IACHR and RFOE Reject the Registering of Not-For-Profit Organizations with Venezuela's National Office against Organized Crime and Terrorist Financing

April 30, 2021

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Washington, D.C. — The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression (RFOE) reject Administrative Provision No. 001-2021, which requires all not-for-profit organizations in Venezuela to enroll with the Unified Registry of Obligated Subjects before the National Office against Organized Crime and Financing of Terrorism (ONDOFT). In response, they urged the State of Venezuela to overturn this administrative ruling and guarantee nongovernmental organizations freedom of association.

Administrative Ruling No. 001-2021, which was published in Official Gazette No. 42098 on March 30, 2021, requires civil society organizations in Venezuela to register with the ONCDOFT. Among the requirements that organizations must meet to enroll, the ruling establishes that they must disclose any donor organizations and identify the beneficiaries of their work, which may include victims of human rights violations.

On this point, the IACHR and the RFOE warned that requiring not-for-profit organizations to register with the ONCDOFT and provide information on their donors and beneficiaries has the potential to lead to the stigmatization of human rights organizations and defenders. In light of this, they observed that it is not legitimate for antiterrorism legislation to be used to repress the activities of organizations that work to defend human rights. They also noted with concern that following the publication of this provision, State authorities issued statements branding organizations that spoke out against this measure as "financing terrorist actions."

The IACHR and the RFOE are also concerned that not-for-profit organizations must identify the beneficiaries of their activities, which could increase their vulnerability and the risk of becoming victims of reprisals.

Furthermore, the IACHR and the RFOE reiterated that the right to receive funding as part of international cooperation for the defense and promotion of human rights is protected by freedom of association. The United Nations General Assembly has stated that it is legitimate for individuals, groups, and institutions that work to promote and protect human rights to collect donations and contributions from foreign governments and intergovernmental organizations to go about their work.

The IACHR and the RFOE observed that the provision in question is part of an environment that seeks to intimidate individuals and organizations that defend human rights. They also noted the widespread use of smear campaigns, stigmatization, and acts of harassment as retaliation against this work. In its 2020 Annual Report, the IACHR called on the State to ensure that laws seeking to register human rights organizations did not give authorities discretionary powers authorizing whether these organizations could be established and operate, while also guaranteeing that they did not contain vague or ambiguous language that could limit the exercise of the right to association. The State is urged to overturn the administrative provision discussed above, in response to concerns that these measures could be used to repress, legitimize, and stigmatize the work carried out by human rights organizations, while also confirming the breakdown of the rule of law and democracy in the country.

Finally, the IACHR and the RFOE wish to emphasize that how important the work of human rights defenders is to building a solid, lasting, democratic society. They play a central role in the process of achieving full rule of law and strengthening democracy. There is an urgent need for the State of Venezuela to reestablish the rule of law and democratic rule by implementing measures seeking to guarantee the independence and balance of the branches of government, the right to participation in public affairs without discrimination, and citizen control over the actions of the different branches of government.

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. 108/21