VENEZUELA (Continuation)




290.          Throughout 2007, the IACHR continued to receive information on the lack of citizen security in Venezuela, in particular regarding murders and abductions, and on the absence of an effective response from the organs responsible for investigating and punishing this type of act.


291.          The Commission notes that both the State and diverse human rights organizations have raised concerns about the lack of security and violations of the right to life of Venezuela’s inhabitants.[307]


292.          Some sectors of civil society argue that the State is unable to react to this situation and that most of these crimes remain unsolved.  In his annual report, the Attorney General acknowledged that the number of prosecutorial offices assigned to prosecute common crimes is not sufficient to meet the country’s needs.[308]


293.          The IACHR considers being fundamental the Police Reform as a mechanism to prevent the issue recounted in this section. The above mentioned process of reform has happened to be a part of the faculties granted to the President of the Republic by the Enabling Law. The Commission received with approval the information that indicates that on April 10, 2007 the Ministry of the Interior and Justice shaped a National Commission for the Police Reform integrated by diverse representatives of the Venezuelan society in order to carry out a process of diagnosis and participatory consultation in order suggest a police model and recommendations that “ should favor the effectiveness in the police service, the decrease of the violations to the human rights and the control of the police management ” taking in consideration the constitutional norms and the international instruments signed and ratified by Venezuela.[309]


294.          As for this section, the State indicated that all State institutions are working together to solve this problem. It reported that, in order to improve public security, three structural lines of action had been carried out in conjunction with various sectors of society: (i) diagnostic study; (ii) prevention plans; and (iii) strategic plan. The Commission is pleased at this undertaking and hopes to be kept informed of its progress.


295.          The Commission also saw the figures on investigation and punishment of extrajudicial execution, which do not appear to reflect any significant progress over the Attorney General’s previous report.  According to the new figures from the Attorney General’s office, of the 6,068 cases of extrajudicial executions that his office has counted since February 2000 and which involved some 2,050 State agents, only 204 have been convicted and are serving their sentence.[310]


296.          In its communication, the Venezuelan State said that “violations of the right to life, by arbitrarily depriving people of it through extrajudicial execution, generally known as “ajusticiamento,” or through enforced disappearance are an outcome of the structural problems experienced for years by the Venezuelan State, as well as by sister countries in the Latin American region.  The figures recorded over the years indicate that complaints about these practices are directed primarily at police forces, primarily state and municipal police.”


297.          Some Venezuelan civil society organizations are concerned that the serious problem of extrajudicial executions in Venezuela could become even worse since the so-called “militias,” which were once the Armed Forces’ reserves, could be authorized to enforce public order, without the proper training.[311]  According to the information available, the constitutional amendment that the National Assembly had introduced a change to make the militia part of the Armed Forces and that these “militias” would no longer simply “assist” in maintaining public order, but would be permanently charged with that function.


298.          As the Inter-American Court has held in earlier judgments, States must restrict to the maximum extent possible the use of armed forces to control domestic disturbances, since they are trained to fight enemies and not to protect and control civilians, a task that is the function of police forces.[312]


299.          The IACHR reminds the Venezuelan State of the Inter-American Court’s finding to the effect that the use of force by State law enforcement should be exceptional in nature and should be planned and proportionally limited by the authorities.  The Court has held that force or coercive means may only be used when all other means have been exhausted and failed.[313]


300.          The Court has also written that once a State learns that its agents have used firearms with lethal consequences, the State must undertake, at its own initiative and without delay, a serious, impartial and effective investigation.[314]


301.          The Commission must also remind the Venezuelan State that its duty to prevent, investigate and punish violations of the right to life and to humane treatment is not confined to violations committed by State agents; instead, the State must also prevent, investigate and punish crimes in which private persons are involved, such as contract killings.  Apart from diligence in the investigations and enforcement of administrative, disciplinary and criminal sanctions, persons belonging to the State security forces –whether police or military– should have clearly defined authorities that conform to the aforementioned standards and must be properly trained in the area of human rights.


302.          In its report, the State indicated, on the problem of extrajudicial executions, that the State enacted a cooperation agreement between Venezuela and the United Nations Latin American Institute for the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders.  The State indicated that, through this agreement, it “hopes to obtain special assistance in the prevention of crimes of extrajudicial execution, for which it is devising a plan for the education and training of Venezuelan security agents […], fully inculcating in them a culture of human rights.”  The Commission is gratified at the efforts described by the State and hopes to be kept informed on the outcome of this policy to prevent further extrajudicial executions by State agents.



303.          In 2007, the Commission continued to receive information pertaining to an alarming number of violent incidents in Venezuelan prisons, which have taken a terrible and often irreparable toll on the lives and physical, mental and moral integrity of persons deprived of their freedom.   The Commission is particularly disturbed by the massacre that took place on January 1, 2007, at the Penitentiary Serving the Central Western Region – “Uribana Prison”- in which 16 people were shot to death and 13 were wounded.[315]


304.          Reacting to the events, on February 1, 2007 the Commission filed a request with the Inter-American Court seeking provisional measures to protect the lives and physical, mental and moral integrity of the persons incarcerated in Uribana Prison, and of anyone entering the facility, including relatives and other visitors.  On February 2, 2007, the Court issued its Order for Provisional Measures in the Matter of the Penitentiary Serving the Western Central Region (Uribana Prison) for the State to take the effective measures necessary to avoid further loss of life and to protect the physical, mental and moral integrity of all persons deprived of their liberty in that prison, any future inmates entering the prison, and those who work and visit there.[316]


305.          These provisional measures are in addition to two other orders seeking provisional measures in cases involving prisons in Venezuela.[317] As in the case of Uribana Prison, the Commission continues to periodically monitor the situation at the Yare I and II Capital Region Penitentiary and the Monagas Judicial Confinement Center (“La Pica”).  The Commission is concerned that despite the provisional measures ordered by the Court, these prisons continue to be scenes of violence in which inmates are injured and even killed.


306.          Because of the disparity in the figures reported by the State and those reported by representatives of the beneficiaries as to the number of dead and injured, the figures the Commission is citing for the number of deaths that happened in those prisons in 2007 are those it was able to verify in monitoring the respective provisional measures.  Among those who died at the Yare I and II Penitentiary, for example, are Luis Alfredo Troya, on January 23, 2007,[318] Johan Román Burgos Montaño on January 26, 2007,[319] Jairo  Rene Pereira, Euglides Pedro Santoyo and Gustavo Adolfo Salas Villas (on June 15, 20 and 23, 2007, respectively) and Alexis Daniel Repillose Tejada on June 25, 2007.  The Commission has also seen articles in the press reporting events that transpired in late March 2007 (the explosion of a grenade) in which three people were killed[320] and at least five additional deaths in August.[321]


307.          The violence at La Pica Prison has not relented either.  People continue to be killed there, while others are injured.  In the period from December 2006 to February 2007, five people were injured at La Pica, and three people were killed.  The Commission has also learned that in April, May, June and July 2007, six people were injured at La Pica, and ten people died.  All the foregoing points up the fact that the State does not appear to be fully complying with its obligation to efficiently prevent and avoid violence at prison facilities, so that no inmate or any other person in the State’s custody at these facilities is killed or injured.


308.          In keeping with the jurisprudence constante of the system, the Commission must again assert that when the State deprives an individual of his freedom, it becomes the guarantor of that individual’s rights.  The obligation it undertakes when incarcerating an individual is such that the institutions of the State and its agents must refrain from engaging in any acts that could violate the inmates’ fundamental rights.  Both the institutions and agents of the State must endeavor, by every means possible, to ensure that a person deprived of his liberty is able to enjoy his other rights.[322]


309.          During the public hearing held on March 2, 2007, the representative from the Observatorio de Prisiones de Venezuela [Venezuelan Prison Monitoring Group] stated that the statistics “reveal that an undeclared civil war is being waged in Venezuelan prisons.” The death toll is 20 for every thousand inmates.  During that hearing the Commission was given a list of 60 deceased and 69 wounded inmates in various Venezuelan prisons nationwide, all in the month of January 2007.[323]


310.          Later, during the course of 2007, hundreds of persons deprived of their freedom continued to be killed in acts of violence.   Nongovernmental sources reported that in the first six months of 2007, 249 were killed and 541 wounded in Venezuelan prisons.[324]   According to the Report of the Observatorio de Prisiones de Venezuela [Venezuelan Prison Monitoring Group] concerning the third quarter of 2007, in the period from January to September 2007, the death toll in the 30 prisons nationwide was 361; 780 were injured.


311.          In conclusion, the hundreds who have been killed or injured in Venezuelan prisons demonstrate that Venezuela has not complied with its duty to protect those in its custody.  Apart from its obligation to afford those in its custody with the minimum living conditions that their dignity[325] as human beings demands, the deaths and serious injuries that persons deprived of their freedom in Venezuela have suffered violate basic human rights that are not subject to restriction of any kind.  Therefore, the Commission echoes the Court‘s finding to the effect that the State has a special responsibility to ensure that persons deprived of their liberty have the conditions necessary to live with dignity and to enable them to enjoy those rights that may not be restricted under any circumstances or those whose restriction is not a necessary consequence of their deprivation of liberty and is, therefore, impermissible.  Otherwise, deprivation of liberty would effectively strip the inmate of all his rights, which is unacceptable.[326]




312.          The IACHR remains troubled by the silence of the State on the question of dates for a visit from the Commission or the Commissioner Rapporteur for Venezuela.


313.          The following are among the principal concerns that the Commission believes affect the enjoyment of human rights by all inhabitants of Venezuela in general:  the hostile environment toward political dissent; criminalization of social protest, or accusations against and harassment of nongovernmental organizations and human rights defenders; the questions surrounding the transparency of the administration of justice, the existence of direct and indirect obstacles to freedom of expression, and the terrible conditions that those incarcerated must endure.  It is particularly concerned over the increase in barometers of citizen insecurity and the complaints received concerning the many union leaders and members killed, without the State taking the steps necessary to investigate the causes and to prevent further deaths.


314.          Given the foregoing the Commission is making the following recommendations to the Venezuelan State:


1.       That it comply in good faith with its international obligations in the area of human rights.


2.       That it adopt all measures available to it to prevent violations of the right to life and the right to physical, mental and moral integrity of  human rights defenders, and to investigate, with the proper diligence, acts of violence committed against them, irrespective of whether those acts are the work of State agents or private parties. That it refrain from making statements that stigmatize human rights defenders or that insinuate that human rights organizations are acting improperly or illegally merely for performing their work of promoting or protecting human rights.


3.       That it adopt the necessary measures to guarantee that the right to life and physical safety of all demonstrators is protected during demonstrations held in exercise of the right to assembly and to peaceful demonstration. Although the State may impose reasonable restrictions on demonstrators to ensure that they are peaceful and may disperse demonstrations that become violent, the restrictions must be the safest possible and cause least harm to persons and must be governed by the principles of legality, necessity, and proportionality. Any arbitrary and/or excessive use of force by State agents, and any violation of the right to life and physical safety by individuals at these events, must be carefully investigated and punished to prevent their recurrence.


4.       That it take the measures necessary to promote tolerance and pluralism in the exercise of political rights, and refrain from encouraging any form of retaliation for ideological dissent.


5.       That it take the measures necessary to ensure that all its judges enjoy the guarantees of independence and impartiality; specifically that it strictly comply with the provisions regulating elevation to the bench and promotion of judges within the judicial branch, and that clear regulations be established regarding the categories of judges and the guarantees of tenure that attend each category.


6.       That it implement appropriate mechanisms to prevent violations of the right to life and to humane treatment and to guarantee citizen security for Venezuela’s inhabitants.  Such measures must be aimed at achieving due diligence in investigations and at the imposition of the corresponding sanctions on the perpetrators.


7.       That it take the measures necessary to ensure the right to life and humane treatment of persons deprived of liberty; specifically that it adopt those measures necessary to: a) seize weapons and illicit substances that are in the possession of inmates; b) separate inmates that have been tried from those that have been sentenced; and c) bring prison conditions into line with international standards on the matter.


315.       Finally, the IACHR would like to once again express its interest in conducting a visit to Venezuela and, within the framework of its functions and authorities, is offering its collaboration and advisory assistance to the Venezuelan State with a view to adopting the measures necessary to address the issues raised and recommendations made in this chapter. 


[307] Observations by the Venezuelan State on the Draft Annual Report on the Human Rights Situation in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela for 2007, dated December 21, 2007, and information received during hearings held in 2007; see also PROVEA: Annual Report from October 2006-September 2007: Human Rights Situation in Venezuela. Sections - Right to Life and Right to Citizen Security.

[308] Annual Report of the Attorney General.  Year 2006.  Presented to the National Assembly on August 9, 2007,
page 11.

[309] Document from the Ex Secretaria Técnica de la Comisión Nacional para la Reforma Policial, Red de Apoyo por la Justicia y la Paz, August 14, 2007.

[310] Annual Report of the Attorney General.  Year 2006.  Presented to the National Assembly on August 9, 2007, page 11.

[311] Information provided by various Venezuelan civil rights organizations at hearings held during the Commission’s 130th period of sessions.

[312] Case of Montero Aranguren et al. (Retén de Catia) v. Venezuela. Judgment of July 5, 2006. Series C No. 150, paragraph 78.

[313] I/A Court H.R., Case of Montero Aranguren et al. (Retén de Catia). Judgment of July 5, 2006. Series C No. 150, paragraph 67; I/A Court H.R., The Matter of Yare I and Yare II Capital Region Penitentiary Center regarding Venezuela. Provisional Measures.  Order of the Court of March 30, 2006, consideranda 15; and  I/A Court H.R., The Matter of Monagas Judicial Confinement Center (“La Pica”) regarding Venezuela.  Provisional Measures.  Order of February 9, 2006, consideranda 17.

[314] I/A Court H.R., Case of Baldeón García. Judgment of April 6, 2006, Series C No. 147, paragraph 143; I/A Court H.R., Case of the “Mapiripán Massacre”. Judgment of September 15, 2005, Series C No. 134, par. 219.

[315] Ministerio del Poder Popular para la Comunicación e Información: Motín dejó como saldo 16 internos muertos y 13 heridos: Guardia Nacional custodia cárcel de Uribana en Lara, 3 de enero de 2007 in; Also see,  El País Al menos 16 muertos en los enfrentamientos en una cárcel venezolana: Se trata de luchas entre clanes rivales dentro de la prisión. EFE - Caracas - 03/01/2007 in 20070103elpepuint_1/Tes According to the request seeking Precautionary Measures, which the Observatorio de Prisiones de Venezuela [Venezuelan Prison Monitoring Group], the Center for Justice and International Law and Messrs. Pedro Nikken and Carlos Ayala Corao sent to the IACHR in January 2007,  the persons who died in the prison violence on January 1, 2007 were as follows: José Antonio Ramos Rodríguez, Edgar Alejandro Vera Pimentel, José Alejandro Martínez Escobar, Cesar Eduardo Peralta, Wilmer Pastor Martínez Yanez, Anderson Emilio Navas Suarez, Ali Otoniel Crespo Cordero, William Álvarez Rodríguez, Wilmer Alexander Salas Peña, Hilario Antonio Ramírez Gil, Francisco Antonio Escalona Perez, José E. Colmenarez Torrealba, Oswaldo José Vargas, Jackson José Carbajal, Oscar José Pineda, and Alberto Masias Álvarez. Later, during the hearing on “The Situation of persons deprived of liberty in the Americas,” held during the 127th regular session of the Commission, the latter received information to the effect that 18 people died at Uribana Prison during the first three months of 1997 (a figure that includes the deaths of Carlos Luís Blanco and José Gregorio Ollvares); another 15 were injured.

[316] IACHR. The Matter of the Penitentiary Center of the Central Western Region (Uribana Prison) regarding Venezuela.  Provisional Measures.  Order of the Court dated February 2, 2007.

[317] IACHR. The Matter of Monagas Judicial Confinement Center (“La Pica”) regarding Venezuela.  Provisional Measures.  Order of the Court of July 3, 2007; and I/A Court H.R.. The Matter of Yare I and Yare II Capital Region Penitentiary Center regarding Venezuela.  Provisional Measures.  Order of the Court dated March 30, 2006.

[322] I/A Court H.R., Case of Bulacio, Judgment of September 18, 2003, Series C No. 100, paragraph 126; I/A Court H.R., Cantoral Benavides Case. Judgment of August 18, 2000, Series C No. 69, paragraph. 45; I/A Court H.R., Durand and Ugarte Case. Judgment of August 16, 2000, Series C No. 68, paragraph 45; I/A Court H.R., Castillo Petruzzi et al. Case. Judgment of May 30, 1999, Series C No. 52, paragraph 61; I/A Court H.R., Neira Alegría Case. Judgment of January 19, 1995, Series C No. 20, paragraph 60; See also IACHR, Report No. 41/99, Case 11,491, Minors in Detention, Honduras, March 10, 1999, paragraph 125.

[323] The list contained the names of persons who died in the prisons of Uribana, Barinas, San Felipe, Cumana, Guanare, Tocuyito, Coro, Sabaneta, Los Pinos San Juan de los Morros, Los Teques, Rodeo I, Rodeo II, Tocorón, La Pica, Carúpano  and Yare II.

[324] PROVEA. Derechos Humanos y Coyuntura. E-Bulletin No. 191 of 2007.

[325] I/A Court H.R., The Matter of the persons imprisoned in the "Dr. Sebastião Martins Silveira" Penitentiary in Araraquara, São Paulo regarding Brazil. Provisional Measures.  Order of September 30, 2006, consideranda eleven; I/A Court H.R., The Matter of the Mendoza Prisons regarding Argentina.  Provisional Measures.  Order of June 18, 2005, consideranda seven; I/A Court H.R.,The Matter of the Mendoza Prisons regarding Argentina.  Provisional Measures.  Order of November 22, 2004, consideranda ten; I/A Court H.R., Case of the “Juvenile Reeducation Institute”. Judgment of September 2, 2004. Series C No. 112, paragraph 159.

[326] I/A Court H.R., Case of the “Juvenile Reeducation Institute”. Judgment of September 2, 2004. Series C No. 112, paragraph 153.