IACHR

Press Release

IACHR Expresses Deep Concern over the Situation regarding the Rule of Law in Venezuela

February 24, 2015

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María Isabel Rivero
IACHR Press and Communication Director
Tel: +1 (202) 370-9001
mrivero@oas.org

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses its deep concern over the situation regarding the rule of law in Venezuela and its consequences for the full observance of human rights.

According to publicly available information, on February 19, 2015, heavily armed agents of Venezuela’s Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN) arrested the mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma, in an operation in which his offices were searched. According to statements made by Ledezma’s wife and his attorney, the agents failed to produce a warrant for his arrest. 

In addition, according to the information available, on February 12, 2015, a group of more than 30 heavily armed State agents, dressed in black and wearing ski masks to cover their faces, violently burst into the cells where Leopoldo López and Daniel Ceballos were being held at the Ramo Verde military prison. According to the information received, the agents were dressed in uniforms that bore the initials of Venezuela’s General Directorate of Military Intelligence. According to Leopoldo López’s wife and his lawyer, during the operation the agents destroyed and confiscated personal belongings and transferred the men to punishment cells.

The IACHR stresses that holding civilians in custody in a military prison is incompatible with international standards. The IACHR notes that in August 2014, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention determined that the detentions of Leopoldo López and Daniel Ceballos were arbitrary, and therefore recommended that the government of Venezuela release them immediately.

The Commission reminds the State of Venezuela of its obligation to guarantee the life, humane treatment, and safety of all persons deprived of liberty, as well as to guarantee conditions of detention that are in line with applicable international standards.

The IACHR recognizes the duties of States to maintain public order and protect all persons under their jurisdiction from crime and violence. However, the means and methods used to carry out these obligations must be in accordance with international human rights recognized by States and with the principles that guide a democratic society. The Inter-American Commission reiterates that pretrial detention must be the exception, not the rule, and must be applied only with the aim of protecting the proper goal of the procedures, namely where the person presents a flight risk or to prevent the obstruction of the investigations. In that regard, the Commission has stressed that the presumption of innocence can be considered to have been violated when a person facing criminal charges is subject to pretrial detention without proper justification, as in that case the detention becomes a punitive rather than precautionary measure, which is tantamount to anticipating a sentence. Moreover, pretrial detention should be used in accordance with the criteria of necessity and proportionality, and for a reasonable period of time. To this effect, the IACHR urges the State to release these individuals pending trial.

The available information also indicates that another opposition leader, María Corina Machado, was allegedly dismissed from her post as Congressional representative and charged by the Public Prosecutor’s Office.

The IACHR expresses its deep concern over complaints regarding the alleged lack of guarantees to ensure due process in the investigations and prosecutions being pursued against the individuals mentioned above.

Opposition voices are imperative for a democratic society; without them it is impossible to reach agreements that take into account the range of viewpoints that prevail in a society. That is why States must guarantee the effective participation of individuals, groups, organizations, and opposition political parties in a democratic society, through proper rules and practices that enable them to have real and effective access on equal terms to the various deliberative forums, and also through the adoption of measures to ensure that this participation can be fully exercised. The Commission urges the State not to criminalize opposition political leaders and to guarantee the participation of all sectors of Venezuela’s political life and the human rights of those who identify themselves with the opposition to the government.

In the past year, there has been an increase in arrests, attacks, and threats against journalists, as well as in statements by high-level officials stigmatizing the media and journalists who have been critical of the government. Moreover, cases involving punishment of the press have increased, and there are still problems related to shortages of newsprint and the ban on subscription television channels. The Commission has also received information regarding cases in which access to news outlets via the Internet has reportedly been blocked, along with information concerning the acquisition of key privately owned media outlets by businessmen who then proceed to dismiss journalists who are critical of the government and to limit the coverage of events that are of clear public interest. This situation has resulted in a substantial decrease in public forums and in public debate.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights calls on the State of Venezuela to seek peaceful solutions to its current problems and to undertake a dialogue with the opposition in the framework of democracy, the rule of law, and the full observance of human rights.

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

No. 015/15