Press Release

IACHR Expresses its Concern Regarding the Declaration of a “State of Exception and Economic Emergency” in Venezuela

June 1, 2016

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses its concern regarding the declaration of a “state of exception and economic emergency” in Venezuela. On May 13, 2016, the Presidency of the Republic issued Decree No. 2.323, which declares “the State of Exception and Economic Emergency for 60 days, given the extraordinary circumstances of a Social, Economic, Political, Natural, and Ecological nature that seriously affect the National Economy,” following the expiration of the Economic Emergency Decree handed down last January. The new decree now declares a state of emergency throughout the country, and refers to, among other things, the drop in the price of oil; attacks on the Venezuelan economy; “threats and slander [from the legislative branch] directed against the highest authorities of government”; the weather phenomenon named “El Niño”; the practice of “bachaqueo” (buying up subsidized goods for resale on the black market); “the deliberate confrontation of the National Legislative branch against the public authorities”; and paramilitarism. It also refers to “counterbalancing the effects of the attack by factors of the opposition.” This decree was rejected by the National Assembly on May 17, 2016, and declared constitutional by the Supreme Court of Justice on May 19, 2016.

First of all, the Commission has understood that these types of measures should be adopted only on an exceptional basis and should be reasonably proportionate to the needs of the situation being faced, without going beyond what is strictly necessary, so as to ensure that they are not prolonged over time,  disproportionate, or involve the misuse or abuse of power, as the arbitrary use of such measures impinges on democracy and restricts freedom of expression, equality before the law, and freedom of association, rights established in the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man. It is also of concern to the Commission that the decree in question could compromise respect for the rule of law and the separation of powers. The IACHR observes that this decree gives the executive branch discretionary powers and uses broad, ambiguous language to establish concepts such as “destabilizing actions that endanger national security and sovereignty” to enable the adoption of public security measures and “special plans.”

Secondly, the Commission notes that in the context of the shortages that are affecting the country and the accompanying violence, the decree in question attributes law-and-order functions to the Bolivarian National Armed Forces (FANB); these include the “correct distribution and commercialization of food and essential products,” the protection of forested areas, and the monitoring of the Local Supply and Distribution Committees (CLAP). In that regard, the Commission has stated on many occasions that because the armed forces lack adequate training to perform law enforcement tasks, it is the responsibility of a civilian police force, properly trained and respectful of human rights, to guarantee security and maintain public order within a country.

The Commission has also referred in the past to the implications of using broad and ambiguous concepts in legal instruments, including emergency decrees, as this can lead to restrictions to the rights mentioned above. It can also constitute an obstacle to the ability of human rights organizations to operate freely. The Commission has made similar statements before with respect to Venezuela by noting that the vagueness of the language used in legislative bills, such as the one on international cooperation, creates the risk of a restrictive interpretation to limit the exercise of the abovementioned rights.

On another matter, the Commission observes that this decree allows for the suspension of financing of agreements with foreign entities “when it is presumed that they are being used for political purposes or to destabilize the Republic.” In that regard, the Commission has maintained that “human rights defenders have the right to seek and obtain economic resources to finance their work” and that the States “must guarantee the exercise of this right in the broadest possible manner, and promote it.” The IACHR reiterates that civil society organizations may legitimately receive funds from foreign or international nongovernmental organizations, or from foreign governments, to promote human rights, and that the State is obligated to guarantee their establishment and operation without imposing restrictions beyond those allowed by the rights to freedom of association. This human right is essential for the consolidation of democratic societies, and any restriction to this right must be brought into line with the standards of international law. The IACHR also observes that this decree could severely restrict the freedom to express political ideas, public debate, people’s right to receive information from a wide range of sources, and the exercise of the right to protest, all of which affects political pluralism, which is a fundamental principle of every democratic society.

Finally, the Commission notes that the decree in question violates Article 222 of the Venezuelan Constitution, by granting the Presidency the power to decide to temporarily suspend the execution of “political sanctions against the highest authorities of the government,” an oversight function that belongs to the National Assembly. In addition to that, the IACHR is concerned about the failure to recognize the decisions of the National Assembly by means of the Supreme Court’s governmental political control.

Consequently, the IACHR reminds the Venezuelan State of its obligation to guarantee the human rights of the population, and reiterates its call to guarantee an atmosphere of freedom and security for all inhabitants of Venezuela, as part of their right to live in a democracy that respects the rule of law, the separation of powers, and the full exercise 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. 071/16