Press Release

IACHR Alarmed by Arrests in the Context of Protests in Venezuela

February 1, 2019

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) is alarmed by mass repression against demonstrators in Venezuela, and by worrying figures of arbitrary arrests in the context of social protests over the past week. The IACHR urges State institutions to end repression, protect the rights of all persons deprived of their liberty and, in particular, immediately release anyone who has been arbitrarily arrested.

Based on the information obtained by the IACHR, Venezuelan authorities detained in January 21-31, 2019 a total of 943 people in at least 22 of the country’s states, especially in the Capital District, Aragua, Zulia and Bolívar. The arrested people were placed in the custody of the security forces in the context of recent demonstrations and protests. Some were even detained near the sites of such protests, in many cases in politically motivated raids by the security forces that sought to repress demonstrators, according to the allegations heard by the Commission.

Such raids were being conducted at night and in the early hours, following protests, in several cities around the country, and also in poorer neighborhoods. According to the available information, officers of the State—with the assistance of neighborhood councils—identify the people who attend demonstrations and raid their homes to arrest them. Such detentions are done without the mandatory arrest warrants and without the court warrants required to enter and search the homes in question. Persons who are detained are also allegedly not being informed of the reasons for their arrest. In the context of such operations, there have been complaints about illegal searches, arbitrary arrests, abuse and an excessive use of force during arrests, stigmatization and persecution of opposition activists. All that has been done with a significant involvement of the Special Action Forces (FAES, by their Spanish acronym), and also by the Bolivarian National Guard, the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN), the General Department of Military Counterintelligence (DGCIM), state and local police officers, and even groups of armed civilians.

According to data published by the organization Foro Penal Venezolano, of the 943 detained persons, 120 were minors aged 12-16. The IACHR further notes that, to date, at least 710 detainees, including 26 teenagers, have been prescribed with various criminal charges including terrorism. In this regard, the IACHR has learned of the various releases that have taken place in recent days; however, it emphasizes that, according to available information, a large number of these persons are allegedly still subject to different types of precautionary measures within criminal processes. There are also complaints that detained persons have not been allowed to communicate with their families and legal counsel before being taken before court and before hearing the public prosecutor’s charges, as well as allegations about violations of detainees’ right to personal integrity while they are in the custody of security officers.

The Commission further notes the complaint filed by Ediluh Guedez Ochoa, judge in charge of juvenile criminal responsibility supervision court 1 in the state of Yaracuy. The judge alleges that she was subjected to undue pressure to get her to incarcerate 11 adolescents who were taken before her after being arrested in the context of the protests. According to the available information, Judge Guedez Ochoa was removed from her position.

Further, according to Foro Penal Venezolano, there are currently 983 “political prisoners” in the country, considering 273 political prisoners who had been arrested before January 21, 2019 and 710 who have been deprived of their liberty since then. The IACHR warns that several people arrested in earlier protests in the country who were believed to be deprived of their liberty for political reasons were not released by the authorities despite having obtained the required release warrants.

These events happen in the context of the political, social and economic crisis in Venezuela and, more specifically, in the escalation of violence that is apparent since January 21, 2019. In particular, the Commission expresses—as it has done in the past—its concern about the persistent use of arbitrary arrests by officers of the State in Venezuela, as a means to repress social protests, and of the criminalization of people who exercise their right to social protest and freedom of expression.

“The IACHR expresses a profound concern about constant allegations of practices that amount to torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment committed in the context of incarceration, and also about allegations of violations of due process that include prosecuting civilians before military criminal courts”, the IACHR President, Commissioner Margarette May Macaulay, said.

The IACHR stresses that an arrest is arbitrary and illegal whenever it is conducted beyond the reasons and formalities established by law, when it is executed without observing the standards required by law, and when it is done without the authority to conduct such a detention, that is, when it is carried out with ends that differ from those established and prescribed by law. In particular, States must ensure that detainees are given precise information about the reasons for their arrest, that they are taken before a judge and that their families are informed about their condition and about where they are being detained. The Commission urges the State to ensure due process for detainees and to immediately release anyone subjected to an arbitrary detention.

The IACHR further expresses a profound concern about the use of the State’s punitive powers to discourage, punish or prevent the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and social and political participation in the broadest sense.

“General prohibitions of the exercise of the right to take part in peaceful protests cannot be used to justify surveillance, arrests and subjection to criminal proceedings for demonstrators or social leaders purely for expressing their opinions about a government policy or measure,” said the IACHR Rapporteur for Venezuela, Commissioner Francisco Eguiguren.

“An arrest that is based solely on participation in a demonstration or public protest is in itself arbitrary and incompatible with the international obligations of the Venezuelan State,” said Commissioner Joel Hernández, Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty. “In this context, the State must urgently protect the rights of incarcerated persons and immediately release them,” Hernández stressed. Commissioner Esmeralda Arosemena de Troitiño, Rapporteur on the Rights of the Child, noted: “The Venezuelan State must urgently take measures to protect the rights of all children and adolescents, especially their rights to life, health and personal integrity, and to end all arbitrary detentions against them.”

Given the gradual weakening of democratic institutions in Venezuela, the IACHR has also stressed the essential role of the judiciary in that country, to oversee whether the actions of other State powers and of the courts are indeed constitutional. In this context, given allegations of retaliation and harassment against court authorities, the IACHR stresses that such events send a strong signal to society and to other judges that indicates that the judiciary is not free to make decisions against the interests of the government, since any judge who makes such decisions risks being removed from their positions.

“The Commission installed a permanent situation room to follow up on the situation on Venezuela and insists on the request it has sent the Venezuelan State to be allowed to conduct an on-site visit the country,” said the Executive Secretary, Paulo Abrão.

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 and to defend 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. 022/19