Human rights in Venezuela
|This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
Some human rights organizations have expressed concern about attacks against journalists, harassment of human rights defenders and poor prison conditions. The 2008 Economist Intelligence Unit Democracy Index rated Venezuela as a "Hybrid Regime", and as the least democratic state in South America. At the same time, Venezuelans themselves consistently rate their country as among the most democratic in the region, according to polls by the reputable Chilean firm Latinobarómetro.
- 1 Legal framework
- 2 History
- 3 Civil and political rights
- 4 Economic, social and cultural rights
- 5 Relationships with international actors
- 6 References
- 7 External links
Soon after President Chávez was first elected, a national referendum was called in April 1999 in which 92% of voters favored drafting a new constitution. The constitution was drafted by an elected assembly with the participation of diverse citizens' groups, and was voted on later that year in another national referendum and approved with 71.8% support among voters. The new constitution of Venezuela sought to secure a wider range of human rights, such as health care as a human right. It also created an Office of the Public Defender, which includes the Human Rights Ombudsman's Office. Of the 350 articles in the 1999 constitution, 116 are dedicated to duties, human rights, and guarantees, including a chapter on the rights of indigenous peoples.
The 1961 Constitution of Venezuela was far weaker on the issue of human rights. Venezuela ratified the American Convention on Human Rights in 1977.[unreliable source?] This makes it part of the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Between 1977 and 1998, "a time period marked by many human rights crimes including the murder, disappearance, and torture of leftist political dissidents", the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) brought six cases against Venezuela. Between 1998 and 2009 the IACHR brought around 150 cases.[unreliable source?]
- International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Human Rights Committee)
- International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights)
This was "a time period marked by many human rights crimes including the murder, disappearance, and torture of leftist political dissidents".[unreliable source?][unbalanced opinion] cf Douglas Bravo, Armed Forces of National Liberation (Venezuela), Communist Party of Venezuela.
One of the six cases brought against Venezuela by the IACHR between 1977 and 1998 related to the 1989 Caracazo, which successive Venezuelan governments failed to investigate, despite requests from human rights groups such as Amnesty International, and instructions from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. (In July 2009, then-defence minister Italo del Valle Alliegro was charged in relation to the Caracazo.)
With increasing instability of the political system in the face of economic crisis, Venezuela saw two coup attempts in 1992; one of which was led by future president Hugo Chávez. Both failed, and in the process of resisting the coup attempts, government agents were reported to have killed forty people, both civilians and surrendered rebels, either as extrajudicial executions, or through the use of disproportionate force. Arbitrary detentions numbered in the hundreds, and continued for some time after the events, and involved student leaders and other civic leaders not connected with the coup attempts. In addition, freedom of expression was suspended for two months in the February case, and three weeks in the November case, and involved censorship of the media. A series of demonstrations in March/April calling for the resignation of President Carlos Andrés Pérez and the resto<ration of constitutional guarantees were met with state violence including indiscriminate police firing into crowds, with a total of 13 deaths. A number of members of the press covering the protests were severely injured by police. Although participants in the February coup attempt were tried under the regular military justice system, in response to the November coup attempt the government created ad hoc courts based on the 1938 legal code of Eleazar López Contreras, drawn up twenty years before the transition to democracy. The Supreme Court ultimately ruled the courts unconstitutional, but not on the due process grounds for which they were criticised, but on the grounds that the President had neglected to suspend the relevant constitutional rights (right to a defence, right to be tried by one's natural judge).
During the 1989–1993 Perez period the violent repression of protest was commonplace, with one of every three demonstrations repressed. During the Caldera administration it fell, and toward the middle of this the proportion of demonstrations repressed had fallen to one of every six.
Under the Chavez government, "there has been greater recognition of the right to protest, and this has been institutionalized." The violent repression of demonstrations fell to 1 in 25 in 1998-99, and to 1 in 36 by 2002-3.
NGO Provea has criticized the fact that the government party PSUV selected as candidate for congress Mr Róger Cordero Lara, a military involved in the massacre of Cantaura in 1982. Cordero got elected and Provea demanded his immunity be lifted. So far, this hasn't happened . Currently at war.
Civil and political rights
- See also Civil and political rights
The freedom of the press is mentioned by two key clauses in the 1999 Constitution of Venezuela. The right to freedom of expression is set out in Article 57 and Article 58 of the Constitution. The right to express opinions freely without censorship (Article 57) and the right to reply (Article 58) are generally in line with international standards. However, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expressed concern about Article 58 of the Constitution, which provides that "Everyone has the right to timely, truthful, impartial and uncensored information." The Commission took issue with the right to "truthful and timely" information arguing that this is "a kind of prior censorship prohibited in the American Convention on Human Rights."
Concerns about freedom of the press in Venezuela have been raised by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the Inter American Press Association, the International Press Institute, the United States Department of State, Reporters without Borders, representatives of the Catholic Church, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and others.
The issue of press freedom in Venezuela is complicated by the way in which the private media's strong opposition to the Presidency and policies of Hugo Chávez has extended to support for non-electoral means of removing him from office, including the 2002 Venezuelan coup d'état attempt. In May 2007 RCTV's terrestrial broadcast licence was not renewed on the basis of its support for the coup; it continues to broadcast by satellite and cable. After RCTV lost its terrestrial broadcast licence, private television media remained opposed to the Chavez government, but in most cases moderated that opposition by presenting more government spokesmen;[unbalanced opinion]
In March 2009 the Inter-American Court of Human Rights concluded two cases brought against Venezuela by the private Venezuelan TV stations Globovisión and RCTV. It concluded that the Venezuelan government had not violated the right to freedom of expression, equality before the law, or private property, but that the government had failed to do enough to prevent and punish acts of intimidation against journalists by third parties, as required by the American Convention on Human Rights.[unreliable source?] In May 2009 Venezuela's Supreme Court denied a request for a restraining order brought by a charitable foundation against RCTV and Globovision. The foundation had argued that the TV stations had incited violence and encouraged a coup d'état against the government, and that this was a violation of Article 58 of the Constitution. The foundation also accused the stations of false reporting over alleged links between FARC and the Chavez government. The Court said a restraining order required an "immediate and executable" threat.[unreliable source?]
Administration of justice
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Venezuela's justice system has been institutionally weak throughout its democratic period (since 1958).[unbalanced opinion] In addition to weak legislative oversight, the Venezuelan military exercises more authority over the judicial process than in most other countries. Crimes against "the independence and security of the nation, against liberty and against the public order" may be sent to military judges, and the armed forces control most law enforcement relating to border areas, actions by military personnel or by civilians in military-controlled areas, and crimes covered by both military and civilian law. Venezuelan law gives the police more authority than it does in most countries, and they have a central role in initiating and operating judicial proceedings; "the police have gradually assumed many of the functions of both the [Justice Ministry] and investigating judges". "This power has allowed abuses to spread throughout the judicial process", including regular use of false witnesses, invented facts and destroyed evidence, and false charges, as well as defying court orders, protecting accused officials, and harassing political activists. It has also meant that the justice system has long been particularly bad at investigating alleged abuses by state agents.
A 1993 Human Rights Watch report declared that "the administration of justice is in crisis. [Civilian] courts are undermined by politicization, corruption, inefficiency and lack of resources." Part of the problem was identified as the "pivotal role" of the judge in criminal trials in managing investigations, including directing the Judicial Technical Police. Complex cases can overwhelm even conscientious judges, and the system easily provides "plausible cover for judicial inaction". The report noted that "the perception is widespread - among lawyers, judges and fiscales as well as ordinary citizens - that corruption has tainted every level of the judicial system..." Prior to 1991, the appointment of judges (via the Judicial Council) was "frankly partisan"; subsequently, open competition and objective criteria mitigated the influence of politics somewhat.
A major long-term problem has been the failure of justice arising from structural delays in the justice system: in 1990 the average court received 675 new cases, and reached decisions on 120. In Caracas the average court took 286 days to complete the investigation phase of trials, against the legal maximum of 34; and 794 days to reach the sentencing phase, against the legal maximum of 68. As a result of the judicial backlog, many prisoners eventually convicted will have spent longer in detention at the time of sentencing than the maximum sentence permitted for their crimes. The backlog also contributes significantly to the overcrowding of Venezuela's prisons.[chronology citation needed]
Political prisoners in Venezuela
Venezuela is a country where the political opposition alleges that there are political prisoners. Human rights and legal policy groups say that there are more than 40 political prisoners in Venezuela, and that 2,000 Chávez opponents are under investigation. Venezuela's political opposition complains that the justice system is controlled by the government and is used as a political instrument against Chavez' opponents. The opposition cites corruption charges filed against a variety of opposition figures, including opposition leader Manuel Rosales, former Defense Minister Raul Baduel, and former Governors Eduardo Manuitt and Didalco Bolivar.
The opposition also claims that government of Hugo Chávez targeted university students. Some have been jailed under charges of "destabilizing the government," or "inciting civil war." Students have launched hunger strikes over the government's treatment of alleged political prisoners.
Eligio Cedeno case
In 2007, Eligio Cedeno, then President of Bolivar-Banpro Financial Group, was arrested in a crackdown by Venezuelan officials on individuals circumventing government currency rules to gain U.S. dollars. On 8 February 2007, Cedeño was accused by the Venezuelan Attorney General of aiding Consorcio MicroStar with illegal dollar transactions. Over the next year prosecutors repeatedly failed to turn up for court dates, leading to accusations that the case was being strung out due to a lack of evidence. Partly as a result, the United Nations' Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in September 2009 declared Cedeno's detention arbitrary.
Held in jail pending trial for 34 months, Cedeño was paroled on 10 December 2009. By the 19th Cedeño had fled to the United States, where he was detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement until 23 December 2009 when he was released on parole pending an immigration hearing.
Judge María Lourdes Afiuni
Judge Maria Lourdes Afiuni was arrested after ordering the release of Eligio Cedeño on corruption charges.
Richard Blanco, a male local government official from Caracas, was arrested in Caracas in August 2009, charged with inciting violence and injuring a police officer during a demonstration. Amnesty International said that "his detention appears to be politically motivated", saying that the video evidence provided to support the charges did not show any evidence of violence or incitement by Blanco. Amnesty asked for his liberation. He was freed on bail in April 2010.
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Venezuela is a signatory (December 2000) to the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children.
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Venezuela's present-day agriculture is characterized by inefficiency and low investment, with 70 percent of agricultural land owned by 3 percent of agricultural proprietors (one of the highest levels of land concentration in Latin America). According to the Land and Agricultural Reform Law of 2001 (see Mission Zamora), public and private land deemed to be illegally held or unproductive is to be redistributed. From 1999 to 2006, 130 landless workers were assassinated by sicarios paid by opponents to the reform.
In 1996 Human Rights Watch concluded that "Venezuelan prisons are catastrophic, one of the worst in the American hemisphere, violating the Venezuelan State international obligations on human rights." Key problems included violence (in 1994 there were nearly 500 deaths, including around 100 in a single riot), corruption, and (as the US State Department 1996 report put it) "overcrowding so severe as to constitute inhuman and degrading treatment".
"Venezuela's penitentiary system, considered one of the most violent in Latin America, has 29 prisons and 16 penitentiaries holding some 20,000 inmates".
On 20 August 2012, armed prisoners in the Yare I prison complex, an overcrowded Venezuelan prison, rioted over the weekend, resulting in the deaths of 25 people. 29 inmates and 14 visitors were injured in the riot, and one visitor was killed. Venezuelan Prisons Minister Iris Varela said, "We will make them answer for this."
Police violence and extrajudicial killings
In 2009 the Attorney General announced the creation of an investigative team to look into over 6000 reports of extrajudicial killings between 2000 and 2007.
- See also Economic, social and cultural rights
Since the transition to and consolidation of democracy in 1958, Venezuela developed, initially with the Punto Fijo Pact, a two-party system led by "two hegemonic and highly centralized and clientelist political parties", Accion Democratica and COPEI, in what was often called "partidocracia" (partyarchy). The two parties "penetrated and came to dominate so many of the other organisations in civil society, including trade unions, that they enjoyed a virtual monopoly over the political process." Party organisation was extensive, with, the Church and business associations aside, practically every civil society organisation run by leaders identifying with one or other of the parties. It was also intensive, with members risking expulsion, and thus exclusion from the party's patronage, for disobeying party decisions. "The Leninist principle of democratic centralism even received explicit endorsement in the AD's party statutes." Elected representatives of the parties strayed from the party line so infrequently that Congressional leaders did not tally votes, relying solely on the relative sizes of the parties. "Labor leaders usually refrained from calling strikes when their party was in power, and the politicized officers of professional associations, student governments, peasant federations, state enterprises, foundations, and most other organizations used their positions to further the interests of their party."
Key to the maintenance of the partyarchy was a system of "concertacion" (consultation), in which the two parties would consult with each other, and with other actors (notably business and the military), seeking consensus on controversial issues. Where consensus failed, the attempts to achieve it at least mollified the opposition. Concertacion also involved complicity with widespread corruption, with the parties acting as if the Punto Fijo Pact had prohibited prosections for corruption. "The courts - like the bureaucracy, the universities, and most other institutions - were thoroughly politicized along party lines and seemed never to find sufficient evidence to justify a trial or a conviction." Threats to the partyarchy - that is, organisations which sought to challenge it or at least remain outside its control - were largely co-opted by a variety of tactics, including, if necessary, "paralelismo" (the creation of a parallel organisation with a similar purpose and far greater political and economic support).
Only with the economic crisis, particularly in the late 80s and early 90s, did the system of partyarchy weaken substantially, as the resources available for patronage declined dramatically. The ability to co-opt new organisations, particular the neighbourhood associations protesting the failure of public services, was weakened. By the 1998 presidential elections the candidates put up by AD and COPEI won less than 6% of the vote combined.
Under the previous system of partyarchy, "jobs in the public sector were allocated with calculated discrimination through the political parties, forming an important element in the stream of patronage descending from the top of each party to its bases throughout the nation."
Gender and sexual orientation equality
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In 2007 Venezuela passed a "Law on the Right of Women to a Life Free of Violence", and instituted a number of other measures against domestic violence. In 2008 Amnesty International called the law "an example for the rest of the region," but noted that effective implementation would require political will and adequate resources.[unreliable source?] In July 2009 a proposed "Organic Law for Gender Equality" included a controversial provision for same-sex civil unions.
Abortion in Venezuela is currently illegal except in cases of a threat to the life of the pregnant woman.
The indigenous peoples of Venezuela make up only around 1.5% of the population nationwide, though the proportion is nearly 50% in Amazonas state. Prior to the creation of the 1999 constitution, legal rights for indigenous peoples were increasingly lagging behind other Latin American countries, which were progressively enshrining a common set of indigenous collective rights in their national constitutions. In the beginning of the 19th century the government of Venezuela did little for indigenous peoples, more so they were pushed away from the agricultural centre to the periphery. In 1913, during a rubber boom, colonel Toman Funes seized control of Amazonas’ San Fernando de Atabapo, where 100 settlers were killed. In the following nine years, Funes destroyed dozens of Ye'kuana villages and killed several thousands Ye'kuana. In 1961 a new constitution came, but instead of improving the rights of indigenous peoples, this constitution was actually a step backward from the previous 1947 constitution.
In 1999, a new constitution was formed, the 1999 Venezuelan Constitution. In this constitution Chávez, being mixed of indigenous descent himself, aimed for the improvement of human rights, mainly those of women and indigenous peoples. The constitution stated that three seats should be reserved for indigenous delegates in the 131-member constitutional assembly  and two additional indigenous delegates won unreserved seats in the assembly elections. Ultimately the constitutional process produced "the region's most progressive indigenous rights regime". Innovations included Article 125's guarantee of political representation at all levels of government, and Article 124's prohibition on "the registration of patents related to indigenous genetic resources or intellectual property associated with indigenous knowledge." The new constitution followed the example of Colombia in reserving parliamentary seats for indigenous delegates (three in Venezuela's National Assembly); and it was the first Latin American constitution to reserve indigenous seats in state assemblies and municipal councils in districts with indigenous population.
The Yukpa did receive 40,000 hectares of land from the government in 2009, but one of several Yukpa leaders, Sabino Romero, opposed the government land grant initiative, calling it a "divisive measure". In mid-2010, Sabino Romero participated in a protest outside of the Venezuelan Supreme Court demanding the indigenous justice system be respected. "We have our culture, our justice system. We can judge and punish those guilty of damage to the community without our chiefs having to be prisoners under the Creole law," said Romero in an interview. Now, in 2011, some 12 years after the constitution was formed no real improvements are visible. The indigenous peoples of Venezuela were given special rights through the 1999 constitution, however, the vast majority of these people still live in very critical conditiones of poverty. The largest groups do receive education, but only some basic primary education in their languages.
Chavez's opposition to Zionism and close relations with Iran, have led to accusations of antisemitism. State media attacks on Henrique Capriles Radonski, a Catholic of Jewish ancestry, were widely criticized as antisemitic. The Wall Street Journal said that Capriles "was vilified in a campaign in Venezuela's state-run media, which insinuated he was, among other things, a homosexual and a Zionist agent".
Relationships with international actors
Human Rights Watch
In September 2008 the Venezuelan government expelled from the country Human Rights Watch Americas Director Jose Miguel Vivanco, over the publication of a report entitled "A Decade Under Chávez: Political Intolerance and Lost Opportunities for Advancing Human Rights in Venezuela", which discussed systematic violations to human, civil and political rights.
In May 2009 Venezuela rejected the annual report of the IACHR. Amongst other issues raised (including failure to address unsolved murders and extrajudicial executions) the report declared Venezuela "a hostile environment for political dissent." IACHR President Luz Patricia Mejía acknowledged the report's heavy reliance on Venezuelan private media sources, and recommended an internal debate at the next OAS summit.
A 2010 OAS report indicated "achievements with regard to the eradication of illiteracy, the set up of a primary health network, land distribution and the reduction of poverty", and "improvements in the areas of economic, social, and cultural rights". The report also found "blistering" concerns with freedom of expression, human rights abuses, authoritarianism, press freedom, control of the judiciary, threats to democracy, political intimidation, and "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 people, and women", as well as erosion of separation of powers and "severe economic, infrastructure, and social headaches", and "chronic problems including power blackouts, soaring crime, and a perceived lack of investment in crucial sectors". According to the National Public Radio, the report discusses decreasing rights of opposition to the government and "goes into heavy detail" about control of the judiciary. It says elections are free, but the state has increasing control over media and state resources used during election campaigns, and opposition elected officials have "been prevented from actually carrying out their duties afterward". CNN says the "lack of independence by Venezuela's judiciary and legislature in their dealings with leftist President Hugo Chávez often leads to the abuses", and the Wall Street Journal blames the government of Chavez.
Chávez rejected the 2010 OAS report, calling it "pure garbage", and said Venezuela should boycott the OAS; a spokesperson said, "We don't recognize the commission as an impartial institution". He disclaims any power to influence the judiciary. A Venezuelan official said the report distorts and takes statistics out of context, saying that "human rights violations in Venezuela have decreased".
On 12 November 2012, Venezuela was elected by the United Nations General Assembly to hold a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council for the period 2013-2015 - the first time Venezuela was elected to this panel.
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- For example, through the use of nudo hecho proceedings, which involve investigations of state agents (especially police) which allow them to remain on active duty, and often delay criminal proceedings (or make them impossible, if they take so long that statutes of limitation apply) - HRW93, p15
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|url=missing title (help).
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- Prado, Paulo (24 February 2010). "OAS Report Chastises Venezuela". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 24 February 2010. "... issued a scathing report that accuses Venezuela's government of human-rights abuses, political repression, and eroding the separation of powers among government branches in the oil-rich country. In its sternly worded conclusion, it blames the government of President Hugo Chávez—already reeling from a recession and energy shortages that have undermined his popularity in recent months—for "aspects that contribute to the weakening of the rule of law and democracy." ... The problems include the firing of judges critical of Mr. Chávez, the shuttering of critical media outlets, and the exertion of pressure on public employees, including those of state oil giant Petróleos de Venezuela SA, to support the government at the ballot box. ... Mr. Chávez has been struggling to maintain his popularity at home amid severe economic, infrastructure, and social headaches. In addition to the downturn and ballooning inflation, the government faces mounting criticism and public protests over chronic problems including power blackouts, soaring crime, and a perceived lack of investment in crucial sectors, including roads and the all-important oil industry."
- Forero, Juan and Steve Inskeep (24 February 2010). "OAS Report Critical of Venezuela's Chavez". National Public Radio (NPR). Retrieved 25 February 2010.
- "Chavez Rejects Report Citing Rights Violations". New York Times (Associated Press). 25 February 2010. Retrieved 25 February 2010.[dead link]
- "Venezuelan official disputes report on human rights abuses". CNN. 25 February 2010. Retrieved 26 February 2010.
- "Human rights: Venezuela, Madagascar, Burma" (Press release). European Parliament. 11 February 2010. Retrieved 24 February 2010.
- "European Parliament OKs resolutions". UPI.com. 12 February 2010. Retrieved 24 February 2010. "The members expressed concern about the movement toward authoritarianism by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez's government, the European Union said Thursday in a release. In January 2010, six cable and satellite television channels were ordered off the air after they were criticized for failing to broadcast Chavez's speech on the 52nd anniversary of the overthrow of Perez Jimenez."
- United Nations, 12 November 2012, IN SINGLE SECRET BALLOT, GENERAL ASSEMBLY ELECTS 18 MEMBER STATES TO SERVE THREE-YEAR TERMS ON HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL, General Assembly GA/11310
- Library of Congress, A Country Study: Venezuela
- Human Rights Watch / Venezuela
- Amnesty International Venezuela page