ANNUAL REPORT 2009
DEVELOPMENTS IN THE REGION
468. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (hereinafter “the Inter-American Commission,” “the Commission” or “the IACHR”) has decided to include the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (hereinafter “Venezuela” or “the State”) in Chapter IV of its 2009 Annual Report in compliance with Article 57(1)(h) of its Rules of Procedure. In its 1997 Annual Report, the Commission spelled out the five criteria it uses to identify the member states of the OAS whose practices in the field of human rights warrant special attention. The Commission believes that the situation in Venezuela fits the fifth of those criteria, which covers:
[…] structural or temporary situations that may appear in member states confronted, for various reasons, with situations that seriously affect the enjoyment of fundamental rights enshrined in the American Convention or the American Declaration. This criterion includes, for example: grave situations of violence that prevent the proper application of the rule of law; serious institutional crises; processes of institutional change which have negative consequences on human rights; or grave omissions in the adoption of the necessary measures which would provide for the effective exercise of fundamental rights.
Since the Commission has adopted its report Democracy and Human Rights in Venezuela, the executive summary of that report is included below.
469. The report Democracy and Human Rights in Venezuela is produced in compliance with the mandate of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (hereinafter “the Inter-American Commission”, “the Commission”, or the “IACHR”) to promote the observance and defense of human rights in the Member States of the Organization of American States (OAS). The Commission believes that the refusal of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (hereinafter “Venezuela” or “the State”) to allow the Commission to conduct an on-site visit to the country does not preclude the IACHR from analyzing the situation of human rights in Venezuela.
470. The Commission’s last visit to Venezuela took place in May 2002, following the institutional breakdown that occurred in April of that year. Following that visit, in December 2003 the Commission published the Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Venezuela, in which it set out a series of recommendations. Since then, in order to follow up on those recommendations and to gather first-hand information on the current human rights situation in Venezuela, the Commission has pursued various formalities in order to secure the State’s permission to conduct an observation visit. To date, the State has refused to allow the IACHR to visit Venezuela, not only undermining the powers assigned to the Commission as the OAS’s principal body for the promotion and protection of human rights, but also seriously weakening the protection system created by the Organization’s Member States.
471. In the report Democracy and Human Rights in Venezuela, the Commission analyzes the evolution of human rights in the State based on the information it has received over recent years from its various protection mechanisms, such as processing petitions through the case system, holding hearings, adopting precautionary measures, asking the Court to issue provisional measures, including the country in Chapter IV of its annual reports, and issuing press releases. The Commission also bases its analysis on information submitted by the State of Venezuela in response to requests made by the Commission, on the State’s reply to the questionnaire about the human rights situation in Venezuela received in August 2009, on information given to the Commission by the State at hearings, and on the available public information.
472. In this report, the Commission identifies issues that restrict full enjoyment of the human rights enshrined in the American Convention on Human Rights. Among other issues, the IACHR analyzes a series of conditions that indicate the absence of due separation and independence between the branches of government in Venezuela. The Commission also finds that in Venezuela, not all persons are ensured full enjoyment of their rights irrespective of the positions they hold vis-à-vis the government’s policies. The Commission also finds that the State’s punitive power is being used to intimidate or punish people on account of their political opinions. The Commission’s report establishes that Venezuela lacks the conditions necessary for human rights defenders and journalists to carry out their work freely. The IACHR also detects the existence of a pattern of impunity in cases of violence, which particularly affects media workers, human rights defenders, trade unionists, participants in public demonstrations, people held in custody, campesinos (small-scale and subsistence farmers), indigenous peoples, and women.
473. The Commission begins by analyzing how the effective enjoyment of political rights in Venezuela – rights that by their very nature promote strengthened democracy and political pluralism – has been hampered. The IACHR’s report indicates that mechanisms have been created in Venezuela that restrict the possibilities of candidates opposed to the government for securing access to power. That has taken place through administrative resolutions of the Office of the Comptroller General of the Republic, whereby 260 individuals, mostly opposed to the government, were disqualified from standing for election. The Commission notes that these disqualifications from holding public office were not the result of criminal convictions and were ordered in the absence of prior proceedings, in contravention of the American Convention’s standards.
474. In its report, the Commission also notes how the State has taken action to limit some powers of popularly-elected authorities in order to reduce the scope of public functions in the hands of members of the opposition. In its observations to the present report, the State indicated that the modifications made to the instruments governing the powers and scope of authority of governors and mayors would have been made regardless of who was elected in 2008 and that they also apply to authorities of the government’s party. Nevertheless, the IACHR has noticed that a series of legal reforms have left opposition authorities with limited powers, preventing them from legitimately exercising the mandates for which they were elected.
475. In this report, the IACHR also notes a troubling trend of punishments, intimidation, and attacks on individuals in reprisal for expressing their dissent with official policy. This trend affects both opposition authorities and citizens exercising their right to express their disagreement with the policies pursued by the government. These reprisals are carried out through both state actions, including harassment, and acts of violence perpetrated by civilians acting outside the law as violent groups. The Commission notes with concern that, in some extreme cases, criminal proceedings have been brought against dissidents, accusing them of common crimes in order to deny them their freedom on account of their political positions.
476. Similarly, the Commission notes a trend toward the use of criminal charges to punish people exercising their right to demonstrate or protest against government policies. Information received by the Commission indicates that over the past five years, criminal charges have been brought against more than 2,200 people in connection with their involvement in public demonstrations. Thus, the IACHR considers that the right to demonstrate in Venezuela is being restricted through the imposition of sanctions contained in provisions enacted by President Chávez’s government, whereby demonstrators are accused of crimes such as blocking public highways, resisting the authorities, damage to public property, active obstruction of legally-established institutions, offenses to public officials, criminal instigation and criminal association, public incitement to lawbreaking, conspiracy, restricting freedom of employment, and breaches of the special secure zones regime, among others. In its report, the Commission describes cases of people facing criminal charges for which they could be sentenced to prison terms of over twenty years in connection with their participation in antigovernment demonstrations. In its observations on the present report, the State affirms that any time opposition sectors attempt to alter the public order in violation of the laws of the Republic, they will be subject to prosecution, without this being considered a restriction of the exercise of the right to peaceful demonstration, nor a criminalization of legitimate mobilization and social protest. In the Commission’s view, this practice constitutes a restriction of the rights of assembly and freedom of expression guaranteed in the American Convention, the free exercise of which is necessary for the correct functioning of a democratic system that includes all sectors of society.
477. At the same time, the IACHR notes that exercising the right of peaceful demonstration in Venezuela frequently leads to violations of the rights to life and humane treatment, which in many cases are the consequence of excessive use of state force or the actions of violent groups. According to information received by the Commission, between January and August 2009 alone, six people were killed during public demonstrations, four of them through the actions of the State’s security forces. This situation is of particular concern to the IACHR in that repression and the excessive use of criminal sanctions to criminalize protest has the effect of dissuading those wishing to use that form of participation in public life to assert their rights. In its observations on the present report, the State expressed that the increase in the number of demonstrations suppressed was due to a higher number of illegal demonstrations.
478. The Commission’s report also refers to issues that affect the independence and impartiality of the judiciary in Venezuela. The IACHR reiterates what it has said on previous occasions: that the rules for the appointment, removal, and suspension of justices set out in the Organic Law of the Supreme Court of Justice lack the safeguards necessary to prevent other branches of government from undermining the Supreme Court’s independence and to keep narrow or temporary majorities from determining its composition.
479. The Commission also notes with concern the failure to organize public competitions for selecting judges and prosecutors, and so those judicial officials are still appointed in a discretionary fashion without being subject to competition. Since they are not appointed through public competitions, judges and prosecutors are freely appointed and removable, which seriously affects their independence in making decisions. The IACHR also observes that through the Special Program for the Regularization of Tenured Status, judges originally appointed on a provisional basis have been given tenured status, all without participating in a public competitive process.
480. In addition to the shortcomings in the appointments process, the Commission observes that in Venezuela judges and prosecutors do not enjoy the guaranteed tenure necessary to ensure their independence following changes in policies or government. Also, in addition to being freely appointed and removable, a series of provisions have been enacted that allow a high level of subjectivity in judging judicial officials’ actions during disciplinary proceedings. Even the Code of Ethics of Venezuelan Judges, adopted in August 2009, contains provisions that, by reason of their breadth or vagueness, allow disciplinary agencies broad discretion in judging the actions of judges.
481. Furthermore, even though the 1999 Constitution states that legislation governing the judicial system is to be enacted within the first year following the installation of the National Assembly, a decade later the Transitional Government Regime, created to allow the Constitution to come into immediate effect, remains in force. Under that transitional regime, the Commission for the Functioning and Restructuring of the Judicial System was created, and this body has ever since had the disciplinary authority to remove members of the judiciary. This Commission, in addition to being a special, temporary entity, does not afford due guarantees for ensuring the independence of its decisions, since its members may also be appointed or removed at the sole discretion of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice, without previously establishing either the grounds or the procedure for such formalities.
482. Another issue of concern to the Commission regarding the autonomy and independence of the judiciary is the provisional status of most of Venezuela’s judges. According to information provided to the Commission by the Venezuelan State, in August 2009 there were a total of 1,896 judges, of whom only 936 were regular judges. That means that more than 50% of judges in Venezuela do not enjoy tenure in their positions and can be easily removed when they make decisions that could affect government interests. A similar problem with provisional status also affects the prosecutors of the Attorney General’s Office, since all prosecutors in Venezuela are freely appointed and removable.
483. In its report, the Commission also describes how large numbers of judges have been removed or their appointments voided without the applicable administrative proceedings. After examining the resolutions that voided the appointments of various judges, the IACHR notes that they contain no reference to the reasons why the appointments were canceled, and it cannot be inferred that they were adopted through administrative proceedings in which the judges were given the possibility of presenting a defense. The Commission notes with concern that in some cases, judges were removed almost immediately after adopting judicial decisions in cases with a major political impact. The lack of judicial independence and autonomy vis-à-vis political power is, in the IACHR’s opinion, one of the weakest points in Venezuelan democracy.
484. In its report, the Commission analyzes with concern the situation of freedom of thought and expression in Venezuela. In the IACHR’s opinion, the numerous violent acts of intimidation carried out by private groups against journalists and media outlets, together with the discrediting declarations made by high-ranking public officials against the media and journalists on account of their editorial lines and the systematic opening of administrative proceedings based on legal provisions that allow a high level of discretion in their application and enable drastic sanctions to be imposed, along with other elements, make for a climate of restriction that hampers the free exercise of freedom of expression as a prerequisite for a vigorous democracy based on pluralism and public debate.
485. The Commission observes with particular concern that there have been very serious violations of the rights to life and humane treatment in Venezuela as a result of the victims’ exercise of free expression. In this report, the IACHR describes two murders of journalists in 2008 and 2009, carried out by persons unknown, together with serious physical attacks and threats against reporters and owners of media outlets. In the Commission’s view, these incidents demonstrate the serious climate of polarization and intimidation within which journalists must work in Venezuela.
486. The IACHR notes that recent months have seen an increase in administrative proceedings sanctioning media that criticize the government. It is of particular concern to the Commission that in several of these cases, the investigations and administrative procedures began after the highest authorities of the State called on public agencies to take action against Globovisión and other media outlets that are independent and critical of the government.
487. The Commission has also verified the existence of cases of prior censorship as a prototype of extreme and radical violations of freedom of expression in Venezuela. As an example of this, this report analyzes the ban placed on the advertising produced by Cedice and Asoesfuerzo against a proposed law of interest to the government.
488. The report also analyzes the impact on the right of free expression of the proceedings initiated in July 2009 toward the possible cancellation of 240 radio stations’ broadcasting concessions, and of the decision to order 32 stations to cease transmissions. The IACHR finds it notable that after several years of total inaction, and at a time of tension between the private media and the government, the authorities announced massive closures of radio stations, using language that made constant reference to the editorial lines followed by the private media outlets that stood to be affected by the measure. Similarly, the Commission observes with concern the statements made by the Minister of Popular Power for Public Works and Housing suggesting that these media outlets’ editorial lines could be one of the reasons for deciding to suspend their licenses or ordering their closure, irrespective of the technical reasons cited in the corresponding administrative resolutions.
489. The Commission calls the attention of the Venezuelan State to the incompatibility between the current legal framework governing freedom of expression and its obligations under the American Convention. The IACHR again states that because of their extreme vagueness, the severity of the associated punishments, and the fact that their enforcement is the responsibility of a body that depends directly on the executive branch, the provisions of the Law on Social Responsibility in Radio and Television dealing with accusations of incitement may lead to arbitrary decisions that censor or impose a subsequent disproportionate penalty on citizens or the media for simply expressing criticisms or dissent that may be disturbing to public officials temporarily holding office in the enforcement agency.
490. The Commission also stresses that the offenses of desacato (disrespect) and vilipendio (contempt) contained in the amendments to the Penal Code in force since 2005 are incompatible with the American Convention in that they restrict the possibilities of free, open, plural, and uninhibited discussion on matters of public importance. In its report, the Commission again states that bringing criminal charges against individuals who criticize public officials constitutes the subsequent imposition of liability for the exercise of freedom of expression that is unnecessary in a democratic society and is disproportionate in its serious impact on the person making such criticisms and on the free flow of information in society.
491. Similarly, the Commission states that the criminal sanction provided for in the Organic Code of Military Justice for anyone who insults, offends, or denigrates the National Armed Forces is in breach of the international standards that govern freedom of expression, since it is not a restriction that is necessary in a democratic society and, in addition, it is drafted in such vague terms that it impossible to identify the actions that could lead to criminal sanctions. The Commission views with concern that both the Penal Code and the Organic Code of Military Justice contain provisions that constitute a way to silence unpopular ideas and opinions and that have the effect of dissuading criticism through the fear of prosecution, criminal sanctions, and fines.
492. The present report also examines the use of presidential blanket broadcasts. In its observations on the present report, the State asserted that the use of informative blanket radio and television broadcasts by the national government is part of the constitutional obligation of the State to keep its citizens informed. For its part, the IACHR finds that the lack of clarity in the terms of the Law on Social Responsibility and the Organic Telecommunications Law that place limits on the use of presidential blanket broadcasts could undermine the informational balance that the highest authorities of the State are obliged to uphold. As described in this report, the President of the Republic has made use of the powers granted by those laws to broadcast his speeches simultaneously across the media, with no time constraints. In addition, the duration and frequency of these presidential blanket broadcasts could be considered abusive on account of the information they contain, which might not always be serving the public interest.
493. The IACHR’s report also studies the recently enacted Organic Education Law and calls the State’s attention to several of its provisions. Among others, the IACHR points out that the provisions establishing that the media, including private media outlets, are public services, could be used to restrict the right of free expression. The Commission also finds that some of this law’s provisions contain grounds for restricting free expression that differ from those set out in Article 13 of the American Convention, such as the one that prohibits the transmission of information that promotes “the deformation of the language” or that affronts “values.”
494. The Commission notes with concern that the Organic Education Law defers for subsequent legislation the regulation and implementation of several of its precepts, which have been set down in that law in terms that are exceedingly broad, imprecise, and vague. Moreover, the IACHR believes that this law gives state agencies a broad margin for control over the implementation of the principles and values that should guide education. Thus, the Organic Education Law allows, through subsequent laws or their enforcement by the competent authorities, for restrictions to be placed on several of the rights guaranteed by the Convention, such as the right to education, freedom of expression, teachers’ and students’ freedom of conscience, and others. Moreover, the Commission notes with extreme concern that until laws regulating the terms of the Organic Education Law are enacted, its transitory provisions give the authorities the power to close down private educational institutions. Similarly, the IACHR is also concerned that the law empowers the educational authorities to disqualify owners, principals, or teachers found guilty of such offenses from holding teaching or administrative positions for up to ten years.
495. In this report, the Commission also deals with the major obstacles faced by human rights defenders in their work in Venezuela. The IACHR observes that in Venezuela, human rights defenders suffer attacks, threats, harassment, and even killings. Information received by the Commission refers to six cases of violations of the right to life of human rights defenders between 1997 and 2007. It also notes with concern that witnesses and relatives of the victims of human rights violations are frequently targeted by threats, harassment, and intimidation for denouncing violations, organizing committees for victims’ families, and investigating abuses by state authorities. In addition, in recent years, the Commission has seen an escalation in attacks on defenders who take cases to the inter-American system for the protection of human rights.
496. The report also describes a series of state actions and statements by high-ranking public officials aimed at undermining the legitimacy of defenders and of the domestic and international human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) working in Venezuela. In addition, the Commission identifies a trend of opening unfounded judicial investigations or criminal proceedings against human rights defenders in order to intimidate them, particularly when they have been critical of the government. The report describes cases in which judicial proceedings have been brought against NGOs and human rights defenders for the alleged commission of offenses such as conspiracy to destroy the republican form of government, criminal association, and defamation, among others.
497. According to the State’s observations on the present report, the IACHR is attempting to establish a cloak of immunity around human rights defenders. It added that if it confirms that there is cooperation between coup-seeking Venezuelan human rights organizations or that such organizations receive funding from agencies of the United States Department of State, it has an obligation to denounce this. In the Commission’s view, the violence, discrediting, and criminalization faced by human rights defenders in Venezuela have a cumulative impact that affects the currency of human rights in general, since only when defenders enjoy due protection for their rights can they seek to protect the rights of other people.
498. Also in connection with human rights defenders, the IACHR reiterates its concern about the provisions of the International Cooperation Bill. The Commission points out in its report that the vague language used for some of this draft law’s provisions and the broad margin of discretion it gives to the authorities responsible for regulating it pose the danger of its being interpreted restrictively to limit rights including freedom of association, freedom of expression, political participation, and equality, and that it could therefore seriously affect the functioning of nongovernmental organizations. The Commission also notes that the bill places limits on NGO funding that could hamper freedom of association in a way that is incompatible with the American Convention’s standards.
499. The IACHR also finds that inadequate access to public information has hindered the work of defending human rights in Venezuela. According to information received by the Commission, one human rights organization has been denied public information on account of the authorities’ view of its political position, which, in the Commission’s opinion, constitutes an undue restriction of its right of access to information and an impediment to the effective pursuit of its work in defending human rights. Furthermore, the lack of access to information in Venezuela hinders the emergence of informed democratic debate on matters of public interest between the government and civil society. In its observations on the present report, the State asserted that it is doing the impossible to overcome the problem of the lack of information from public entities, particularly statistical information.
500. One of the issues relating to human rights in Venezuela of gravest concern to the Inter-American Commission is that of public insecurity. In the report, the Commission analyzes and applauds the State’s efforts to implement policies to ensure the safety of the Venezuelan people from common crime and the actions of organized criminal groups, as well as from possible abuses of force by state agencies. Nevertheless, the Commission notes that in many cases, the State’s response to public insecurity has been inadequate and, on occasions, incompatible with respect for human rights, and this has seriously affected the rights to life and humane treatment of Venezuela’s citizens.
501. The IACHR’s report identifies certain provisions in the Venezuelan legal framework that are incompatible with a democratic approach to the defense and security of the State. Among other provisions, the Commission calls the State’s attention to those that allow the military to participate in upholding law and order in Venezuela. In its observations on the present report, the State indicated that the public safety entities are civil in nature and that the participation of the Armed Forces in public order is limited to situations of national emergency or national security. It added that all the components of the Armed Forces have special training and courses on human rights so that they know how to treat citizens. The IACHR again states that a democratic society demands a clear and precise separation between domestic security, as a function of the police, and national defense, as a function of the armed forces, since the two agencies have substantial differences in the purposes for which they were created and in their training and skills.
502. In connection with this, the Commission has taken note of the creation of the Bolivarian National Militia as a special force, established by the Venezuelan State to help ensure its independence and sovereignty. According to information provided by the State, citizens receive military training through the Bolivarian National Militia and then may assist in upholding domestic law and order. In the Commission’s view, citizens who receive military training should not be involved in domestic defense. In addition, the IACHR notes with concern the vague language used to define the structure, functions, and oversight of these militias.
503. In connection with making excessive use of state force, the Commission received with concern the figures collected by the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman of Venezuela. During 2008, the Ombudsman’s Office recorded a total of 134 complaints involving arbitrary killings arising from the alleged actions of officers from different state security agencies. It also recorded a total of 2,197 complaints related to violations of humane treatment by state security officials. In addition, it reports receiving 87 allegations of torture and claims it is following up on 33 cases of alleged forced disappearances reported during 2008 and 34 reported during 2007.
504. Homicides, kidnappings, contract killings, and rural violence are the phenomena that most frequently affect the security of Venezuela’s citizens. In its observations on the present report, the State rejected the statistics produced by nongovernmental organizations, but recognized that kidnappings and contract killings had increased. According to the State, these crimes have had as their victims not only campesinos, but also human rights defenders, and it affirmed that it has redoubled its efforts to investigate and punish these crimes as a result.
505. In spite of the difficulties faced by the Commission in obtaining official figures on violence in Venezuela and the State’s refusal to provide it with statistics, information made available to the Commission indicates that in 2008, there were a total of 13,780 homicides in Venezuela, which averages out to 1,148 murders a month and 38 every day. The victims of these killings include an alarming number of children and adolescents. According to figures from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), homicides are the main cause of death of male adolescents aged between 15 and 19 in Venezuela. In 2007 alone, 5,379 children and adolescents met violent deaths, and a third of those were murder victims. As for kidnappings, various organizations agree that between 2005 and 2007 there were more than 200 abductions per year in Venezuela, whereas in 2008, more than 300 cases were reported.
506. Also of concern is the persistence of contract killings in Venezuela, a phenomenon that particularly affects trade unionists and campesinos. The IACHR notes with concern the continued increase in the number of union leaders who are victims of attacks and threats to their lives and persons. Between 1997 and 2009, information received by the Commission indicates that 86 union leaders and 87 workers were killed in the context of trade union violence, with contract killings being the most common method for attacking union leaders. In its report, the IACHR describes some of these cases and indicates with concern that most of them remain unpunished.
507. At the same time, the IACHR was informed that the struggle for the right to land and to benefit from the national government’s agrarian reform process has posed risks to the lives and persons of campesinos, particularly agrarian leaders. Campesino organizations have reported the deaths of more than 200 people in the context of land-related conflicts since the enactment of the Land and Agrarian Development Law.
508. Conflicts related to land ownership have also claimed victims among indigenous peoples, as a consequence of the State’s failure to demarcate ancestral indigenous lands. Delays with the State’s obligation of demarcating ancestral lands are such that, according to information received by the IACHR, between 2005 and the end of 2008, only 34 ownership deeds were issued; in other words, 1.6% of the total number of communities had benefited from the land demarcation process in Venezuela. As a result, indigenous peoples have faced constant harassment at the hands of people seeking to expel them from the ancestral lands over which they have been regaining control, and on some occasions their assailants act with the support of state agents.
509. The Commission’s report also notes with extreme concern that in Venezuela, violent groups such as the Movimiento Tupamaro, Colectivo La Piedrita, Colectivo Alexis Vive, Unidad Popular Venezolana, and Grupo Carapaica are perpetrating acts of violence with the involvement or acquiescence of state agents. These groups have similar training to that of the police or the military, and they have taken control of underprivileged urban areas. The IACHR has received alarming information indicating that these violent groups maintain close relations with police forces and, on occasion, make use of police resources. The State has informed the Commission that irregular groups do exist on both sides in Venezuela. In the Commission’s view, the fact that the agencies responsible for preventing, investigating, and punishing such acts have failed to respond appropriately has created a situation of impunity surrounding violations of rights protected by the American Convention.
510. In this report, the Commission also continues with its observations on the alarmingly violent conditions within Venezuelan prisons. The Commission approves of certain legislative amendments made by the State to tackle overcrowding through provisions that promise to speed up criminal proceedings. In addition, the IACHR applauds the implementation of specific actions and policies that have had an immediate impact on the risks facing people deprived of their liberty in Venezuela, in particular since the implementation of the Prison System Humanization Plan in 2005.
511. These rules and polices, however, have been insufficient to prevent continued acts of violence in Venezuelan prisons, which in recent years have claimed the lives of thousands of people and left thousands of others with injuries. According to information received by the Commission, between 1999 and 2008, a total of 3,664 people were killed and 11,401 were injured at detention facilities in Venezuela. In November 2009 alone, the Commission requested provisional measures from the Inter-American Court in relation to two cases of alleged forced disappearances of persons who were held in state custody, deprived of their liberty. In spite of the provisional measures issued by the Court, as of the date of this report, their whereabouts are unknown. Also at the request of the IACHR, the Inter-American Court has adopted provisional measures in favor of four penitentiaries in Venezuela, calling on the State to implement measures to avoid irreparable damages to persons deprived of liberty in those centers after violent incidents occurred in which hundreds of persons lost their lives and hundreds more were injured. The Commission notes with extreme concern that in spite of the provisional measures ordered by the Inter-American Court with respect to several Venezuelan prisons, those facilities continue to report acts of violence in which human lives are lost and personal injuries are suffered.
512. In addition to violations of the rights to life and humane treatment of people held in state custody, the Commission notes that the main problems affecting the more than 22,000 prison inmates in Venezuela include delays at trial, overcrowding, the lack of basic services in prisons, the failure to separate convicts from remand prisoners, and the presence of weapons within detention centers. In addition, since preventive custody is the most severe measure that can be taken against a person charged with a crime, the Commission observes with concern that more than 65% of Venezuela’s prison inmates have not yet been convicted.
513. The report also indicates that although Venezuela has made progress with the legal recognition of equal rights between men and women and with women’s political participation in public affairs, the laws and policies pursued by the State have not been effective in guaranteeing the rights of women, particularly their right to a life free of violence. The Commission notes that the Penal Code still contains provisions that affect the equal rights of women and that allow violent crimes committed against them to remain unpunished as long as the assailant contracts marriage with the victim. Additionally, information received by the Commission indicates that some 100 cases of gender violence take place every day in Venezuela. The IACHR was also told that almost 70% of women who try to combat impunity are met with harassment and threats. Official information on the problem is not available, and the figures submitted by the State in 2009 in response to the Commission’s request dated from 2002.
514. The Commission notes in its report that impunity is a common characteristic that equally affects cases of reprisals against dissent, attacks on human rights defenders and on journalists, excessive use of force in response to peaceful protests, abuses of state force, common and organized crime, violence in prisons, violence against women, and other serious human rights violations.
515. On the other hand, in this report the Commission highlights the Venezuelan State’s major achievements in the fields of economic, social, and cultural rights, through legally recognizing the enforceability of the rights to education, to health, to housing, to universal social security, and other rights, as well as by implementing policies and measures aimed at remedying the shortcomings that affect vast sectors of the Venezuelan population. The Commission emphasizes that the State has succeeded in ensuring the majority of its population is literate, reducing poverty and extreme poverty, expanding health coverage among the most vulnerable sectors, reducing unemployment, reducing the infant mortality rate, and increasing the Venezuelan people’s access to basic public services.
516. The IACHR also congratulates Venezuela on being one of the countries that has made most progress toward attaining the Millennium Development Goals. It has also brought about a major reduction in the disparity between the groups at the extremes of income distribution, to the point that the country now reports the lowest Gini coefficient in Latin America, according to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). In addition, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Venezuela moved from having a medium level of human development in 2008 to join the group of countries with a high level of human development in 2009. In the IACHR’s opinion, the priority the State has given to economic, social, and cultural rights is fundamental in ensuring the decent existence of the population and is an important foundation for the maintenance of democratic stability.
517. The IACHR notes that the Missions have succeeded in improving the poverty situation and access to education and health among the traditionally-excluded sectors of Venezuela’s population. Nevertheless, the Commission expresses concern at certain issues relating to the Missions as an axis of the government’s social policies. For example, the Commission notes that clear information is lacking on the guidelines used to determine how the Missions’ benefits are allocated. The absence of public information on those guidelines gives the impression that benefits are awarded at the executive branch’s discretion, which could lead to a situation in which certain individuals are denied benefits on account of their political position vis-à-vis the government. The Commission also believes it is vitally important that corrective measures be taken so that economic, social, and cultural rights are guaranteed through public policies that will continue over the long term instead of depending on the will of one government or another. In addition, the Commission notes that the Missions, as a social policy, appear to be welfare-oriented in nature, which does not necessarily imply the recognition of rights.
518. One issue relating to economic, social, and cultural rights is that of free association within trade unions. In this regard, the Commission notes that Venezuela is still characterized by constant intervention in the functioning of its trade unions, through actions of the State that hinder the activities of union leaders and that point to political control over the organized labor movement, as well as through rules that allow government agencies to interfere in the election of union leaders. The Commission observes with concern that in Venezuela, trade-union membership is subject to pressure related to the political position or ideology of the particular union. In fact, the government recently announced that it will not discuss the collective contract of the oil sector with any trade union that is opposed to the ideology of President Chávez.
519. Another situation affecting the right of free labor association is the growing criminalization of union activities through the bringing of criminal charges against individuals who defend labor rights. This is due to the use of provisions that restrict peaceful demonstration and the right to strike in connection with employment demands, particularly through the enforcement of provisions contained in the Criminal Code, in the Organic National Security Law, and in the Special Law of Popular Defense against Stockpiling, Speculation, and Boycotts. Information received by the Commission indicates that some 120 workers are affected by measures requiring them to report regularly to the courts for having exercised their right of protest. In addition, the Commission notes that the State of Venezuela has enforced the legislation for protecting minimum services in such a general fashion that the effect has been to curtail the right to strike when an essential public service would be affected. The Commission again states that strikes and boycotts are peaceful forms of labor protest, and so punishing them with custodial sentences or exorbitant fines constitutes a restriction of the rights enshrined in the American Convention.
520. In order to better guarantee those rights, the Commission once again urges the State to complete its ratification of the Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights in the area of Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (Protocol of San Salvador), through which the States Parties undertake to adopt the measures necessary, to the extent allowed by their available resources and taking into account their degree of development, for the purpose of progressively achieving the full observance of economic, social, and cultural rights, pursuant to their domestic laws.
521. The Commission emphasizes that human rights are an indivisible whole and so the realization of economic, social, and cultural rights in Venezuela does not justify sacrificing the currency of other basic rights. In that the effective exercise of democracy demands full enjoyment of citizens’ fundamental rights and freedoms, the IACHR again points out to the State its duty of meeting the international human rights obligations it freely assumed under the American Convention and other applicable legal instruments.
522. The Inter-American Commission reiterates its offer to work with the government, and with Venezuelan society as a whole, to effectively comply with the recommendations contained in this report and thereby to contribute to strengthening the defense and protection of human rights within a democratic context in Venezuela.
 Article 57 of the IACHR’s Rules of Procedure provides as follows: “1. The Annual Report presented by the Commission to the OAS General Assembly shall include the following: [...] h. any general or special report the Commission considers necessary with regard to the situation of human rights in the Member States, and, as the case may be, follow-up reports noting the progress achieved and the difficulties that have existed with respect to the effective observance of human rights; […] 2. For the preparation and adoption of the reports provided for in paragraph 1(h) of this article, the Commission shall gather information from all the sources it deems necessary for the protection of human rights. Prior to its publication in the Annual Report, the Commission shall provide a copy of said report to the respective State. That State may send the Commission the views it deems pertinent within a maximum time period of one month from the date of transmission. The contents of the report and the decision to publish it shall be within the sole competence of the Commission.” Rules of Procedure of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (adopted by the Commission at its 109th special session held on December 4 to 8, 2000, as amended at its 116th regular session of October 7 to 25, 2002, and at its 118th regular session of October 6 to 24, 2003).