constitutional
order. The IACHR recalls
that, under Article 4 of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, the
constitutional subordination of all state institutions to the civilian
authority is fundamental.
Armed Forces cannot be involved in political decision-making. It is
essential that there be a clear step forward in applying the military
and criminal codes that punish such conduct, to avoid new acts of
insubordination on the part of sectors of the Armed Forces against the
democratically-elected civilian authority.
The reality in the region shows that the involvement of the armed
forces in politics generally precedes departures from the constitution,
which in almost all cases leads to serious human rights violations. It
is a responsibility of all sectors, but especially the Executive, to
ensure that the Armed Forces play exclusively the roles of defending the
national sovereignty for which they have been established and trained.
Commission notes that the Armed Forces refused to carry out repressive
plans against the civilian population during the events of April,
particularly April 11. This
contrasts favorably to the tragic examples in the history of region.
Despite the insurgent position of some officers, one must also
highlight that as a whole, the Armed Forces upheld the constitutional
addition, the IACHR has observed the lack of coordination of the
different forces in charge of public security.
In particular, the Commission has learned of conflicts due to the
divergent actions of the Metropolitan Police and National Guard, under
the direction of different authorities. In addition, it has been
concerned to learn that various security forces are used for politically
partisan purposes rather than to guarantee security for all Venezuelans.
The freedom to form and join trade unions
December 3, 2000, a referendum was held by the Government, through a
legislative measure, in which the voters were asked whether they agreed
with reforming the trade union leadership through elections to be held
within six months. During that period, the directors of Venezuela’s
trade union federations (centrales,
federaciones, and confederaciones) were suspended.
referendum resulted in a significant victory of the position in favor of
reforming union leadership, accompanied by widespread abstentions. In
accordance with the prevailing vote in favor of the reforms, the
above-mentioned directors were effectively suspended from their trade
union functions, and new elections were held, in keeping with the
Elections Statute issued by the National Electoral Council (CNE) to
regulate new elections for union leaders.
47. The IACHR is of the view that having allowed
the population at large to participate in that referendum, i.e.,
including persons other than union members, entailed a violation of the
right to form and join trade unions, and the right of workers to elect
their leaders. The above-mentioned actions were severely criticized by
the Committee on Freedom of Association of the International Labor
the elections were held, in keeping with the provisions laid down by the
National Electoral Council, the authorities of the individual trade
unions and the union federations were elected.
The Commission has received information indicating that the Confederación
de Trabajadores de Venezuela (CTV) represents the largest number of
trade unions. Nonetheless, due to different interpretations of what has
happened, the officers of the CTV elected in the election called by the
national government have yet to be recognized by the national
Commission notes that the right to elect and to be elected and to
organize in trade unions are rights recognized in the American
Convention, and in the Inter-American Democratic Charter.
The right to form and join trade unions, without undue
interference from the state, is, in the view of the IACHR, an important
element in any democracy. It
requires that the conflict that has arisen due to the failure to
recognize the authorities of the CTV be resolved as soon as possible,
and in keeping with Venezuela’s international obligations.
The National Electoral Council
its on-site visit, the Commission received numerous observations
regarding the composition of the National Electoral Council, in which
the electoral power is vested according to the terms of the
Constitution. Its members have yet to be selected in keeping with the
procedure regulated by the Constitution.
This would suggest that in practice, the Council is kept from
making decisions in all matters that are important for all types of
elections under its jurisdiction.
organs of public power with jurisdiction to settle claims regarding the
transparency and legality of elections should be endowed with the utmost
impartiality, and should resolve such matters fairly and promptly, as
the best way to ensure the effective exercise of the right to elect and
be elected established in Article 23 of the American Convention.
Accordingly, the Commission recommends that the full and definitive
composition of the National Electoral Council proceed as regulated in
IACHR observed live action, debate, and democratic development of civil
society in Venezuela. In this regard, it had an opportunity to meet with
some representative sectors of civil society. The Commission highlights
the work done by Venezuelan non-governmental human rights organizations
during the constitutional crisis.
53. The Commission wishes to call attention to
the importance of the concept of civil society being understood in
democratic terms, without unreasonable exclusion or unacceptable
discrimination. In this regard, the IACHR has had the opportunity to
learn of several decisions of the Supreme Court of Justice that have
laid down a doctrine according to which non-governmental organizations
that receive grants from abroad or whose boards of directors include
foreigners or religious men or women, are not part of civil society, and
therefore would be excluded from the right to participate in the
Nominations Committees provided for in the Constitution for selecting
the persons for the organs of the Citizen Power, the Electoral Power,
and the Supreme Court of Justice. Acknowledging
the power of the State to issue reasonable regulations of the right to
association in the context of a democratic society, the Commission calls
attention to this jurisprudential thesis, which, applied in
discriminatory terms against independent organizations, has an
exclusionary effect that is unacceptable for the open participation of
civil society in Venezuela.
Commission is especially concerned by the information it has received
indicating that various civil society organizations have been subject to
harassment. Indeed, the
IACHR has recently issued precautionary measures for the protection of
members of a well-known human rights organization, due to the threats
they have received.
Commission takes this opportunity to recall that the organizations
engaged in the defense and promotion of human rights play a crucial role
in a democratic state. In
keeping with the American Convention and several resolutions of the OAS
General Assembly, Venezuela is obliged to protect and ensure the free
operation of civil society organizations.
its on-site visit, and even before it, the IACHR received several
statements of concern over the creation, training, organization, and
financing with funds from the public treasury of the so-called
"Bolivarian Circles," whose main purpose is said to be to give
political support to the regime of President Chávez.
Some of the members of those circles have been accused of acting
as shock troops to verbally and physically assault those who they
identify as enemies of the political process, in particular leaders of
the political opposition, including members of the National Assembly and
municipal authorities, journalists and social communicators, and social
leaders, especially in the trade union and university movements.
It is also said that some of these circles are armed.
The Government rejects these charges and asserts that the
"Bolivarian Circles" are mere instruments of social action and
participation, the right to association, and the right to freedom of
expression are rights guaranteed by the American Convention. In this
regard, the "Bolivarian Circles" as free groups of citizens or
grass-roots organizations that support the political project of the
President, may under certain conditions be a suitable channel for the
exercise of those rights. Even so, the Commission understands that the
expression of certain politically partisan ideas cannot be privileged to
the detriment of others, nor can it be a justification for acts of
violence or restrictions on the rights of third persons with different
political views or certain professional roles, especially if it is
supported by public financing. The Commission reminds the Government that it is the
responsibility of the State to ensure the effective exercise of the
rights of all inhabitants of Venezuela. The international responsibility
of the State is triggered if groups of civilians act freely violating
rights, with the support or acquiescence of the Government. Accordingly,
the Commission called on the Government to investigate seriously the
acts of violence attributed to some "Bolivarian Circles," and
to take, as urgently as possible, all measures necessary to prevent
these acts from recurring. In particular, it is essential that the
monopoly of force be maintained exclusively by the public security
forces; complete disarmament of any group of civilians should
immediately be guaranteed.
to the information collected by the IACHR, one cannot dismiss the
possibility of other armed groups existing, whether Government partisans
or opposition groups. It is
essential to investigate the existence of such groups, and to disarm
them completely, as quickly as possible.
THE DEATH SQUADS (LOS GRUPOS DE EXTERMINIO)
to information received by the IACHR, and particularly what has been
pointed out by the Human Rights Ombudsman, there are “death squads”
(los grupos de exterminio)
made up of state security officers operating in the states of
Portuguesa, Yaracuy, Anzoátegui, Bolívar, Miranda, and Aragua.
According to official figures in the state of Portuguesa, which
the IACHR visited, there have been 131 extrajudicial executions
perpetrated by those groups since the beginning of 2001.
The Commission observed with serious concern that the grupos
de exterminio are not only an unlawful mechanism of social control,
but also, in the case of Portuguesa, part of a for-profit criminal
organization operating within the state police force. These
organizations continue operating and threatening the relatives of
victims and witnesses, who are absolutely defenseless.
persecution and extermination of individuals who belong to specific
groups, such as alleged criminals, is a particularly reproachable
violation of the right to life and of the right to humane treatment,
which has repeatedly been condemned by this Commission.
The fact that security officers belong to such groups also
represents a radical departure from due process and the rule of law. As
an extreme crime-fighting practice, it can only result in greater
citizen insecurity. The
lack of due diligence in terms of investigating, prosecuting, and
punishing the members of the so-called grupos
de exterminio is fundamental in allowing them to operate.
the gravity of the situation, the Commission demands a serious and
thorough investigation of the grupos
de exterminio, the prosecution and punishment of those responsible
without delay, as well as reparation for the harm caused. In addition,
the Venezuelan State asks that effective measures of protection be
granted to protect witnesses and the victims’ next-of-kin.
The Commission considers it crucial that human, technical, and
logistical resources be specially earmarked to investigate these “grupos
de exterminio” and that the members of the security forces
involved be dismissed immediately.
62. The main source of democratic legitimacy is that granted by the popular will, expressed in free, periodic, and universal elections. Yet elections in themselves are not sufficient to ensure the full observance of democracy. As indicated in the Inter-American Democratic Charter, the essential elements of representative democracy include, among others, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms; access to and the exercise of power subject to the rule of law; the holding of periodic, free, and fair elections, based on universal suffrage and secret balloting as an expression of the popular sovereignty; a pluralistic regime of political parties and organizations; and the separation of powers and independence of the various branches of government. In addition, the following are fundamental components of the exercise of democracy: transparency in government, openness, responsible public administration on the part of governments, respect for social rights, and respect for freedom of expression and freedom of the press. The constitutional subordination of all the institutions of the State to the lawfully-constituted civilian authority, and respect by all entities and sectors of society for the rule of law, are also fundamental for democracy. In this context, the functioning of an independent and impartial Judiciary as a guarantor of the protection of human rights, as a vehicle for obtaining justice from the victims, and as an organ of oversight and a check on the action of the other branches of government is fundamental to the rule of law.
periodic elections are necessary but not sufficient elements of
democracy, nothing justifies a break with the constitutional order or
the effort to impede the operation of key institutions, such as the
various organs of government. It
is not acceptable to appeal to maneuvers that completely suppress,
illegally, the exercise of power by the authorities freely elected by
IACHR, based on its experience of over 40 years of promoting human
rights in the Hemisphere, considers it fundamental that all sectors of
society seek mechanisms or agreements that make it possible to respect
and observe the human rights recognized in the American Convention and
in the Venezuelan Constitution, which is the frame of reference for all
protagonists in public life in Venezuela.
Polarization and intolerance not only hinder the observance of
democratic institutions, but lead dangerously to their weakening.
A weak democracy, in the view of the Commission, does not allow
for the vigorous defense of human rights.
65. Priority should be accorded to rejecting any means of involvement by the Armed Forces or National Police in political decision-making and to applying the military and criminal codes that punish such conduct. A decisive step forward in this direction is essential to avoid new acts of insubordination by sectors of the Armed Forces against the democratically-elected civilian authority. The reality in the region shows that the involvement of the Armed Forces in political decision-making is generally the prelude to a breakdown in the constitutional order, which in every case leads to grave violations of human rights. It is the responsibility of all sectors, especially the Government, to ensure that the Armed Forces perform exclusively their role of defending national sovereignty, for which they have been established and trained.
IACHR considers that the lack of independence of the Judiciary, the
limitations on the freedom of expression, the active role of the Armed
Forces in political decision-making, the extreme degree of polarization
of society, the actions of the death squads, the scant credibility of
the oversight institutions due to the uncertainty surrounding the
constitutionality of their designation and the partiality of their
actions, the lack of coordination among the security forces, all
represent a clear weakness of the fundamental pillars of the rule of law
in a democracy, in the terms of the American Convention and the
Inter-American Democratic Charter. Accordingly, the Commission calls for
the immediate strengthening of the rule of law in Venezuela.
the current situation in Venezuela, the international protection of
human rights is even more fundamental. In this regard, it is especially
important that the Government of President Chávez and all other organs
of the state fully abide by the decisions and recommendations of the
organs of the inter-American system, in their decisions in individual
cases, in their judgments, and in particular in the requests for
precautionary measures issued to protect persons at grave risk, and when
necessary to avoid irreparable harm.
The Inter-American Court and the Inter-American Commission are
important mechanisms available to all persons under the jurisdiction of
the Venezuelan State to try to seek independent and impartial justice.
Commission appeals to the authorities of the State and the various
expressions of civil society to analyze this press release and the
report that the Commission will prepare in coming months, and to discuss
constructively how to carry out its recommendations, with a view to
advancing towards the full observance of human rights for the
inhabitants of Venezuela, with no distinctions whatsoever.
IACHR will continue to observe very closely the development of the human
rights situation in Venezuela. The visit culminating today was an
excellent opportunity to pursue this aim, and to further the dialogue
that the Commission maintains with the Venezuelan authorities and
Venezuelan society, within the scope of its competence.
The IACHR reiterates its offer to collaborate with the Government
of Venezuela and with Venezuelan society as a whole to help strengthen
the defense and protection of human rights in a context of democracy and
institutional legality. In
addition, the Commission hopes to make a new visit to Venezuela in the
near future to follow up on the recommendations and conclusions
presented in this press release.
May 10, 2002
 IACHR, Annual Report 2000, Volume III, Report of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, OAS/Ser.L/V/II.111, Doc. 20 rev., April 16, 2001, para. 112.
The IACHR also met with the following authorities: Vice-President
José Vicente Rangel; Foreign Minister Luis Alfonso Dávila; Defense
Minister Gen. Lucas Rincón Romero; Interior and Justice Minister
Capt. Ramón Rodríguez Chacín; former Agriculture and Lands
Minister Efrén de Jesús Andrade; Attorney General Julián Isaías
Rodríguez; National Assembly Speaker William Lara; Chairman of the
Committee on Justice and Human Rights, Carlos Tablante; Iván Rincón,
of the Supreme Court of Justice; Director Henry Vives of the
Metropolitan Police; Francisco Belisario Landis; General Commander
of the National Guard; and the Human Rights Ombudsman, German
Mundaraín. The IACHR
delegation that visited the city of Portuguesa met with the
Governor, the Superior Prosecutor for the state of Portuguesa, the
Secretary for Citizen Security, officials from the Technical
Criminal Investigations Corps, the Commander of Garrison No. 41, the
Commander General of the Police, the Human Rights Ombudsman, and the
coordinator of public defenders.
The IACHR met with representatives of the following non-governmental
human rights organizations: COFAVIC, PROVEA, Red de Apoyo por la
Justicia y la Paz, Jesuit Refugee Service, Vicariate of Caracas,
and the Center for Human Rights of the Universidad Católica.