Press Release

IACHR Deeply Concerned about the Worsening Violence in Venezuela and the Use of Military Courts to Prosecute Civilians

May 26, 2017

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Buenos Aires — The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses its deep concern regarding the prosecution and detention of civilians in the military criminal justice system and the use of military operations to control public demonstrations in Venezuela.

The IACHR has closely followed the situation of massive protests in Venezuela since these began some eight weeks ago. The Commission has already expressed its grave concern regarding the acts of violence and its alarm over the militarization and the government’s call to arm civilian militias. Regrettably, the situation continues to worsen, and the number of people killed, injured, and detained continues to increase.

According to information presented publicly by the Attorney General of Venezuela, records of the Public Prosecutor’s Office indicate that between April 6 and May 24, 55 people died in acts of violence, 52 of them civilians and 3 officers. The Public Prosecutor’s Office also reported that more than 1,000 people have been injured, including 771 civilians and 229 officers. It indicated that 346 properties had been damaged during the acts of violence. The Attorney General reported that there are 1,465 investigations underway, that 2,674 people have been charged with different criminal offenses, and that 284 of these individuals are being held in custody.

Civil society organizations and government spokespersons, for their part, say that the violence in the context of the demonstrations has left 60 people dead, including six adolescents, and said that 2,815 demonstrators were arrested between April 1 and May 24, 2017, and 1,240 of them are still being detained.

In response to the situation of violence, the government announced the activation of the second phase of the civil-military operation known as “Plan Zamora.” This operation, which includes the participation of police and military officers as well as armed civilian groups, has led to massive detentions and the application of the military criminal justice system to civilians arrested during the demonstrations. According to the information available, this second phase of Plan Zamora involves the transfer of 2,000 members of the Bolivarian National Guard and 600 military operations troops. It has been reported that 341 civilians are being prosecuted in the military criminal justice system, 178 of whom continue to be held in custody in that jurisdiction.

Venezuelan Attorney General Luisa Ortega expressed her concern regarding the situation of civilians being detained in military jurisdiction. “We are concerned about the situation they could be in,” she said at a news conference. She said she has asked the Military Prosecutor’s Office for the number of people being prosecuted and detained, and said that the Public Prosecutor’s Office is trying to verify the health status and detention status of these individuals. The Attorney General also underscored the importance for proceedings to be opened in the detainees’ natural jurisdictions. Regarding the detention of civilians in military jurisdiction, she said, “We believe it goes against the mandates and principles of the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, as I said before, that it violates the principle of the natural judge, as well as the human rights instruments that have been signed and ratified by the Republic.”

The IACHR expresses its deep concern regarding the use of the punitive power of the State to dissuade, punish, or impede the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and social and political participation in the broadest sense. Specifically, the Inter-American Commission calls to mind that the use of the military criminal jurisdiction to prosecute civilians entails a violation of a series of rights, such as the right to a natural judge, and vitiates judicial guarantees across the entire process, which has serious consequences to the effectiveness of the rule of law.

“We urgently and emphatically call on the State of Venezuela to cease the prosecution of civilians in military courts,” said the IACHR President and Rapporteur for Venezuela, Commissioner Francisco Eguiguren. “It runs contrary to inter-American human rights standards to prosecute civilians in military courts for participating in protests and demonstrations.”

The Commission calls on the Venezuelan authorities, once again and with urgency, to fulfill their international human rights obligations, including the duty to prosecute ordinary crimes in ordinary courts. The Inter-American Commission also urges Venezuela not to use military-style operations, such as Plan Zamora, to control social protests, and to refrain from using armed civilians to control demonstrations. The IACHR reiterates its emphatic call to reject any form of violence and encourage the search for solutions with absolute adherence to 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. 068/17