Press Release

IACHR expresses deep concern over the situation with respect to the right to peaceful protest, freedom of association and freedom of expression in Venezuela

February 21, 2014

Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has continued to monitor and gather information on the events that have transpired in Venezuela in recent days, and reiterates that it is profoundly disturbed by various complaints alleging violations of the demonstrators’ rights to peaceful protest and their rights to life and humane treatment, personal liberty, freedom of association and freedom of expression.

The Commission has been particularly attentive to the serious complaints of alleged attacks by armed civilians against the demonstrators, during continued protests taking place in the country. In that context, a number of people were injured and one was killed when shot during the demonstrations staged in the city of Valencia on Tuesday, February 18. Also, according to figures provided by the Ministry of Interior, Justice and Peace, four people were injured bullet and another died in protests in the city of Puerto Ordaz, Wednesday 19. Similarly, the available information refers on activities of these groups in alleged raids made at the headquarters of a political party in Venezuela.

The IACHR condemns any action of this nature and calls upon the Venezuelan authorities to step up measures aimed at ensuring that these groups are effectively disarmed, that their unlawful actions are investigated and punished and that public safety is guaranteed. The IACHR appreciates that the President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro, has publicly condemned these acts of violence and made a call to disarm these groups.

The Commission also expresses concern over the complaints reportedly persist alleging an excessive and disproportionate use of force by State security agents, and that a number of people are said to have been injured as result of the repressive measures used against the demonstrators. Similarly, the IACHR has followed the situation of a large number of persons, minors among them, who are said to have been detained since the demonstrations held on Wednesday, February 12 and thereafter. The information available and brought to the Commission’s attention, involves cases of arrests made without a court order, failure to bring the arrested person before a judicial authority promptly, supposed delays in the initial contact with attorneys and family members, and alleged mistreatment of some persons when detained by State agents and while in their custody.

Furthermore, the IACHR has received troubling information concerning alleged arrests of journalists while they were covering the protests, physical assaults against their person, and the supposed destruction or seizure of journalistic materials by members of the police and military. Similarly, the IACHR continue to monitor the alleged media blackout in Venezuela, in which the Venezuelan authorities have repeated their warnings that sanctions and the suspension of media broadcasting will be applied based on the type of media coverage of the situation in Venezuela. There are also complaints about the alleged suspension of Internet service in the state of Tachira, which would prevent access to information to the people of that entity.

The Inter-American Commission would remind the Venezuelan authorities that in a democratic society, adequate guarantees must be in place to ensure that the public can rely on a pluralistic and diverse reporting, especially on issues of public interest and national events.

The Commission has also taken cognizance of the initiation of criminal proceedings that are reportedly getting underway against some leaders of the Venezuelan opposition for having had a hand in calling for the protests in the country. In this context, the head of the Voluntad Popular political party, Leopoldo López, was arrested and brought before the Judiciary, after high-level Government spokespersons publicly blamed him for the events that occurred during the demonstrations on Wednesday, February 12.

As the IACHR has observed, the State has a duty to conduct investigations ex officio, to shed light on the events that have occurred in recent days and to establish any blame there may be. In this sense, the judicial proceedings must be conducted diligently and in an impartial manner, and observe all the guarantees of due process. Also, the Commission reiterates that the alleged use of the State’s punitive power to criminalize human rights defenders and peaceful social protest and to criminally prosecute critics or political dissidents is deeply disturbing.

The Commission regrets that there has been further violence and reiterates its call for the State to promote a process of dialogue to find a solution in the context of a democratic society and with full respect for 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. 17/14