Commission on Human Rights urges OAS member states to take immediate action
to halt erosion of rule of law in Venezuela
2000, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has expressed
its position, through various means, on the erosion of the rule of law in
Venezuela, which has seriously compromised the effective exercise of human
rights. Today the Commission follows with great concern the escalation of
the Venezuelan crisis, marked by violence, intolerance, and a general lack
of faith in government institutions.
its visit to Venezuela in May of this year, the IACHR noted manifest
weaknesses in the foundations necessary for a democratic system based on the
rule of law according to the American Convention on Human Rights and the
Inter-American Democratic Charter: a
lack of judiciary independence, limitations on freedom of expression,
political involvement by the armed forces, the extreme polarization of
society, death squad activities, the poor credibility of oversight agencies
in view of uncertainty as to their impartiality and the constitutionality of
their appointment, and a lack of coordination among security forces.
Commission condemned the coup d’état in April 2002 and decried the
arbitrary arrests and other human rights violations perpetrated by those who
seized power. It expressed concern over certain attitudes on the part of the
opposition that could jeopardize the initiation of a dialogue.
It also expressed concern over editorial decisions taken in the days
of the coup by certain press officials and appealed to them to reflect on
their role at a time when rapid access to information was vital to the
defense of democracy.
Commission notes that, since its visit, the situation has been
deteriorating. First, the Commission wishes to express its deepest concern
over the significant increase in systematic attacks against human rights
defenders that, directly or indirectly, obstruct or interfere with their
work. The Commission reaffirms that, under the rule of law, defenders play a
crucial role in defending victims of human rights violations, in publicly
denouncing injustices that affect large sectors of society, and in the
necessary monitoring of public officials and democratic institutions.
The Commission has also noted increasing
attacks on the media and journalists, particularly those covering political
events and rallies. Journalists, camera operators, photographers, and other
press workers have been subjected to direct aggression and harassment.
Reported incidents include the murder of a journalist; physical assaults,
including woundings by firearm; threats; and the seizure, looting, and
destruction of media facilities, such as those carried out on December 9 by
groups supporting the Government in Caracas and major cities of the
interior. The Commission notes that this situation not only intimidates
reporters, who are afraid to identify themselves as journalist for fear of
reprisal, but also compromises Venezuelan society’s right to information.
Commission strongly condemns the violence employed against various sectors
of society in the form of indiscriminate shooting at demonstrators. The
Commission urgently appeals to the Venezuelan state for a strict,
expeditious, and impartial investigation of those responsible for the acts
of violence on Friday, December 6, at the Plaza Francia in Altamira, where,
according to reports, three people died and 18 were injured.
The Commission is concerned over the appearance of armed civilian
groups engaging in political violence and the fact that they act with
impunity. Some of these groups even appear to receive protection from
certain authorities. The
violence has escalated with the continuing activities of vigilante
groups–in what appear to be social cleansing operations—in several
states of the interior.
The IACHR is concerned over the central Government’s “intervention”
in the metropolitan police force of Caracas, which was headed by a political
adversary, without appropriate reasons having been given for a decision of
questionable legality. This has
heightened the sense of insecurity among the city’s inhabitants and led to
increased involvement in public safety control operations by the armed
forces. The intervention is of special concern in view of a history of human
rights violations stemming from social control operations by the armed
Commission reaffirms that the state has a duty to respond to human rights
violations by investigating and punishing those responsible.
This international obligation is absolute and binding upon the state.
Situations of impunity such as those that, in this case, have
engendered widespread violence and endangered all of Venezuelan society are
inconsistent with the American Convention on Human Rights.
Commission emphasizes that, in fulfillment of its protective functions, it
has employed the various mechanisms envisioned in the American Convention
and in the Commission's Rules of Procedure.
Through its case system, the adoption of precautionary measures,
requests to the Court for provisional measures, on-site visits to the
country, and press releases, the IACHR has responded to Venezuelan citizens
who have applied to the inter-American system for protection, and has
alerted the international community to the declining state of human rights
particular, this year the IACHR has granted 12 precautionary measures to
protect the rights to life, personal safety, and freedom of expression of
human rights defenders, reporters, congresspersons, the victims of the
events of April 11, witnesses, and victims of vigilante groups.
Because the state failed to comply with these measures, the
Commission applied to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights for
provisional measures on behalf of members of the nongovernmental human
rights organization COFAVIC, members of the RCTV media outlet, and victims
of vigilante groups operating in the State of Falcón. The three provisional
measures requested were granted by the Court on December 2, 2002.
Intending to work with the
Government and all of Venezuelan society in carrying out its task, the
Commission had planned a series of follow-up visits.
However, despite an open invitation from President Chávez and Vice
President Rangel and repeated requests by the IACHR, the Government of
Venezuela has systematically refused to set dates for such visits. The
Commission believes that the follow-up visits could have made an important
contribution to strengthening the defense and protection of human rights in
a context of law and democratic institutions.
considering the gravity of the situation, the Commission values the efforts
of the OAS Secretary General, César Gaviria, who has enthusiastic support
from all states in the Hemisphere. Additionally, in exercise of the
functions established in Article 41 of the American Convention, and having
observed for over four decades how tragically the weakening of the rule of
law affects human rights, the Commission urges the OAS member states, within
the framework of inter-American instruments, to immediately employ all
available means to work with Venezuelans in seeking an urgent solution that
will prevent further loss of human life and ensure Venezuelans that the rule
of law will remain fully in force.
Washington, D. C., December 12, 2002