IACHR and Offices of Special Rapporteurs Express Concern Over University Autonomy and Academic Freedom in Venezuela

July 26, 2021

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Washington, D.C. — Speaking through the Special Follow-Up Mechanism for Venezuela (MESEVE), and the offices of the Special Rapporteurs on Economic, Social, Cultural, and Environmental Rights (OSRESCER) and Freedom of Expression (RFOE), the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expressed concern over the deterioration of university autonomy in Venezuela and the impact this is having on academic freedom.

The IACHR received information on a variety of actions the State has taken that undermine university autonomy, including the decision to move the payroll of public university staff and those of related bodies to the Patria System. According to civil society, as this is a state-owned platform, this change could have a coercive effect on teachers and university officials who are critical of the government. Likewise, the IACHR received information on significant budget cuts to universities, which would exacerbate the economic crisis the educational sector is experiencing in Venezuela.

Likewise, reports were received regarding the exclusion of the Venezuelan Federation of Associations of University Professors (FAPUV) and other university groups from collective bargaining with the government, which affects the freedom of association of teaching staff. This is true for the I, II, and III Single Convention of the University Sector (CCU) and is also affecting the newly established negotiation tables of the IV Collective Convention. According to civil society organizations, this exclusion is allegedly a reprisal for the critical opinions that members have expressed toward government labor policies. Likewise, the IACHR learned that the meager remuneration received by public university teachers ranges from USD5.92 to USD10.43 per month.

Furthermore, the IACHR expressed its concern over the Redesign of the National University Entrance System, Based on the Reactivation of the National Productive System, an educational plan presented by the Ministry of Popular Power for University Education in 2020. This plan proposes a new educational scheme to provide support for new university students starting degree programs that respond to the "nation's training needs," which could undermine the autonomy of public universities, influence the content of different subjects, and interfere with students' decisions.

Finally, civil society organizations reported that Venezuela's judiciary has issued over 50 rulings since 2010 to suspend elections for student representative bodies or that disregard the results of these, forcing universities to accept arbitrary appointments and even legislating on the procedures for electing university authorities.

The IACHR highlights the transcendental role that universities play as centers of critical thinking and for the exchange of ideas. It also underlined the close relationship between academic freedom and the construction and consolidation of a democratic society. As the Office of the United Nations Special Rapporteur for the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression has stated, "without academic freedom, societies lose one of the essential elements of democratic self-governance: the capacity for self-reflection, for knowledge generation and for a constant search for improvements of people's lives and social conditions."

The IACHR also noted once again that the dissemination of scientific knowledge and individual or collective opinions on institutions and society as a whole are protected by the right to freedom of expression and academic freedom. The IACHR also underlined that university autonomy is a necessary condition for academic freedom.

Finally, the IACHR noted that universities are a fundamental pillar of democracy, and that critical thought and pluralism are at their core. Consequently, it urged the State of Venezuela to adopt measures that seek to guarantee university autonomy, including allocating an adequate budget for the operation of university institutions and ensuring that payroll for public university staff is managed through an impartial, independent system that protects academic freedom and freedom of expression.

The OSRESCER is an autonomous office of the IACHR that was specifically created to support the IACHR in fulfilling its mandate to promote and protect economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights in the Americas.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression was created by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to encourage the defense of the right to freedom of thought and expression in the Americas, given the fundamental role that this right plays in consolidating and developing the democratic system.

The IACHR is a principal and autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), whose mandate derives from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote the observance and defense of human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The IACHR is composed of seven independent members who are elected by the OAS General Assembly in their personal capacity, and do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 192/21

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