Press Release

IACHR Expresses Concern about Lack of Representation of Indigenous Peoples in National Assembly of Venezuela

July 29, 2016

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and its Rapporteurship on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples express their concern regarding the situation faced by the indigenous peoples of the State of Amazonas, and of the country’s Southern Indigenous Region in general, who have not had representation in the National Assembly since January 5, 2016, because of an injunction (amparo cautelar) handed down by the Electoral Chamber of the Supreme Court (Tribunal Supremo de Justicia) on December 30, 2015.

On December 6, 2015, along with the rest of the country’s voters, the indigenous peoples of Amazonas and the Southern Indigenous Region elected their representatives, members of different political movements, to the National Assembly. However, the indigenous peoples of Amazonas and the Southern Indigenous Region were the only ones who saw their right to participation undermined. While challenges were also filed in other electoral circuits to contest the election of certain representatives, only Amazonas and the Southern Indigenous Region saw their elected representatives suspended from taking office while the case was heard by the Supreme Court.

It is of enormous concern to the IACHR and to this Rapporteurship that the indigenous peoples of these regions are currently afflicted with problems that make them especially vulnerable, while being unable to exercise their right to political participation by means of their representatives to the National Assembly , in order to put forward their concerns and propose solutions. Today they are facing a serious situation involving shortages of food and medicine; limited access to health care services, drinking water, and electricity; and risks to their personal integrity and personal liberty, which have reached a particularly serious level in this region, in comparison with the situation affecting the rest of Venezuela’s population. Those who live in the Southern Indigenous Region are even more vulnerable due to the virtual inexistence of independent media that reflect the reality they are going through.

The state of Amazonas is home to the richest ethnological culture in Venezuela, as it includes 20 indigenous ethnic groups, differentiated by their own languages and customs. In Amazonas, indigenous languages of the Arawak, Carib, Yanomami, and other families of languages are spoken. The ethnic groups that live in Amazonas include the Yanomami, the Maquiritare or Yekuana, the Piaroa, and the Guahibo. The vast distances separating all these communities from each other—and each of them from the main population centers that have access to services—make their living conditions more vulnerable. This is exacerbated when their geographical isolation, caused by the region’s rivers and other natural factors that make communications difficult, is combined with the political isolation brought about by the injunction adopted more than six months ago by the Electoral Chamber of the Supreme Court.

The concerned indigenous peoples filed an opposition to the injunction ordered by the Electoral Chamber, but no ruling has been issued in the matter, notwithstanding the expiration of the  deadline provided by law. This unquestionably affects the indigenous peoples’ right to participation, as the legislative representatives whom they elected and who were proclaimed winners by the National Electoral Council have not been able to fulfill their duties as representatives to the National Assembly in the first six months of their mandate. Moreover, they have not been able to defend themselves in a timely and therefore effective manner against the injunction in question, and no judicial decision has been adopted declaring the election result or said election to be null and void. The mere fact that the legal challenge to the injunction has to run its course should not result in all the indigenous peoples of the region being left without representation in the National Assembly for such a long and indefinite amount of time. .

The IACHR calls upon the authorities of the Venezuelan State to ensure that, in accordance with due process guarantees, legal challenges seeking to invalidate an election do not strip the indigenous peoples of these regions of their right to representation while the relevant judicial procedures run their course.

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. 107/16