IACHR Expresses Concern About the Human Rights Situation in Venezuela
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights presented its annual report in which a chapter was included about human rights in Venezuela. In that chapter, the Commission expressed its concern about the reports it had received of systematic extrajudicial executions in some parts of the country, and of the persecution of witnesses of such executions. The impunity that exists in cases of extrajudicial executions is one of the most serious problems that confronts Venezuela, since it is a problem that involves the activity of private vigilante groups. The Commission cited as an additional area of serious concern the impunity that surrounds the phenomena of violence against socially marginalized persons and the persecution of those living in rural areas who are involved in the process of agrarian reform.
The Commission also expressed its concern because the Venezuelan State continues to consider that the Commission’s decisions are not binding upon its internal legal system. The Commission reiterated the jurisprudence of the Inter-American Court regarding the duty of States to comply with their international obligations in good faith, and the duty of States to implement and comply with resolutions emitted by the supervisory organs of the treaties to which they are parties.
With respect to the administration of justice, the Commission views as a positive development programs that were instituted to strengthen the reach and efficiency of, and the technology available to the judicial system, as well as those initiatives undertaken to improve the working conditions of judges. In addition, the IACHR took special note of programs implemented to promote the assignment of judicial positions on a lifetime basis.
Despite these advances, the IACHR reiterated its concern at the large percentage of judges who continue to hold their positions only provisionally. To this is added the irregularly functioning situation of the First and Second Courts for Contentious-Administrative Matters. The majority of the First Court was dismissed in October of 2003 and for nine months this tribunal ceased to function because replacement judges were not appointed. The Commission reiterated that it is problematic that a tribunal that is charged with analyzing matters of great importance – in particular numerous instances of the use of executive power – has operated for many years, and in fact still continues to operate, without judges that have been appointed for life. In addition, the Commission commented on the continuation of problems related to the need for stability in the judicial system: the arbitrary and apparently politically motivated nature of the application of judicial disciplinary actions; the possible manipulation of judicial power by the executive branch of the government; and the high number of provisional appointments of prosecutors to the Public Ministry. The Commission also observed that Venezuela has continued in its non-compliance with the Commission’s recommendations regarding the application of the military criminal justice system to civilians and retired military personnel. Since 2003, approximately one hundred civilians have had their cases adjudicated by military courts or are currently having their cases adjudicated by military courts.
The Commission was also concerned by the reports it received about violence in prisons, penitentiaries, and other detention facilities in Venezuela. The figures received by the Commission indicate that there were 360 deaths and 69 injuries between January and October of 2005. Included among the various causes of this situation are a lack of qualified prison security officers, the possible acquiescence of security officers in illicit activities, such as trafficking in drugs and weapons, and a reduced number of guards with which to maintain order and discipline.
The Commission dedicated a special section to the tolerance of dissent or political criticism and the investigatory activities of civil society. In this respect, the Commission expressed its concern about petitions it received from persons who were apparently discriminated against because of their participation in the referendum, and the continuation of discrimination against those whose names appear on what is referred to as the Tascón list – those who signed the petition calling for the 2004 referendum – which discrimination is especially reflected in their dismissal from public employment and in the hindrance of their access to public services.
The Commission also commented on the situation of those who defend human rights, stating that it was concerned by its continued receipt of petitions denouncing threats and other open hostility towards human rights defenders. In addition, the IACHR discussed the seriousness of the maligning of human rights workers by authorities within the government, including the legislature, the executive, the public prosecutors, and the judiciary, who have referred to human rights workers as “coup plotters” and agents of instability. The Commission also expressed its concern at the restrictions placed on the receipt of international financing by human rights groups through the opening of criminal prosecutions against them based on a broad interpretation of certain crimes, such as “soliciting foreign intervention in internal political affairs.”
With respect to the right to freedom of expression, the Commission stated its concern surrounding the petitions received in 2005 insofar as they refer to: the promulgation of laws that affected the freedom of expression; the increase in the instances of criminal proceedings against journalists; discriminatory practices in granting permission for official publications; and the intimidation, attack, harassment, and detention of journalists by military personnel. Regarding the Law on Social Responsibility in Radio and Television, the Commission expressed concern over the increased restrictions on the content of audiovisual communications, and in the creation of the Social Responsibility Board and Council, both of which have broad power to issue sanctions and lack established limitations on that power.
With respect to economic, social, and cultural rights the Commission expressed satisfaction with the state programs, called Missions, related to these rights. The Commission was particularly satisfied with the Missions relating to literacy and drinking water. In addition, the Commission expressed its satisfaction at the adoption of the Law Approving the Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights in March of 2005.
In concluding, the Commission stated that during their on site visit to Venezuela in 2002 the State manifested its willingness to have the Commission make as many follow-up visits as it considered necessary. Since that time, the Commission and its Rapporteur for Venezuelan Affairs, Commissioner Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, have had a variety of conversations with the State with a view to organizing another visit. The Commission is currently awaiting confirmation by the State of the specific dates of such a visit.
Washington, D.C., May 2, 2006