...continued (Chapter V)

          II.       CIVIL SOCIETY


208.        In its report, the Inter-American Commission referred first to the situation of human rights defenders, and described a series of alarming acts, including physical attacks, intended to discredit, harass and intimidate human rights defenders or human rights organizations. The IACHR noted cases of assassinations of human rights defenders that, as of publication of this report, had not been clarified. Secondly, it examined several alarming reports that members of the "Bolivarian Circles" have apparently acted on various occasions as "shock troops" against persons identified as political opponents of the administration. Finally, the Inter-American Commission referred to a number of decisions of the Supreme Court of Justice establishing a doctrine according to which nongovernmental organizations that receive subsidies from abroad or whose leadership includes foreigners or religious personnel are not part of civil society and are therefore excluded from the right to participate in the Candidacy Committees that, under the Constitution, are to select the members of the Citizens’ Branch, the Elections Authorities, and the Supreme Court of Justice.[100]

209.        In light of these concerns, the Inter-American Commission recommended that the Venezuelan government:


1.         Adopt the measures necessary to prevent the weakening of the guarantees enjoyed by human rights defenders in their work and to ensure effective protection for their lives and personal integrity, in compliance with the terms of the American Convention and of the different resolutions adopted by the OAS General Assembly.


2.         Design training activities for the members of law enforcement agencies, in order to ensure proper and effective protection for human rights defenders, particularly in the country’s border regions.


3.         Draft unequivocal statements to be given by high-level officials, in which they confirm the legitimacy and importance of the work of human rights defenders and of their organizations.


4.         Act with redoubled resolve to ensure the investigation, prosecution, and punishment of threats, attacks, and other acts of intimidation against human rights defenders.


210.        As well, with respect to the activity of armed groups in Venezuela, the Inter-American Commission recommended in its report that the State:


1.         Step up its efforts aimed at investigating the acts of violence committed by armed groups, and some of the incidents of violence and aggression with which certain members of the Bolivarian Circles have been accused.


2.         Adopt urgent and necessary measures to dismantle the armed civilian groups that operate outside the law, by strengthening the capacity for criminal investigations and punishing illegal acts committed by such groups in order to prevent their repetition in the future.


211.        In its response of December 7, 2004, the Venezuelan State said that Article 62 of the Constitution establishes the right of all citizens to participate in public affairs and in the establishment, implementation and oversight of public management. Consequently, the State noted, the Supreme Court ruling of November 21, 2000 establishes that, as long as the leaders of those organizations are nationals and have independent control and direction over them, they may be considered legitimate representatives of civil society. The Inter-American Commission remains of the opinion that the doctrine of the Supreme Court of Justice, applied in a discriminatory manner against independent organizations or in cases where their leaders are foreigners or religious personnel, has an excluding effect that could run counter to Article 1 of the American Convention. That article demands respect and guarantees for the rights and freedoms of all persons subject to the jurisdiction of the State party, without discrimination as to national origin.


212.        In the second place, the State reported that the President of the Republic had recently spoken, during his program "Aló Presidente" #82 of February 15, 2004,of the need to investigate nongovernmental organizations operating in Venezuela with subsidies from private entities in the United States, in order to determine whether those organizations represent covert means of interfering in Venezuela's domestic affairs[101]. The IACHR learned that, during that broadcast, the President named the SUMATE organization and the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), well as other Venezuelan NGOs with which CEJIL has cooperative relations. The President suggested moreover that these groups were working "against a legitimately constituted government" and that they were using funds for these purposes provided by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED)[102] in the United States.


213.        Related to the foregoing, in its press release 23/04 of October 28, 2004 the IACHR declared its concern over the launching of judicial investigations into certain NGOs for "conspiracy to destroy the Republican political form", a crime defined in the current criminal code of Venezuela. The Inter-American Commission has been receiving complaints that those proceedings were not based on credible evidence, but were rather part of a strategy designed to harass and intimidate defenders, human rights groups or civil society organizations, some of them identified as critics of the government.


214.        The IACHR underlines its concern over the risks that official statements such as these can pose, since they could encourage discretionary judicial proceedings against nongovernmental organizations for the mere fact of receiving foreign financing in support of their activities in promoting and defending human rights. In some cases, human rights defenders have become targets for attack because of their efforts to defend persons who have complained of violations by state agents, or because they were defending the rule of law. In other cases, defenders are identified by the political or ideological stance of the victim they are defending, and their efforts are denounced as subversive or destabilizing.[103]


215.        The punitive power of the State and its justice system must not be manipulated to harass persons devoted to legitimate activities. In this respect, the Inter-American Commission has received information and is continuing to gather evidence on repeated instances in which the legal apparatus is alleged to have been used to intimidate or silence defenders who have been documenting the human rights situation, or providing legal defense for accused persons, representing victims before the Courts, and supporting communities at high risk. In addition, the IACHR has received specific complaints about the situation facing members of various organizations currently pursuing action through the inter-American system, and who are highly regarded by the international community. The IACHR will be following these developments closely.


216.        States must help to ensure the conditions necessary for human rights organizations to conduct their work safely, free of any intimidation that would obstruct their reporting and investigation of human rights violations, factors that are vitally important for the prevalence of the rule of law. The OAS General Assembly has repeatedly expressed its support for the work of human rights defenders in the national and regional spheres, and has condemned all acts that directly or indirectly hinder or obstruct their efforts to promote and protect human rights in the Americas.[104]


217.        The Inter-American Commission is also aware that the Venezuelan legislative assembly is currently discussing amendments to the criminal code, and that several articles were approved in second reading on December 2, 2004. Those amendments were characterized by various sectors as an instrument to criminalize social protest and opposition. They include provisions making "pot-banging" protests a crime and they eliminate a series of procedural benefits and sentence substitution measures.[105] The articles approved include a new Article 296, which reads as follows:


[…]. Any Venezuelan or foreign resident in the country who directly or indirectly assists a foreign country or republic, terrorist groups or associations, paramilitary groups, insurgents or subversives, or who shelters or protects them, or delivers or receives from them money, food supplies, or any type of logistical support, or materials or technological devices that could be used to the prejudice of the Republic of Venezuela, the integrity of its territory, or its Republican institutions, or could destabilize the social order, shall be punished by imprisonment of 10 to 15 years.


Sole paragraph. Any person implicated in any of these assumptions shall be denied the procedural benefits of law and the application of alternative means of serving sentences.[106]


218.        The criminal route is the most severe option available to a state for establishing responsibilities, and it must therefore be used with strict regard for fundamental principles such as the due process enshrined in Article 8 of the American Convention. The Inter-American Commission must point out that the lack of clear rules for defining what the State considers to be activities prejudicial to Venezuela or to its republican institutions could allow the judicial system to be used in an arbitrary or discretionary way, and could thereby violate the rights recognized in the American Convention. The IACHR urges the National Assembly to revise those articles that could violate the rights protected in the American convention.


          A.      The situation of human rights defenders


219.        Member states of the OAS have recognized the important role played by human rights defenders in fostering greater awareness and observance of those rights, and in this way safeguarding democracy and the values of the inter-American system. In its report on Venezuela, the Inter-American Commission identified a series of acts of intimidation, repression and assassination against human rights defenders or organizations, and it expressly called upon the State to take the necessary measures to clarify the events in each of those concrete cases. The Commission also considered that those specific cases were “symptomatic of something seriously awry in the field of human rights.”


220.        In its report, the IACHR gave a detailed account of several cases of harassment and attack against human rights defenders or organizations that are currently the beneficiaries of precautionary or provisional measures. In the specific case of Liliana Ortega and the COFAVIC organization, the IACHR was informed that harassment, threats and intimidation have continued. One of the most recent complaints concerned the stalking of Carlos Lusverti on July 14 and 15, 2004 in Portuguesa State, and the attack on Liliana Ortega by two persons on a motorcycle on October 25, 2004. These human rights defenders have reported that persistent acts of intimidation have forced COFAVIC to lower its public profile considerably in order to protect its personnel.


221.        The IACHR also referred to the killings of Armando Douglas García and Carlos Román Parra, agrarian leaders within the Fifth Republic Movement (MVR), that took place in Maracaibo, Zulia State, on September 20, 2002; the death of Luis Alberto Alcalá, media and publicity coordinator for the People’s Defenders of the New Republic civil association, on September 25, 2002; the murder of attorney Joe Luis Castillo Gonzáles, a former coordinator of the Human Rights Office of the Maquiques Vicariate, who was working as a human rights activist with the Yukpa and Bari indigenous communities in the Sierra Perijá as well as with refugees along the country’s border. Mr. Castillo Gonzales  was killed on August 27, 2003, in the town of Tinaquillo de Machiques in Zulia State, close to the border, in circumstances that have not yet been clarified. According to the information received, he was in his car with his wife and son when two individuals rode by on a motorcycle and fired 13 shots at him. Mr. Castillo was hit nine times and died; his wife and son were wounded.[107] The IACHR also noted the attack on Estrella Castellanos, leader of the Women For Liberty civil association, who was abducted on September 30 of that year and later abandoned


222.        In its two responses to the IACHR report, the State made no mention of steps taken to investigate these cases. The State merely alleged that the IACHR had presented no information on the slander campaign against Jorge Nieves, a political activist of the PPT (Patria Para Todos) and a community leader in Apure, and his subsequent murder. In this respect, it must be noted that in paragraph 236 of its report on Venezuela the IACHR expressly declared its concern over the killing of human rights activist Jorge Nieves, and reiterated the State's obligation to conduct an exhaustive investigation of the case.


223.        The impunity surrounding the above-mentioned cases and the failure to punish those responsible for them imply serious consequences for the effective enjoyment of human rights, because the failure to conduct a serious investigation to identify, try and punish those responsible is harmful to the victim and encourages the chronic repetition of human rights violations.[108]


224.        The continuing intimidation of human rights defenders and organizations could moreover have an inhibiting effect and induce self-censorship,[109] as indicated in the case of COFAVIC, leading them to curtail their public efforts to denounce human rights violations. This is a very serious situation, for it is precisely one of the aims of intimidation to have such organizations cease their activities for fear of further threats and actual physical attacks.


225.        In a constitutional state, human rights defenders have a critical role to play in defending the victims of violations, in bringing public attention to the injustices inflicted on major sectors of society, and in exerting the necessary oversight over public officials and democratic institutions. The Inter-American Commission reiterates and recommends to the State that acts of intimidation, aggression, threats and killings of human rights defenders must be totally eradicated and investigated.


          B.       The Bolivarian Circles


226.        In its observations on the IACHR report on Venezuela, the State claimed that the IACHR had presented no information on acts of persecution, aggression, torture and even murder against members of the Bolivarian Circles, particularly during the days of April 1, 12 and 13, 2002.


227.        On this point, the IACHR notes that it was not asked to determine the international responsibility of the State in those cases. Nevertheless, the Inter-American Commission considers it pertinent to point out that the State must investigate the facts and punish those responsible.


228.        The obligation to investigate and punish those responsible for the violation of human rights derives from the duties of the State under the American Convention. The IACHR is hoping to receive a prompt report from the State on this matter, and on progress in fulfilling the recommendations of the chapter on civil society in the report on Venezuela.




229.        In the chapter on state security, the Armed Forces and the police, the Inter-American Commission examined, among other things, certain rules and institutions that could impede the strengthening of democracy. The report noted, first, that the language of Article 326 of the Venezuelan Constitution, as well as that of Article 5 of the Organic Law on National Security could, if erroneously interpreted, make civil society responsible for national security. On this basis, the IACHR recommended that the State amend those articles to make clear that national security falls squarely within the obligations of the State, which has a legitimate monopoly on the use of public force, and which is subject to a system of domestic and international responsibility distinct from that applicable to civil society. Regarding the creation of the National Defense Council, the Inter-American Commission referred to the need to approve rules regulating the powers and attributes of that Council, and defining the conditions determining the actions of the authorities that comprise it. The IACHR also warned in its report of the excessively "deliberative" nature of the Armed Forces and the undue influence they wield in the country's political affairs.


230.        The IACHR also expressed its concern over the involvement of the Armed Forces in the enforcement of law and order, an area that should fall exclusively to the police. In a democracy it is essential to separate domestic security, which is a policing function, and national defense, which is a clear function of the Armed Forces. Finally, the Inter-American Commission declared its concern over the excessive use of force in the course of house searches, public demonstrations, and individual arrests.


231.        In light of these considerations, the Commission recommended that the State of Venezuela:


1.         Amend the provisions contained in Article 326 of the Constitution and Article 5 of the Organic Law on National Security with respect to making national security a matter of joint responsibility for the State and Civil Society, so that, in keeping with the aforementioned, they are fully compatible with democratic requirements as regards duties and responsibilities in the area of State security.


2.         Create immediately the regulations of the National Security Council. These regulations should set out the powers and competencies of the Council and the conditions governing the actions of the branches of government that comprise it, as well as the necessary guarantees to ensure their impartiality and independence.


3.         Adopt the measures necessary to avoid the intervention of the Armed Forces in non-exceptional public security operations and to curb the disproportionate use of public force.


4.         Enact public security policies designed to ensure effective coordination among the various forces charged with maintaining public security, and to coordinate security measures with the Mayor of the Metropolitan Area as head of the Metropolitan Police.


5.         Intensify training efforts in the area of human rights for members of the State security bodies and implement mechanisms for punishment and removal of members involved in human rights violations in the performance of their duties.


6.         Take resolute steps to enforce military criminal codes that punish insubordination by members of the armed forces against the democratically elected civilian authority.


7.         Adopt, as ordered by the Supreme Tribunal of Justice, the measures necessary to restore the Metropolitan Police of Caracas to its regular duties and to ensure that the Armed Forces do not exceed their jurisdiction and functions. The IACHR also reminds the State of its duty to investigate in order to determine the responsibilities of members of the State security bodies with respect to the events of April.


8.         Accord priority to the adoption of a professional policy on citizen security that meets the requirements of the Convention and of the rule of law.


232.        In its observations, the Venezuelan State objected to the first, second, sixth and eight recommendations of the IACHR on the grounds that these represented interference in the country's internal affairs. As expressed above, in the introductory chapter, the Inter-American Commission rejects the State's position because it is at odds with the intrinsic purpose of the inter-American system for the protection of human rights and seeks to nullify its effectiveness de facto.[110]


233.        In formulating its recommendations, the Inter-American Commission warned of the danger that, in the context of a democratic society, the State was tending to militarize the enforcement of law and order, by linking it with the notion of national security. The IACHR indicated at that time that the intervention of elements of the Armed Forces in domestic security affairs had historically led to violations of human rights through the disproportionate use of force. In its response, the State rejected the recommendation on the grounds that, under the Constitution as well as by law, the National Guard, a component of the Armed Forces, has the power to conduct operations relating to public security in non-exceptional circumstances.


234.        On the basis of the foregoing legal considerations, the IACHR reiterates its recommendation. It must also declare its concern over the National Guard’s interference in maintaining law and order since, according to information received, members of that security force have been singled out as using undue and disproportionate force in controlling public demonstrations.


235.        Statistics provided by human rights organizations to September 2004 show that 114 complaints have been filed for personal injuries caused by the arbitrary and repressive action of security officers in the course of controlling street demonstrations. They also show that most of these acts are attributable to members of the National Guard[111]. In this respect, the IACHR strongly urges the State to take the necessary steps to prevent a repetition of situations of repression with the disproportionate and excessive use of force by security officers, and by the National Guard in particular, in enforcing law and order.


236.        There has been persistent polarization and conflict between various units of the State security apparatus, and that this has contributed to confusion and lack of clarity over the areas of responsibility of the various bodies responsible for maintaining public order. There has been no word on the adoption of regulations to implement Article 332 of the Constitution, which calls for creation of a national police force as one of the civilian bodies for public safety. The Inter-American Commission considers it extremely important that any legislation adopted should be strictly consistent with international human rights law and should provide for the development of educational programs in those police bodies relating to human rights and public safety.


          IV.      THE RIGHT TO LIFE


237.        In the Venezuela report’s chapter on the right to life, the Inter-American Commission expressed special concern over the rising incidence of extrajudicial execution, especially in the States of Portuguesa, Anzoátegui, Falcón, Yaracuy, Caracas, Bolívar, Aragua, and Miranda. The IACHR received reports of more than 300 persons murdered by death squads acting with the acquiescence of State security agents: in 14 case the victims were witnesses to unlawful acts. The report pointed to a pattern of violence against socially disadvantaged persons, resulting in hundreds of uninvestigated killings, as one of the prime manifestations of violation of the right to life. In addition, it pointed to the impunity that surrounded those cases and that fostered the feeling of vulnerability and defenselessness among many Venezuelans. In light of these concerns, the IACHR recommended that the Venezuelan State:


1.       In accordance with seriousness of these cases, take immediate, urgent and effective steps to dismantle and eliminate the death squads that are active in the States mentioned in this report.


2.       Conduct meaningful, thorough, conclusive and impartial investigations into all cases of extrajudicial execution.


3.       Provide adequate reparations to relatives of victims of violations of the right to life attributable to agents of the State or to groups that have acted with its consent.


4.       Provide effective protection measures for witnesses and relatives of victims.


5.       Increase the human, technical and logistical resources allocated to the investigation of these “death squads” and to discharge immediately any security services personnel who may be involved.


6.       Impart to members of the police and military training courses on observance of human rights in the exercise of public security duties.


238.        In its observations, the State reported that the Ministry of the Interior and Justice, through the General Directorate for Human Rights, was implementing a national plan for public safety and training for public officials so that they could carry out their functions with full respect for human rights. It also said that a process was underway, with participation by nongovernmental organizations, to design a public safety policy that would guarantee and protect human rights. The State indicated that the security plan was designed not to be repressive, and to ensure coordination between the Prosecutor’s Office, the Ombudsman’s Office, parish boards, neighborhood organizations, organized communities and parish and communal councils. Finally, it declared that it had begun investigation and punishment of those responsible for the crimes reported to the competent bodies. In particular, the State said that it had launched several investigations into the events in which police officers were alleged to have been involved in Portuguesa State.


239.        The IACHR welcomes the State's response with respect to initiatives to design and implement a public safety program within a framework of parameters for guaranteeing and protecting human rights, and it hopes to receive specific information on progress in its implementation, as well as statistical data to show that the indices of crime and delinquency have declined, and that public safety has thereby been strengthened.[112]


240.        The IACHR values the information provided by the State with respect to the launching of investigations into the so-called “death squads”, but it notes that the information is too general and imprecise to determine what progress has been made in investigating the specific events indicated in the IACHR report, or to identify those cases where the perpetrators have been prosecuted.


241.        The information provided by the State on its compliance with the recommendations relating to the breakup and eradication of death squads has been scanty and incomplete, and the same holds for data on the allocation of human, technical and the logistical resources to investigating such facts. Nor has the State reported to the IACHR on initiatives or actions taken to provide reparations to relatives or to victims killed at the hands of state agents or of groups acting with their acquiescence. Finally, the State omitted any reference to measures taken to grant effective protection to witnesses and relatives of victims of crimes allegedly attributable to the State.


242.        Since publication of the IACHR report, there has been evidence that the public safety situation has deteriorated. As noted in the 2003 IACHR report, homicide cases continue to exhibit the characteristics described therein: most of the victims are young males living in poor urban areas.[113]


243.        With respect to the paramilitary groups, the IACHR was informed during its 2004 hearings that these groups remained active and were spreading into various regions of the country, constituting a phenomenon of nationwide concern.[114] In the last four years more than 1500 persons have been assassinated, and 81% of cases involved extrajudicial executions, most of which have gone uninvestigated and unpunished to date.[115] A number of human rights organizations expressed concern to the IACHR, reporting that the same security units involved in those crimes are frequently charged with investigating them.[116] Among the cases indicated were those that occurred on January 20, 2004, known as the "Massacre of Los Pocitos", in which eight persons were executed by hooded and armed men. It was also reported that, because state police were allegedly involved in the events, the Attorney General’s Office tried to conduct an inspection of the General Command of the Armed Police of the State of Lara, but that officials of that Office were prevented from performing their duties by masked police officers carrying high-powered weapons in full view of the media.


244.        The IACHR also received complaints that paramilitary groups in some states and regions have wide access to investigations, and having in many cases tampered with evidence during proceedings. Complaints were received as well about the relaxing of police regulations restricting the use of police uniforms and credentials, something that could make it easier to cover up crimes and secure impunity in cases where police officers are involved.


245.        The Inter-American Commission wishes to cite an example where it requested provisional measures, involving Eloisa Barrios, Jorge Barrios, Rigoberto Barrios, Oscar Barrios, Inés Barrios, Pablo Solórzano, Beatriz Barrios, Caudy Barrios, Carolina García and Juan Barrios. The beneficiaries of these measures were relatives of Mr. Narciso Barrios, and some of them were eyewitnesses to his murder, allegedly at the hands of state agents in Aragua. According to information provided to the Inter-American Court, several of the beneficiaries undertook an investigation of the murder and were subsequently subjected to threats and attacks, allegedly by state police officers. The Commission learned that two members of the Barrios family have died: Luis Barrios died of gunshot wounds on September 20, 2004, and Rigoberto Barrios, a youth of 15 years, died of internal hemorrhaging after being shot eight times on January 9, 2005. It should be noted that the IACHR had requested precautionary measures for Luis Barrios, together with other members of the Barrios family, on June 22, 2004. Upon learning of the death of Luis Barrios and the continuing acts of intimidation and aggression against various members of the Barrios family, the commission requested the Inter-American Court, on September 23, 2004, to grant provisional measures for various members of the Barrios family. Among the persons protected by those measures issued by the Court was young Rigoberto Barrios.


246.        The IACHR finds that impunity in these cases has increased the atmosphere of hostility, threats and coercion against witnesses and relatives of the victims of paramilitary groups, primarily in the states of Portuguesa, Falcon, Yaracuy, Aragua and Anzoategui. A number of witnesses of murders committed by paramilitary groups have been assassinated in Portuguesa state. These included Ramon Rodriguez, who reported the murder of his son Jimmy Rodriguez and was himself assassinated six months after his son. In similar circumstances, Mariela Mendoza, who witnessed the murder of her brothers Ender, Gonzalo and Alexander, was the victim of an attack on July 16, 2004, in which someone shot her several times. She had been threatened with death on various occasions, allegedly by state police officers who were accused of killing her brothers.


247.        The judiciary is currently pursuing the investigation of 17 police officers accused of murdering 10 people between 2000 and 2001 in Portuguesa state. More than two years after charges were laid, at the time this report was adopted, no trial hearing had been held. Since the case was moved to Caracas it has been considered by four separate tribunals. The judges of the fourth and 20th trial courts were initially disqualified from hearing the case. Subsequently, the head of the eighth trial court was disqualified, and the case is currently being heard by the 14th trial court. In addition to these disqualifications, proceedings have been affected by the inability to field lay judges for the court.


248.        In addition, there were 231 deaths recorded in 2004, of which 201 were summary executions; 8 of the victims died of torture or of cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.[117] There were also 163 kidnappings nationwide, 148 attempted lynchings, including 25 deaths, and an increase in the illegal bearing of firearms.[118] 87% of cases involving executions were reportedly attributable to regional security officers.[119]


249.        Some human rights organizations have also questioned the excessive use of force in cases identified as "resisting authority". There is some discrepancy between the data supplied by the Scientific, Penal and Criminal Investigations Unit (CICPC), which recorded 1472 deaths in 2004, and those recorded by the NGO Venezuelan Program of Education-Action in Human Rights (PROVEA), which identified eight deaths as a result of "resisting authority" in the first eight months of the year. PROVEA complained that the security forces were able to cite legitimate self-defense whenever it suited them in order to evade responsibility for the "unlimited increase in police brutality".[120]


250.        The Inter-American Commission insists that the State must conduct an exhaustive investigation of each case and must show that the use of public force respected international standards. That means, among other things, that the use of force must be necessary and proportionate to the situation, i.e. it must be exercised with moderation and in proportionate to the legitimate objective pursued. At the same time, personal injuries and loss of human life must be kept to a minimum.


251.        In the past, the Inter-American Court has been categorical in declaring that the means the State may use to protect its security and that of its citizens are not unlimited: […] regardless of the seriousness of certain actions and the culpability of the perpetrators of certain crimes, the power of the State is not unlimited, nor may the State resort to any means to attain its ends.[121] Any use of force that is not consistent with those guidelines would be disproportionate and illegitimate.


252.        The IACHR was also informed of violations of the right to life in the context of street demonstrations. The incidents that took place in Venezuela between February 27 and March 5, 2004, in which at least a dozen people died, are public knowledge.[122] According to human rights organizations, the National Guard was one of the principal security bodies involved in repression and the disproportionate use of force, including

firearms, in controlling the demonstrations and peaceful marches that were held during 2004


253.        The account of the foregoing events suggests that the right to life is still being violated in Venezuela.


254.        The Inter-American Commission reiterates that the State has the obligation to identify, prosecute and punish those responsible for violating the right to life, failing which it is also in violation of Article 1.1 of the American Convention.[124]


255.        The Inter-American Court has ruled that the State must combat impunity, which encourages the chronic repetition of human rights violations and leaves victims and their relatives totally defenseless.[125]   


256.        The Court has established a close link between the obligation to prevent, investigate and punish and the obligation to make reparations for human rights violations. In interpreting Article 1.1 of the American Convention, the Inter-American Court declared:


States must prevent, investigate and punish any violation of the rights recognized by the Convention and, moreover, if possible attempt to restore the right violated and provide compensation as warranted for damages resulting from the violation.[126]


The State has a legal duty to take reasonable steps to prevent human rights violations and to use the means at its disposal to carry out a serious investigation of violations committed within its jurisdiction, to identify those responsible, to impose the appropriate punishment and to ensure the victim adequate compensation.[127]


257.        By reason of the foregoing, the IACHR concludes that attacks and extrajudicial executions at the hands of paramilitary groups have persisted, under the apparent protection of Venezuelan security agents. It concludes as well there has been no substantial progress in the investigations into the complaints laid. The recommendations on this matter contained in the report on Venezuela have not been fulfilled, and the Inter-American Commission therefore calls upon the State to make the greatest effort to comply with its international obligations in this respect..





258.        In the chapter on the right to humane treatment, the IACHR examined violations of this right as they relate to torture and to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by the security forces of the State against individuals held in detention centers, police stations, and in the course of judicial proceedings, with the aim of intimidating detainees or extracting confessions from them. The Inter-American Commission highlighted the fact that Venezuela has no legislation to punish cases of torture, and therefore recommended that the respective rules be adopted or that the criminal code be amended to punish torture. This would be consistent with Article 46 of the Venezuelan Constitution and its Transitional Provision 4, which calls upon the National Assembly to approve legislation, within one year, to punish torture. The IACHR also noted that the competent authorities had failed to investigate complaints and punish those responsible. It referred as well to complaints about the excessive use of force by the police and the National Guard during the coup d'état of April 2002; in the context of reestablishing the constitutional order; and at subsequent political rallies.


259.        In its report, the Inter-American Commission also questioned the procedures used by medical examiners, whose autopsies lack the necessary thoroughness to identify and verify torture. It found as well that in many cases the examinations are conducted after the signs of torture have disappeared, thus denying a possible further source of evidence to identify the perpetrators, and fostering impunity. The IACHR also noted with concern that officials of the Attorney General’s Office are slow to request medical examinations, which should be ordered immediately in cases where torture is alleged.


260.        Finally, the IACHR referred to some specific cases of torture by the security forces. In light of these concerns, the Commission recommended that the Venezuelan State:


1.         Take the necessary steps to ensure that acts of torture are categorized and punished as such by the Courts.


2.         Conduct meaningful, thorough and impartial investigations into acts of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.


3.         Initiate, through the Office of the Prosecutor General of the Republic, a thorough investigation of all complaints of abuses of physical integrity, in particular concerning persons deprived of liberty by members of the National Guard, and guards attached to the Prisons Directorate of the Ministry of the Interior and Justice.


4.         Adopt the measures necessary to exercise effective judicial oversight of detention and the organs charged with its enforcement.


5.         Set up training campaigns for officials of security bodies, in order to instruct in matters concerning human rights and strict compliance with the law in cases of detention and maintenance of public order.


6.         Adopt the measures necessary to rehabilitate and provide fair and adequate compensation to victims of torture.


7.         To prepare and promulgate at the earliest convenience the necessary laws to punish torture in accordance with the Fourth Transitory Provision of the new Constitution, either through the enactment of a law or reform of the Criminal Code.


8.         To include in the domestic law, either through legislation or jurisprudence, the exclusion of any evidence obtained under torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, in accordance with the Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish Torture. Furthermore, this exclusion rule should be extended to apply to any evidence arising from procedures that are irregular or in violation of due process guarantees, in keeping with the “fruit of the poison tree” doctrine.


261.        In its observations to the IACHR, the State recognized that there were shortcomings in the investigation into the events of April 11 to 14, 2002, saying that "this was an exceptional time during which the rule of law collapsed and officials who took action did so with no type of control."


262.        The State also referred to the alleged torture of Mr. Jesus Soriano, mentioned in the Commission's report, and claimed that there was no evidence to show that the blows suffered by Mr. Soriano were dealt by DISIP agents.


263.        The State omitted reference to the measures taken to carry out the recommendations contained in the Inter-American Commission's report on Venezuela. The IACHR regrets that the Venezuelan State has not taken its recommendations into account, particularly since this right continues to be violated in Venezuela.


264.        The Inter-American Commission has found that the right to humane treatment continues to be systematically violated in Venezuela. Violation of this right is particularly severe within prisons and police stations, in cases involving police recruits or candidates, victims' relatives or witnesses of human rights violations and sympathizers of opposition parties.[128] PROVEA has recorded 848 cases of persons subjected to inhumane treatment between October 2003 and September 2004. It also reported that several of these violations occurred during demonstrations in various parts of the country between February 27 and April 5, 2004.[129]


265.        The Inter-American Commission expresses its concern over the events of February and March, 2004. According to reports, between 300 and 400 persons were arrested during the protests that were held in those months. Demonstrators and of bystanders in the vicinity of the protest complained of mistreatment and torture.[130]

266.        The Ombudsman's Office also documented incidents of violation of the right to humane treatment, reporting that "the security forces apparently resorted to the excessive use of force, arbitrary detentions, mistreatment and even torture".


267.        There have also been reports of injuries suffered by conscripts. Among these situations was that of eight soldiers, crowded into a cell, who suffered burns during a fire at Fuerte Mara, Zulia state, on March 30, 2004.[131] Two of the soldiers subsequently died of their burns. The situation is particularly alarming because, according to reports, the guard on duty waited more than 30 minutes before coming to the rescue of the conscripts.


268.        The Inter-American Commission has been informed that most of these cases of alleged torture or abuse involved members of various national security units.


269.        These situations demonstrate the severity of the problems of torture and of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in Venezuela. This concern also raises a legal issue. The State of Venezuela has been since August 1991 a party to the Inter-American Convention to prevent and punish torture, and is therefore obliged to recognize this crime in its criminal legislation, in the terms of the Convention.


270.        The Inter-American Commission has no information that an official policy to suppress torture has been adopted to date. Nor has the Inter-American Commission been informed of any effective punishment of those responsible for torture. Finally, the Inter-American Commission has received no information on legislative initiatives to punish torture or to amend the criminal code to include the crime of torture. On this point, recommendation 7 in the chapter on the right to humane treatment in the report on Venezuela declares that this should be done in terms compatible with international conventions and in accordance with the Fourth Transitional Provision of the country’s Constitution. The IACHR considers that promulgation of this law is of the greatest importance for preventing and punishing torture, and it therefore reiterates the recommendation made in its 2003 report.


271.        The Venezuelan State has not fulfilled the recommendations for guaranteeing the humane treatment of persons subject to its jurisdiction. The Inter-American Commission hopes that in the near future the State will take firm measures to eliminate practices that contribute to the persistence of this serious situation, which violates the rights to humane treatment, to due process, and to effective judicial protection as guaranteed in the American Convention.



[100] Supreme Court of Justice of Venezuela, Constitutional Chamber, Justice Jesús Eduardo Cabrera Romero, “Overseers’ Network v. National Electoral Council,” judgment of November 21, 2000. In this regard, see also: Supreme Court of Justice, Constitutional Chamber, “Office of the People’s Defender v. National Legislative Commission,” judgment of June 30, 2000; and “Governors v. Minister of Finance,” judgment of November 21, 2000.

[101] Following are excerpts from the program "Aló Presidente" No. 182 of February 15, 2004:

I am instructing the Attorney General, Dr. Marisol, to present me as soon as possible with an opinion, a recommendation that I can give to the Prosecutor General and ask for an investigation, because I believe that there is a crime against the nation, a conspiracy against the Republic, and I also think that this comes close to treason. Some Venezuelans are trying to stir things up with support from Washington. We may well ask, for example, where SUMATE got the money to buy all those portable computers they had at every polling station to collect signatures -- that money came from Washington. I want the Attorney General to analyze this, and I want the names and surnames of those Venezuelans who are turning to a foreign government and talking about their President in this way. I believe this behavior is punishable by law, and that it comes close to what we could call treason -- treason to their homeland and to the institutions of their own country

[102] See “Response of CEJIL to the statements of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez”, www.cejil.org/documentos.ctm. February 20, 2004.

[103] A similar idea was expressed by the United Nations Special Representative on Human Rights Defenders:

Governments tend to use the judicial system as a means of harassing and punishing defenders for upholding human rights. In order to dispel impressions that they see human rights activity as a criminal activity in itself, the trend is to charge human rights defenders for crimes such as “sedition”, “incitement to revolt”, “attempt to undermine institutions” and offences against the security of the State. Prosecution of human rights defenders under false charges is also a common form of harassment.” (Report of the Special Representative presented to the General Assembly at its 57th Session, Doc. A/57/182, July 2, 2002, para. 18).

[104] See IACHR, Report on the 119th regular session, Press Release 8/04 of March 12, 2004, para. 17.

[105] Subsequent to the approval of this report, the IACHR learned that the National Assembly of Venezuela had approved the Law Amending the Criminal Code, and that this was later vetoed by the executive. According to the information received, the National Assembly must now decide on the executive's recommendations. See El Universal of February 9, 2005: Carlos Tablante: Chávez devolvió con observaciones reforma de Código Penal. www.eluniversal.com

[106] PROVEA: Boletín Electrónico #148: Derechos Humanos y Coyuntura. Reforma Penal afecta negativamente Derechos Humanos.   December 6, 2004

[107] Forum For Life, press bulletin: Forum For Life Condemns Murder of Human Rights Defender: Weakness of the State along the Border Causes Insecurity, Caracas, August 28, 2003.

[108] I-A Court, Molina Thiessen vs Guatemala, Reparations, para. 79.

[109] PROVEA, a nongovernmental organization, recorded a pattern of threats and harassment that on 41 occasions affected human rights activists or victims, witnesses or relatives of victims of human rights violations. PROVEA, Annual Report, October 2003 to September 2004: Status Report on the Situation of Human Rights, page 40.

[110] I-A Court, Baena Ricardo et al. (270 Workers vs. Panama) Competence. Judgment of November 28, 2003.  Series C. Nº 104 para. 68; I-A Court, Constitucional Tribunal case. Competence, Judgment of September 24, 1999.  Series C Nº 55, para. 33; I-A Court, Ivcher Bronstein case. Competence, para. 34; I-A Court, Hilaire, Constantine and Benjamin et al., Judgment of June 21, 2002. Series C Nº 94, para. 18; I-A Court, Constantine et al., Preliminary Objections, Judgment of September 1, 2001.  Series C Nº 82, para. 72; I-A Court, Benjamin et al., Preliminary Objections,  Judgment of September 1, 2001.  Series C Nº 81, para. 72 ; and I-A Court, Hilaire case. Preliminary Objections, Judgment of September 1, 2001. Series C Nº 80, para. 81

[111] PROVEA, Annual Report, October 2003 to September 2004: Status Report on the Situation of Human Rights, page 332-333.

[112] The NGO PROVEA reports that in the past the Scientific, Penal and Criminal Investigations Unit (CICPC) provided written information from national criminal records upon request. Since 2004, however, the media and research or university institutes have access to statistics on the main variables of crime and delinquency only with prior authorization from the Ministry of the Interior and Justice. PROVEA also reports that the information system has become so bureaucratic that the data and percentages are often manipulated, making it difficult to conduct independent evaluations. The Commission considers that this type of information, except where it identifies individuals, should be public, and that the channels for access to public information should be improved. Guaranteed public access to information held by the State is not only a practical tool for strengthening democracy but also a human right protected by international law. Access to information promotes accountability and transparency within government and fosters sound and informed public debate. Access to information thereby empowers individuals to play an active role in government, which is a necessary condition for maintaining a healthy democracy.

[113] PROVEA, Annual Report for October 2003-September 2004: Status Report on the Human Rights Situation, page 42, 342 and 350.

[114] The IACHR was informed that paramilitary groups were active in the following states: Yaracuy, Falcón, Anzoátegui, Portuguesa, Caracas Distrito Federal, Aragua, Zulia, Bolívar, Carabobo, Lara,

Monagas and Trujillo.

[115] Information received during the Commission's 119th regular session.

[116] Idem. In particular, reference was made to possible responsibility of the CICPC in the deaths of Douglas Adolfo Rivas Rodríguez, Luis Jose Yanes, and Antonio Jose Garcia Farfan in Caracas. It should be noted that the CICPC has a nationwide mandate to assist in criminal investigations.

[117] PROVEA, Annual Report October 2003-September 2004: "Status Report on the Situation of Human Rights", page 295. Following are a few examples provided by PROVEA:

Eli Colmenares Rodrigues, 28 years old, died as the result of a beating in the El Valle police station, Caracas, by agents  of the CICPC who broke into his apartment, without a warrant, on February 20, 2004, and arrested him on suspicion of murder.

Jesus Aguilar Reyes, 24 years old, an Army soldier, died at the Sopoaba military base, Zulia state, on March 5, 2004, after being severely punished together with 14 other soldiers for sleeping on guard duty.

[118] PROVEA, Annual Report October 2003-September 2004: "Status Report on the Situation of Human Rights", pages 355-356 and 363.

[119] Idem, p. 266.

[120] Idem, page 361.

[121] I-A Court, Neira Alegria et al. Case, Judgment of January 19, 1995, Ser. C, No. 20, para. 75.

[122] Among the deaths reported by COFAVIC were the following: Carlos Alberto Aumaitre; Nelsi Caraciola Rodríguez Martínez; José Guevara Reyes; José Manuel Vilas; Pedro José Sánchez Roble; Argenis Dugarte; Yurmi Suárez; William José Álvarez Morales; Dictor Damas; José Luis Ricaurte; Juan Carlos Urbano Lugo; and Juan Carlos Zambrano.  The circumstances in which these persons died - in several cases, in the midst of or near demonstrations - are detailed in the report on these events prepared by that organization.  See COFAVIC,  Informe sobre los sucesos de 27 de febrero al 4 de marzo de 2004, http://www.cofavic.org.ve/informe1.doc, pp. 10 to 13.

[123] Article 68 of the Venezuelan Constitution reads:

Citizens have the right to demonstrate, peacefully and without weapons, subject only to such requirements as may be established by law. The use of firearms and toxic substances to control peaceful demonstrations is prohibited. The activity of police and security corps in maintaining public order shall be regulated by law.

[124] I-A Court, "Street Children" Case, Judgment of November 19, 1999, paragraphs 227 and 228.

[125] I-A Court, Paniagua Morales et al. Case, Judgment of March 8, 1998, para. 173.

[126] I-A Court, Velasquez Rodríguez case, Judgment of July 29, 1988, para 166.

[127] Ibid, para. 174.

[128] PROVEA, Annual Report October 2003-September 2004: "Status Report on the Situation of Human Rights", pages 316-320. Statistics from PROVEA show that violations of the right to humane treatment affected 139 children and teenagers, 16 journalists, 23 conscripts or soldiers, 39 relatives of victims or witnesses of human rights violations, and 300 opposition members or sympathizers during the period under analysis.

[129] Idem, page 316.

[130] Human Rights Watch/Americas reported that “security forces repeatedly used tear gas and plastic bullets to disperse demonstrations. Civilians on the government as well as the opposition side are alleged to have used firearms, as are members of the Directorate of Services of Intelligence and Prevention (DISIP), dressed in civilian clothes.”  HRW/Americas refers, among other cases, to Carlos Eduardo Izcaray Pinto; Asdrúbal Joaquín Rojas Monteverde; Luis Alegrett Salazar; Dorindo Burgos Arias; and Félix Ernesto Farías Arias.  See letter of April 9, 2004 to President Hugo Chavez, at www.hrw,org/sapnish/cartas/2004/chavez.html.

[131] The conscripts were identified as Angel Ciro Pedreañez, Alcides Martines, Orlando Bustamante, Cesar Cambar, Abrahan MENA, Eusebio Reyes Galvez, Angel Medina and Mauricio Pulgar Añez.  El Universal: “Burned soldiers were confined for disobedience”. April 1, 2004.