1139. Based on the information received, the Commission has identified in this report various aspects that contribute to the weakening of the rule of law and democracy in Venezuela and that have caused as a consequence serious restrictions to the full enjoyment of the human rights recognized in the American Convention.
1140. The Commission has identified that, while Venezuela continues to hold elections with great frequency, there are certain obstacles that impair opposition candidates’ equal opportunity to be elected, as well as some limitations that check the exercise of power by popularly elected authorities, when they are not members of officialdom. The IACHR considers it a matter of concern that, through mechanisms such as the disqualification of candidates or a shift in the competencies of certain authorities to the point of ridding them of meaning, the political rights of those critical of the government have been curtailed.
1141. Moreover, the IACHR notes that obstacles are thrown in the path of those identifying with the opposition not only in the context of political contests, but also that citizens and organizations that make their disagreement with governmental policies public often become victims of retaliation, intimidation, disqualification, exclusion, discrimination in the workplace, and in some instances are even subject to legal attack and deprived of their liberty. Thus, reprisals levied against dissenters have left certain sectors of society stripped of the means to protect their interests, to protest, to criticize, to propose, and to exercise their role as overseers of the democratic system.
1142. Human rights defenders have been especially affected by the climate of hostility and intolerance prevailing in Venezuela today. Faced with enormous obstacles in the performance of their work whose legitimacy is questioned and criminalized, they suffer threats and attempts upon their own lives and personal security. The lack of access to public information has also complicated the task of defending human rights in Venezuela. The IACHR views such adverse conditions for the protection of human rights with concern as they produce a chilling effect on the defenders who, fearing retaliation, may cease acting as watchmen of government policy. This, in turn, renders even more difficult the generation of basic agreement with respect to problems affecting the citizens of Venezuela. Moreover, if defenders do not have adequate protection of these rights, it is difficult for them to carry out their work of protecting the rights of other persons.
1143. As to freedom of expression, the IACHR reiterates the conclusions reached in previous reports regarding the absence of a climate of national tolerance to foster active participation and the exchange of ideas among diverse sectors of society. In particular, the IACHR anxiously observes how, in recent years, major overhauls of the legal framework have tended to shut down rather than to promote public debate. The protection of values such as pluralism and diversity, integral parts of democratic models, requires shaping institutions that develop public deliberation, not inhibit or muzzle it. Yet numerous acts of violence and intimidation perpetrated by private violent groups against journalists and the media; disqualifying statements by highly placed civil servants; the systematic filing of administrative proceedings predicated on vague legal norms that allow for great margins of discretion when implemented, coupled with disproportional sanctions, all serve to create a restrictive scenario that also dampens the full observance of freedom of expression as a condition of democracy rooted in pluralism and public debate.
1144. The Commission has also identified the challenge to the very exercise of democracy in Venezuela constituted by the lack of mechanisms to access public information on the management of State organs as well as regarding figures that can serve to assess how human rights are being observed. The scant official data available represents a barrier to the necessary control ordinary citizens should exert over civil servants and democratic institutions. The paucity of information has also made more difficult the Inter-American Commission’s work in promoting and protecting the observance of human rights, especially so given the impossibility of visiting Venezuela.
1145. Violence and crime in Venezuela affect the observance of human rights in Venezuela. The Commission considers alarming the number of cases of extrajudicial executions; torture; forced disappearances; death threats; abuse of authority; and cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment meted out by agents of the Venezuelan State. Likewise, the homicides, kidnappings, use of hired gunmen, and rural area violence are all phenomena that frequently affect the security of citizens across the country.
1146. While the State has deployed efforts to guarantee citizens’ security in the face of ordinary and organized crime as well as potential abuse by governmental organs, the State’s response to public insecurity has been insufficient, and at times even incompatible with the observance of human rights, owing particularly to the absence of norms clearly defining the role of the armed forces in keeping the peace domestically, and to the high degree of impunity seen in the investigation of such violent acts.
1147. The Commission considers that the State has failed also in fulfilling its role as guarantor of the safety of persons it holds in custody, deprived of liberty. Although some steps have been taken to tackle procedural delays as the principal cause of overcrowding in penitentiaries, over half of the inmates in Venezuela are deprived of liberty without having received a final sentence. The Commission recognizes the significant resources the State has invested in improving prison infrastructure and conditions, but they have proved insufficient to avoid the occurrence acts of violence within Venezuelan jails that have left thousands of inmates dead or injured. Most of these acts continue to be committed with impunity, which suggests the State has also failed in its obligation to prevent new ones from occurring.
1148. A similar observation can be made about the situation of women in Venezuela. While the State has adopted a legal framework to promote and protect the equality of women before the law and their right to live free from violence, and, likewise, has implemented programs and plans to prevent such violence, women in Venezuela continue to be victims of violence perpetrated against them. The vast majority of cases brought before the justice system for violence against women never reach judicial sentencing and so they continue to be met with impunity. Moreover, judicial bodies are reluctant to take on complaints alleging violence against women; in some instances, victims that turn to the justice system consider themselves mistreated, which in turn has a chilling effect on other women with claims of violence against them.
1149. Thus, acts of retaliation to quash dissent; attacks against human rights defenders and against journalists; repression of peaceful protest; abuse by State agents and common and organized crime; violence in the prison system; violence against women; and other grave violations of human rights are all characterized in Venezuela by the high levels of impunity associated with them. Such impunity stems from “the overall lack of investigation, pursuit, capture, indictment, and sentencing of those responsible for violating rights protected by the American Convention” and, pursuant to guarantees established in Article 8 and 25 of that instrument, it stands in and of itself as one of the gravest violations of human rights in Venezuela.
1150. In that regard, the State of Venezuela “has the obligation to combat that situation by all legal means available as impunity breeds the chronic recurrence of human rights violations that leaves victims and their families utterly defenseless.” Such an obligation implies the duty to organize the entire government apparatus and, in general, all structures through which public power is exercised, in a manner as to offer legal assurance of the free and unabridged exercise of human rights.
1151. The Commission observes that impunity has undermined trust in the judiciary and, hence, in the rule of law. Such mistrust is worsened by the Venezuelan judiciary’s lack of independence, which is generated by the breach of observance of certain guarantees related to the appointment and removal of judges and prosecutors, as well as to the high percentage of judges and prosecutors appointed on a provisional basis.
1152. The IAHCR is gravely concerned by the number of judges appointed without benefit of a public competitive examination. This fact makes it possible to remove those judges from office and to subject them to undue pressure in the holdings they issue. As established in the present report, over half of the judges of Venezuela enjoy no stability of employment; they are therefore subject to removal when they make decisions that affect the government’s interests. It is also worrisome that, without a public examination open to candidates outside the judiciary, tenure is being extended to several judges who were initially appointed on a discretional basis.
1153. In addition, the IACHR has discovered the existence of norms that allow a high degree of subjectivity in evaluating the performance of judges. On that basis, and sometimes without any legal foundation whatsoever, special disciplinary organs that offer no guarantee of impartiality such as the Commission on the Operation and Reorganization of the Judicial System have ruled to revoke the appointment of hundreds of judges, without recourse to an appropriate procedure. All of the foregoing constitutes a constant threat to the independence of the Venezuelan judiciary, which has resulted in weakening one of the pillars of the rule of law. The Commission warns that it will not be possible to consolidate the rule of law and democracy in Venezuela so long as an independent judiciary capable of duly investigating human rights violations fails to exist.
1154. The Commission considers that the lack of independence and autonomy of the judiciary with respect to the political branches constitutes one of the weakest points of democracy in Venezuela, a situation that seriously hinders the free exercise of human rights in Venezuela. In the Commission’s judgment, it is this lack of independence that has allowed the use of the State’s punitive power in Venezuela to criminalize human rights defenders, judicialize peaceful social protest, and persecute political dissidents through the criminal system.
1155. At the same time, the Commission is aware that the promotion and protection of economic, social, and cultural rights is indispensable to the consolidation of democracy, and in that respect recognizes the State’s strides in achieving the progressive observance of these rights, chief among which stand the eradication of illiteracy; poverty reduction; and increasing access to such basic services as health by the most vulnerable sectors of society. In addition, the Commission values efforts the State has deployed to implement programs aimed at overcoming structural problems of inequity and discrimination that exist in Venezuela.
1156. Additionally, the Commission notes that there are serious shortcomings with respect to union rights as well as in relation to the right of indigenous peoples to their lands.
1157. The Commission emphasizes that observance of other fundamental rights cannot be sacrificed for the sake of realizing economic, social, and cultural rights. Human rights constitute an indissoluble whole, and, as the American Convention sets forth in its preamble, “the ideal of free men enjoying freedom from fear and want can be achieved only if conditions are created whereby everyone may enjoy his economic, social, and cultural rights, as well as his civil and political rights.”
1158. The Commission notes that in Venezuela one of the basic pillars of democracy, the right to equality and non-discrimination before the law, has been attacked. The Commission warns that political intolerance does not just impair the effectiveness of democratic institutions: it also contributes dangerously to their fragility. The Commission considers it necessary to reiterate to the State of Venezuela that the consolidation of democracy requires the intensification of the participation of all sectors of society in the political, social, economic, and cultural life of each nation.
1159. The Venezuelan State must be mindful that the American Convention on Human Rights, the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, and the Inter-American Democratic Charter constitute the normative framework the OAS has built to strengthen a community of free nations whose governments are not only democratically elected but also govern in full compliance with the Rule of Law and strict observance of the human rights of all their citizens.
1160. In that respect, the IACHR regards with grave concern the State’s refusal to allow a visit by this Commission, and deeply regrets the position taken by Venezuela on decisions and recommendations adopted by organs of the inter-American system of human rights. Venezuela has not complied fully with the judgments of the Inter-American Court. Its judicial organs have even gone so far as to declare one such judgment impossible to execute since it is contrary to the Venezuelan Constitution, asking that the executive branch denounce the American Convention on Human Rights. On several occasions, the Venezuelan State has also opined that it considers precautionary measures granted by the IACHR, as well as recommendations issued in reports on the situation of human rights in any state, to be non-binding on internal structures of the agencies of government. Indeed, the Commission notes with concern that the State has yet to meet the vast majority of recommendations issued in its Report on the State of Human Rights in Venezuela published in 2003.
1161. The State of Venezuela has generally opted for an attitude of rejection regarding the recommendations of international human rights organizations, alleging they contravene national sovereignty. On that point, the Commission stresses that, pursuant to the good faith principle enshrined in Article 31.1 of the Vienna Convention, if a state subscribes to and ratifies an international treaty, particularly a human rights treaty such as the American Convention, it is bound to exert its best efforts to implement the recommendations and decisions of the bodies entrusted with protecting such rights, such as the Commission and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. In addition, a state “undertakes to adopt such necessary measures as to give domestic legal effect to the provisions of the Convention, as established in Article 2 thereof.”
1162. Pursuant to the above, the IACHR reiterates its view that the State must comply with the international human rights obligations it freely assumed under the American Convention and other relevant legal instruments, and exhorts Venezuela to give effective compliance to the recommendations contained in the present report so as to contribute to strengthen the promotion and protection of human rights in a democratic context.
1163. In the present report, the Commission has identified that political intolerance; the lack of independence of the branches of the State in dealing with the executive; constraints on freedom of expression and the right to protest peaceably; the existence of a climate hostile to the free exercise of dissenting political participation and to monitoring activities on the part of human rights organizations; citizen insecurity; violent acts perpetrated against persons deprived of their liberty, trade union members, women, and farmers; and, above all, the prevailing impunity affecting cases of human rights violations are factors that seriously limit the enjoyment of human rights in Venezuela. With the aim of consolidating the democratic system, the State must increase its efforts to combat these challenges and achieve better and more effective protection of the rights guaranteed in the American Convention on Human Rights.
 I/A Court H.R., Case of “Panel Blanca” (Paniagua Morales et al.) v. Guatemala. Judgment of March 8, 1998. Series C No. 37, para.173; Case Vargas Areco v. Paraguay. Judgment of September 26, 2006. Series C No. 155, para. 153; and Case Tiu Tojin v. Guatemala. Judgment of November 26, 2008. Series C No. 190, para. 69.
 I/A Court H.R., Case of the Massacres of Ituango v. Colombia. Judgment of July 1, 2006. Series C No. 148, para. 299; Case of Montero Aranguren et al (Checkpoint at Catia) v. Venezuela Case. Judgment of July 5, 2006. Series C No. 150, para. 137; and Case of Vargas Areco v. Paraguay. Judgment of September 26, 2006. Series C No. 155, para.81.
 I/A Court H.R., Case of Velásquez Rodriguez v. Honduras. Judgment of July 29, 1988. Series C No. 4, para. 166; Case of Almonacid Arellano et al v. Chile. Judgment of September 26, 2006. Series C No. 154, para. 110; and Case of Tiu Tojin v. Guatemala. Judgment of November 26, 2008. Series C No. 190, para. 69.
 IACHR. Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression. Background and Interpretation of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression, para. 10. Available at: http://www.cidh.org/RELATORIA/showarticle.asp?artID=132&lID=1.
 The Inter-American Court has made the same point: I/A Court H.R., Case of Baena Ricardo et al. v. Panama. Judgment of February 2, 2001. Series C No. 72, paras. 192 and 193.
 I/A Court H.R., Case of “The Last Temptation of Christ” (Olmedo Bustos et al.) v. Chile. Judgment of February 5, 2001. Series C No. 73, para. 78; Case of La Cantuta v. Peru. Judgment of November 29, 2006. Series C No. 162, para. 171; Case of Zambrano Vélez et al. Judgment of July 4, 2007. Series C No. 166, para. 79.