Press Release

IACHR Expresses Alarm and Concern over the Death of Captain Rafael Acosta Arévalo in Custody in Venezuela

July 3, 2019

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Washington, DC - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expressed alarm and concern over the death of Captain Rafael Acosta Arévalo while in the custody of the Department of Military Counterintelligence (DGCIM) in Venezuela as a result of probable acts of torture. It urged the authorities to investigate into these events and to prosecute and punish those responsible for them.

According to publicly available information, on June 21, 2019, Captain Acosta Arévalo was arrested by unidentified armed individuals after attending a personal meeting at a shopping mall in the city of Guatire in the state of Miranda, near Caracas. As his family and lawyers received no information as to his whereabouts, they reported him missing. A week later, on Thursday, June 27, Captain Acosta Arévalo and three other members of the armed forces were brought before a military court on a charge of being involved in a plan to assassinate President Nicolás Maduro.

When he appeared in court, there were clear signs that Captain Acosta Arévalo had been subjected to torture. He was in a wheelchair, his fingernails were bloody, he was unable to speak, and only nodded when he was asked if he had been tortured at the DGCIM. He was transferred to hospital, where he died as a result of his critical condition. The Minister of Communication has announced in a note that the government has requested an investigation into his death. His family and lawyers have not been given access to his body.

On May 22, 2019, the IACHR expressed concern over the worsening of the conditions in which prisoners are being held at the DGCM, in light of the ongoing information it has been receiving regarding acts of violence and unacceptable conditions of detention. These were reported in the precautionary measure currently in force (link in Spanish) and included alleged torture or cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, isolation and incommunicado detention, and worsening circumstances for some of the beneficiaries of the precautionary measure.

The IACHR once again stresses that as the guarantor of the fundamental rights of people deprived of their liberty in Venezuela, the state is legally bound to take concrete steps to guarantee the life and personal integrity of all such people. In this regard, the IACHR wishes to stress that states are obliged to initiate ex officio investigations into all deaths of people in its custody and conduct these with due diligence. These investigations should not only seek to establish who was responsible for carrying out the crimes in question but should also identify those who may have masterminded them and any authorities who by their actions or omissions may also be responsible. The IACHR stated once again that all forms of torture are absolutely prohibited and that states are obliged to conduct investigations that meet international standards on the matter in relation to any cases of torture or other situations in which there is good reason to believe that torture has taken place.

“We wish to remind the state of its obligation to respect the physical and psychological integrity of all people in its custody and to guarantee their safety. All people in state custody must be allowed access to their families and legal representatives,” said Commissioner Joel Hernández, rapporteur on the rights of people deprived of their liberty and for the prevention and combating of torture.

Commissioner Francisco Eguiguren, Rapporteur for Venezuela, said that “it is the duty of the state to conduct a transparent, impartial, independent, effective investigation into these allegations. Impunity facilitates repetition.” The president of the IACHR, Commissioner Esmeralda Arosemena de Troitińo, added that “the IACHR condemns torture and expects all states to commit to combating it.”

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 and to defend 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. 167/19