Press Release

IACHR Expresses Alarm over Intimidation in Venezuela directed against People Who Come before the Inter-American Human Rights System

March 20, 2015

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses its alarm over the fact that some people in Venezuela are being singled out, intimidated, and discredited as a result of having exercised their right to come before the inter-American human rights system.

The IACHR received information indicating that several people who came to the IACHR to talk about various issues related to human rights in Venezuela have been singled out by high-level State authorities, and specific information was reportedly given out regarding where they could be found at certain dates and times. Specifically, the President of the National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello—speaking on the television program “Con el Mazo Dando” on the State-run channel VTV, which ran on February 11, 2015—mentioned the individuals who were going to participate in the Commission’s hearing in March. On that TV program’s website, this information is published under the title “Extreme Right NGO in Alliance with IACHR Commissioner to Sanction the Program ‘Con el Mazo Dando.’” The same site posted photographs of six human rights defenders, a logo of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and, superimposed on the photo of the President of the National Assembly, the image of a telescopic sight similar to the kind used to shoot at a target. The articles refer to the participation in Commission hearings of Marco Antonio Ponce, of the Observatorio Venezolano de Conflictividad Social (OVC); Rafael Uzcátegui, of the Programa Venezolano de Educación-Acción en Derechos Humanos (PROVEA); Ligia Bolívar, of the Centro de Derechos Humanos de la Universidad Católica Andrés Bello (UCAB); Carlos Nietos, of Una Ventana para la Libertad; Rocío San Miguel, of Control Ciudadano; Carlos Correa, of Espacio Público; Liliana Ortega, of COFAVIC, a committee of relatives of victims of the events that took place from February 27 to early March, 1989.

In addition, this week the websites of Radio Sur TV and the program “Con el Mazo Dando” published the date and time of arrival to the Caracas airport of several individuals who participated in hearings and other events during the IACHR’s 154th session. The individuals mentioned in February were once again singled out, including Marco Ponce, Rafael Uzcátegui, Carlos Correa, and Liliana Ortega, as well as Humberto Prado, of the Observatorio Venezolano de Prisiones (OVP); Aurelio Fernández Cochenzo, of Transparencia Venezuela; and Feliciano Reina, of CODEVIDA. The title of the piece was “Marco Antonio Ponce (OVC) Heads List of NGOs Traveling to Washington DC and Miami to Conspire against the Government of Venezuela.” The article states that these individuals “headed off to the Empire,” and includes a photograph of someone in line at the airport.

The Commission has also learned that the President of the National Assembly and other Venezuelan government representatives had previously made statements against human rights defenders for their role in observing and reporting human rights violations in the country, calling them conspirators and destabilizers, among other names.

The Inter-American Commission urges public officials to refrain from making statements that stigmatize human rights defenders or suggest that human rights organizations are acting improperly or illegally, merely for engaging in their work to promote and defend human rights. It is absolutely unacceptable for a State to take any type of reprisal due to the participation or activities of individuals or organizations before the bodies of the inter-American human rights system, in the exercise of their rights under the Convention. As Article 63 of the Rules of Procedure of the IACHR establishes, States “shall grant the necessary guarantees to all the persons who attend a hearing or who in the course of a hearing provide information, testimony or evidence of any type to the Commission,” and they “may not prosecute the witnesses or experts, or carry out reprisals against them or their family members because of their statements or expert opinions given before the Commission.”

In this regard, the Commission urges the State to guarantee that these defenders can return to Venezuela safely, without being the target of reprisals for having provided information in hearings or meetings during the Inter-American Commission’s session, and that they can thus freely continue their work of defending human rights.

The work of human rights defenders is fundamental for the full existence of democracy and the rule of law. Human rights defenders are an essential pillar for the strengthening and consolidation of democracies, since the purpose that motivates their work involves society in general, and seeks to benefit society. Statements that stigmatize human rights defenders take away credibility and legitimacy from their work, threaten their essential role in the consolidation of the rule of law and the strengthening of democracy, and have the effect of deterring the promotion and protection of 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. 032/15