Press Release

IACHR Urges the State of Venezuela to Guarantee the Rights of all Persons under its Jurisdiction

May 10, 2013

Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has closely followed the situation in Venezuela after the presidential elections held on April 14, 2013, and it expresses deep concern regarding the serious acts of violence that have taken place, including those that occurred on April 30 in the National Assembly. The Inter-American Commission calls on the State to urgently adopt all necessary measures to guarantee the rights to life and integrity, as well as political rights, the right to assembly, and the rights to freedom of association and freedom of expression in this context.

The IACHR has received troubling allegations during the last few weeks involving violent deaths, acts of aggression for political reasons, attacks to headquarters of public and private institutions, repression of public protests using excessive and disproportionate use of force, alleged arbitrary arrests, prohibition of public protests, intimidation of State employees based on their political opinions, and restrictions on freedom of expression, among others. In addition, according to the available information, several persons were injured by serious aggressions suffered on April 30 in the National Assembly of Venezuela, in a context in which the National Assembly President refused to allow Congressmen and Congresswomen who did not proclaim their recognition of Nicolás Maduro as President the right to speak.

When the Inter-American Commission learned of the acts of violence after the April 14 elections, it requested information from the State based on the authority of Article 41 of the American Convention on Human Rights. Specifically, the Commission requested information on the identification of the persons who allegedly died during the acts of violence that occurred after the elections and on any criminal investigations conducted into these facts; the identification of the persons who had been detained, the legal basis on which these arrests were made, the authorities in charge of these persons and their location; the health of the detained persons and any medical assistance offered to persons who may have been injured; on the existence of investigations into the alleged disproportionate use of force to control the protests on April 15 and 16; on the existence of investigations into the alleged aggressions suffered by journalists, the destruction of materials and violence against media outlets on April 14, 15 and 16; and on the labor guarantees in place to prevent retaliation due to the exercise of the right to freedom of expression or the free exercise of the right to vote. The IACHR thanks the State for sending a response to this request for information.

In its response, received on May 8, the State informed that according to the Attorney General’s Office, 9 persons died and 78 were injured. For their part, civil society organizations have informed that 13 persons were allegedly killed during the acts of violence. The State quotes the Attorney General’s statement that “the victims are sympathizers of chavismo who were attacked by groups linked to the opposition;” it also reports that the judicial investigations into these facts are still ongoing. For their part, civil society organizations have informed the IACHR about deaths and injuries that resulted from the alleged excessive and disproportionate use of force by the National Guard, as well as allegedly arbitrary arrests of members of the opposition, facts that were not referred to in the State’s response. The State informed that a joint commission of the National Assembly has been formed to investigate the violent events of April 15 and 16.

The Commission calls on the State to initiate investigation into all the deaths and violent acts reported, and to take all steps to guarantee that the investigations underway are conducted with diligence and impartiality. The State must punish those persons whose responsibility has been determined by competent, independent, and impartial tribunals that respect due process guarantees.

The Commission recalls that the rights of assembly and freedom of expression are fundamental rights guaranteed in the American Convention on Human Rights, and are essential for the existence and functioning of a democratic society. In this sense, the protection of such rights entails the obligation of the state not to interfere with the exercise of the right of assembly or association, but also requires, in certain circumstances, positive measures by the state to ensure the effective exercise of these rights, for example, by protecting the participants in a demonstration from physical attacks by third parties. In addition, any restriction of these rights must be justified by an imperative social interest. In this sense, the States may impose reasonable limitations on protests with the objective of ensuring that they are peacefully carried out, so long as such limits are governed by the principles of legality, necessity and proportionality. Moreover, the actions of state agents must not discourage the rights to assembly and freedom of expression, so dispersion of a protest may only be justified by the duty to protect people, and the methods to be adopted must be those that are the safest and that cause the least harm to the protesters. The use of force in public demonstrations should be exceptional and strictly necessary in accordance with internationally recognized principles. Criminalizing legitimate mobilization and social protest and the exercise of freedom of expression, whether through direct repression of the demonstrators or through an investigation and criminal prosecution, is incompatible with a democratic society in which persons have the right to express their opinion. In this sense, the Commission expresses its deep concern at the violent events that allegedly took place, which represent serious obstacles for the citizen participation that is indispensable in any democracy.

On another note, the American Convention on Human Rights establishes that every person has the right to take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives; and the right to vote and to be elected in genuine periodic elections, which should be universal, through equal suffrage and by secret ballot that guarantees the free expression of the will of the voters. In that sense, the Inter-American Court has emphasized that opposition voices are essential in a democratic society; and that without them it is not possible to reach agreements that satisfy the different visions that prevail in society. Hence, in a democratic society states must guarantee the effective participation of members of the opposition, groups and political parties by means of appropriate laws, regulations and practices that enable them to have real and effective access to the different deliberative mechanisms on equal terms, but also by the adoption of the required measures to guarantee the full exercise of participation, taking into consideration the situation of vulnerability of the members of some social groups or sectors.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights urges the State to comply with the duty to investigate, promptly and impartially and with full respect for due process, all the acts of violence, harassment, threats, illegitimate pressure and intimidation against State employees that may have taken place, and to try and punish those who perpetrated and masterminded them.

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. 35/13