Inter-American Commission on Human Rights CONCERNED OVER VENEZUELAN DRAFT LEGISLATION ON INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) voices its concern over some provisions of the draft legislation on international cooperation now under discussion by the Legislative Assembly of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. The provisions, if adopted, could create impediments to the formation, independence, and operations of nongovernmental organizations.
Under Article 41 of the American Convention on Human Rights, which empowers the Commission to issue recommendations to OAS member states on the adoption of measures to foster respect for human rights within the framework of their domestic law and constitutional provisions, the IACHR asked the Venezuelan state for information on the draft law and offered to provide advisory services regarding inter-American standards of protection that could enrich the deliberations of the National Assembly. In its reply, the state reported on the objectives of the legislative initiative and attached a copy of the draft legislation.
The Commission notes that the vague language of certain provisions of the draft legislation and the broad discretion given to the authorities charged with issuing enacting regulations pose the risk that this law will be interpreted in a restrictive manner in order to limit, among other things, the exercise of the rights of association, freedom of expression, political participation, and equality, and could seriously impair the functioning of nongovernmental organizations.
The Commission recalls its recommendation to the states, issued in its Report on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in the Americas, published on March 7, 2006, to “refrain from promoting laws and policies regarding the registration of human rights organizations that use vague, imprecise, and broad definitions of the legitimate motives for restricting their establishment and operation.” Under the provisions of Article 16 of the American Convention on Human Rights, any restrictions on the right of association must be established strictly by law and must be necessary in a democratic society.
The draft legislation provides, among other things, that the registration of nongovernmental organizations in the “Integrated Registry System” is “obligatory and a necessary condition for their recognition by the Venezuelan state as entities competent to engage in cooperative activities with their counterparts in other countries.” The Commission stresses that a registry system that promotes transparency does not necessarily conflict with international standards. Such standards are, however, contravened by laws that give authorities discretionary power to authorize the formation and operations of organizations by way of registration. The Commission believes that the aforementioned rule could be interpreted to mean that only those organizations that are accepted into the Integrated Registry System are allowed to operate.
The Commission invites the state to implement the recommendations on this subject contained in the Report on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in the Americas. In particular, it recommends that the state ensure that any legislative provision governing the public registration of nongovernmental organizations not be made into a means of prior authorization or required permission for the activities of such organizations.
The Commission is also concerned over the positions expressed by certain legislators, who, according to official sources, stated during deliberations on the draft legislation that its intent was to “deal with the masked NGOs,” who they said were “the same old subversive organizations, 72 in all, most of them seeking publicity.” It was also remarked that this law would be a “well-aimed blow to these masked NGOs, because really they are terrorist organizations ready to strike.”
The Commission hopes that, if the law is adopted, it will be adapted to the standards established in international instruments for the protection of human rights, specifically those set forth in the Report on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in the Americas. The Commission offers, within its area of purview, its advisory services in helping to develop laws and principles from the viewpoint of respect for human rights.
Guatemala City, July 19, 2006