Press Release

IACHR Observes Persistent Human Rights Issues in Venezuela

April 5, 2019

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Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) observes with concern the constant harassment against human rights defenders and medical staff in Venezuela, as well as the impact that frequent power cuts and the ongoing social and political crisis are having on the Venezuelan people.

The IACHR is still receiving information about constant harassment against human rights defenders, civil society organizations and journalists who report human rights violations. According to the information provided by human rights organizations, a renewed escalation of harassment patterns has been observed since March 11, 2018, following stigmatizing comments made by authorities of the State on several conventional and social media. Based on the reports the Commission has had access to, at least five people who had previously been portrayed in a negative light in TV programs have been arrested a without warrant. The IACHR stresses that comments to stigmatize human rights defenders may contribute to exacerbating the atmosphere of hostility and intolerance they face among certain social groups, which could affect the lives and personal integrity of those defenders and increase their vulnerability. The IACHR therefore calls on the State to end selective, arbitrary arrests of human rights defenders.

The Commission was recently informed of repression conducted against healthcare professionals, university teachers and medical students at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels who work in hospitals operated by the public healthcare system and have been documenting and denouncing the country’s ongoing humanitarian emergency. In particular, based on the information obtained by the Commission, police and military officers and members of informal armed groups known as “colectivos” attacked medical staff who stood up for their rights in hospitals during a visit from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). At least six Health Science university students have seen their right to education violated and have been expelled from the hospital facilities where they worked in disregard of due process. In that context, the IACHR expresses a profound concern about the use of the State’s punitive powers to discourage, punish or prevent the exercise of the rights to protest, freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and social and political participation in the broadest sense, and the right to education. The Commission asks the State to stop criminalizing peaceful protests.

The Commission and its Special Rapporteurship on Economic, Social, Cultural, and Environmental Rights (SRESCER) stress their concern about the serious impact on the human rights of the country’s residents of the blackout that started on March 7, 2019 and continued intermittently until approximately March 13, 2019, and that again affected at least 20 Venezuelan states on March 26-31, 2019. The IACHR calls on the State to immediately address this crisis and to seek ways to counter the effects of the lack of electricity so the power supply may be restored. In particular, the Commission and its SRESCER highlight the serious impact that sustained, persistent power cuts may have on the rights to health and even life of some hospital patients, increasing the risks they face as a consequence of the persisting shortage of medication and medical supplies, ill-functioning equipment, poorly maintained facilities and short staffing in the healthcare sector. The situation is made worse by the lack of a regular supply of water and sanitation services, which can have serious consequences for the right to food (particularly among children, adolescents, older persons and persons which certain illnesses and medical conditions) and even the right to work, as a result of the reduced workday announced by the government to address this issue.

The IACHR and its SRESCER observe with concern that power cuts caused a significant halt in academic activity in March. According to the information provided to the Commission by civil society organizations, primary and secondary school students only had six days of school in March 2019. Concerning higher education institutions, the Commission was informed that autonomous universities had to cancel their activities after every blackout and that no reports have been issued to date about the number of days when they remained closed or about any plans to make up for cancelled academic activities.

The IACHR and its SRESCER stress that the right to education is widely regarded as the symbol of the indivisibility and interdependence of all human rights, since it acts as a catalyst to build critical citizens who are able and willing to participate in the development of individuals and societies and to influence such development. In higher education, the academic freedom of teachers and students and the autonomy of institutions are crucial pillars to strengthen democratic structures and prevent politically driven pressures and interventions. The Commission further stresses that the right to education mitigates the psychosocial impact of situations of emergency or conflict, braces the ability to help people affected by crisis contexts and provides tools to develop stability and to rebuild social networks.

The IACHR also stresses its concern about the closure of border crossings between Venezuela, Colombia and Brazil that was decreed by the Venezuelan State on February 22, 2019, and about the impact that such measures can have on any given person’s right to leave their country’s territory and to seek and obtain asylum. The Commission again calls on the State to take any measures necessary to restore border crossings and to protect all persons’ right to leave Venezuela’s territory and to request and obtain asylum or subsidiary protection.

In this context, the IACHR expresses its concern about the many difficulties and hurdles faced by Venezuelans to obtain or renew passports, as well as to be issued documents including ID cards, birth certificates, certificates of live birth and records of past criminal activity, and to apostille documents. The IACHR continues to receive information that indicates that Venezuelans face various difficulties to obtain or renew such documents. The Commission asks the Venezuelan State to protect the rights to recognition of juridical personality and to an identity by promptly issuing such documents, and to ensure the Venezuelan people’s access to and enjoyment of other rights in Venezuela and in other countries in the region.

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. 091/19