Press Release

IACHR Presents Preliminary Observations and Recommendations Following Historic On-Site Visit to Monitor the Human Rights Situation in Venezuela

May 8, 2020

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Washington, D.C. - Between February 5 and 8, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) made a historic on-site visit to Venezuela to monitor the human rights situation in the country. The visit had been initially scheduled to take place between February 4 and 7 in the cities of Caracas and Maracaibo, but instead happened in the city of Cúcuta, Colombia, on the border with Venezuela after Venezuelan authorities refused to allow the IACHR to enter the country.

The IACHR has spoken out emphatically against this impediment, noting that authoritarian regimes typically refuse to allow international scrutiny or observation of human rights situations.

The IACHR is grateful to the state of Colombia for its openness and support for the mission. The IACHR noted that Colombia has received more than 1.6 million migrants from Venezuela—more than any other country. For this reason, the visit paid particular attention to the human rights situation of people who had been forced to leave Venezuela as a result of the serious social, political, and human rights crisis there.

The IACHR also acknowledged and expressed its appreciation for the efforts of representatives of Venezuelan and Colombian civil society organizations and human rights defenders and social leaders, and the victims of human rights violations and their families who took part in the visit by providing valuable information and testimonies.

The IACHR mission was headed by the country rapporteur for Venezuela, Commissioner Esmeralda Arosemena de Troitiño, and the rapporteur on the rights of migrants, Commissioner Julissa Mantilla Falcón. The delegation also included the special rapporteur for freedom of expression, Edison Lanza; the special rapporteur for economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights (ESCERs), Soledad García Muñoz; the executive secretary, Paulo Abrão; and a team of experts from the IACHR’s executive secretariat.

To draft these preliminary observations, the IACHR has analyzed the information gathered on an ongoing basis through its own mechanisms, the testimonies gathered during the visit, and the documentation provided in the field by different civil society sources, international organizations, and other stakeholders. The IACHR expressed its regret over the Venezuelan state’s unwillingness to allow the visit and over the lack of official information to contrast with that which was obtained during this.

To strengthen its monitoring activity in Venezuela and respond in a timely manner to the new challenges posed by the serious human rights crisis in the country, the IACHR created the Special Follow-Up Mechanism for Venezuela (MESEVE) in October 2019. MESEVE continually monitors the human rights situation in the country and has also followed up on the recommendations that have been made to the state, promoting and supporting activities that seek to strengthen Venezuelan civil society.

On February 5, the IACHR held meetings in Bogotá with Venezuelan and Colombian civil society organizations, exiled journalists, and groups of people who have been forced to migrate from Venezuela as a consequence of the humanitarian and human rights crisis. The IACHR then traveled to the border city of Cúcuta. In the days it spent in and around the city, the IACHR visited the Simón Bolívar International Bridge, the Erasmo Meoz University Hospital, the Scalabriniana Mission, and a humanitarian canteen that provides daily food rations for over 4,000 migrants.

On February 6 and 7, the IACHR held numerous meetings in Cúcuta with exiled congresspeople and journalists, groups of victims living in Colombia, and others who travel to the meetings from Venezuela, particularly from the states of Táchira and Zulia. The IACHR also held working meetings with international organizations such as the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The IACHR also held online meetings with civil society organizations and victims’ groups from different cities in and outside of Venezuela.

Working from the city of Cúcuta, an IACHR team gathered documentary information, audiovisual material, and nearly 70 testimonies from people who reported human rights violations that have taken place in Venezuela, which add to the 130 online testimonies that the IACHR has received at its headquarters. The IACHR noted that many people traveled from Venezuela in vulnerable conditions to provide the delegation with information.

On Saturday, February 8, the IACHR continued its monitoring work from Bogotá, where it held meetings with organizations that defend the rights of migrant girls and women, which have documented the differentiated gender impact of this complex humanitarian crisis. It also met with associations of relatives of victims of extrajudicial executions that took place during the repression of social protests and citizen security operations.

The IACHR has monitored the human rights situation in Venezuela closely through its different mechanisms, including the petition and case system, precautionary measures, public hearings, press releases, and special reports. On this occasion, as was announced previously, the information gathered by the IACHR during the on-site visit will be used to draft a country report on the human rights situation in Venezuela.


It is the IACHR’s opinion that the deepening political and social crisis in the country and the backdrop of widespread repression has resulted in an absence of the rule of law in Venezuela. Specifically, in its 2017 Country Report, the IACHR found that the complex, multicausal problems that the Venezuelan state is currently experiencing originated in the undue interference of the Executive Branch of government in the other branches of power, among other factors. This situation is detrimental to the separation and balance of powers and is leading to serious restrictions and limitations on democratic rule.

The violation of the principle of the separation of powers is evident in the lack of judicial independence and the overreaching of the functions of the National Constituent Assembly. Further indications of the absence of a functioning system of checks and balances include the fact that the Office of the President continues to exercise extraordinary powers and has extended the state of emergency more than 20 times since 2016 without the approval of the National Assembly, which is required by the Constitution. This has taken place in a context of systematic persecution of dissidents that has entailed the militarization of public security, the excessive use of force to suppress protests over food shortages, interruptions to public services, and shortages of basic goods, among other things.

The IACHR has also noted that the enjoyment of civil and political rights continues to deteriorate in the country, particularly the exercise of freedom of expression and the right to participate in public affairs. There have been continuing reports of violent deaths during demonstrations; arbitrary arrests of dissidents and people who publicly express their disagreement with the government; repression and undue restrictions on protest; dismissals and threats to public-sector employees as punishment for dissent; stigmatization and harassment of journalists, political opponents, human rights defenders, and citizens in general; the use of criminal law and other punitive controls to sanction or discredit the work of political dissidents and media outlets that criticize the government; and of obstacles to accessing information of public interest.

The IACHR is particularly concerned over the attacks on and persecution of opposition representatives at the National Assembly. The IACHR noted that while the harassment of political representatives is nothing new in Venezuela, this has intensified since the 2015 elections, when the opposition to Nicolás Maduro’s administration won a large majority of seats in the National Assembly. Since then, the Supreme Court of Justice has systematically overturned the bills passed by the National Assembly and referred its decisions to the Public Prosecutor’s Office so that the latter can open criminal investigations into the representatives in question.

In turn, the Constituent National Assembly has been suspending the parliamentary immunity of opposition representatives without following due process of law and without clear authority to do so. Senior government leaders such as Diosdado Cabello have continued to speak out publicly against human rights defenders and representatives who identify with the opposition, which has contributed to creating a climate that is hostile to defending human rights and exercising the right to participate in government. The IACHR warned that these events are contributing to a widespread climate of hostility toward engaging in politics and expressing oneself in public, which jeopardizes democratic pluralism and public order.

Judicial independence in Venezuela remains in grave jeopardy because many judges are in office on a provisional basis or have been appointed without the official legal procedures having been followed. Another situation that is of particular concern to the IACHR is the prosecution of civilians in military tribunals by invoking offenses such as treason and rebellion in response to demonstrations and protests. The IACHR once again noted that the scope of military tribunals is limited and that these are not competent to try civilians.

As a result of the militarization of public security in Venezuela, there continue to be reports of extrajudicial executions and operations that involve the excessive and lethal use of force, in addition to searches without warrants and attacks on homes. This has caused severe damage to Venezuelans’ lives, personal integrity, private property, and the right to a fair trial. On this point, the IACHR has clearly stated that in any democratic system, it is essential that there be a clear and specific separation between domestic security, which is the role of the police force, and national defense, which is the role of the armed forces. These two institutions are fundamentally different in terms of both the purposes for which they were created and the training that their members receive. The history of the Americas has shown that intervention by the armed forces in domestic security matters usually goes hand-in-hand with human rights violations and violence. Experience thus advises against armed forces intervening in domestic security matters as this entails the risk of human rights violations.

The IACHR also noted with particular concern that the enjoyment of and access to economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights (ESCERs) continue to deteriorate in Venezuela. Food and medicine shortages, coupled with the constant interruptions to water, gas, and electricity services, have had serious impacts on the rights to health, food, and education. One example of this are outbreaks of preventable, life-threatening diseases. The state’s response to this scenario has been inadequate, which had particularly severe consequences for children, pregnant women, and the elderly.

The IACHR is particularly concerned by how the widespread repression has intensified and the human rights crisis worsened since it published its report in 2017. Broadly speaking, the indefinite, unrestricted extension of the state of emergency, the suspension of the powers of the democratically elected National Assembly, the lack of judicial independence, the overreaching of the functions of the Constituent National Assembly, the lack of guarantees for holding free, democratic elections, and the general lack of subordination of state institutions to civil authority are all clear indications of alterations to the constitutional order. This is compounded by a widespread humanitarian crisis that has impacted the enjoyment of ESCERs and has caused millions of Venezuelans to migrate.


During its visit to the border, the IACHR observed first-hand with extreme concern how the effects of the humanitarian crisis are one of the factors behind the displacement of millions of Venezuelans. Migration from Venezuela is currently one of the largest migration and asylum-related challenges in the Americas. To date, the number of people who have been forced to migrate from Venezuela as a survival mechanism in response to the serious humanitarian crisis the country is experiencing now amounts to more than 4.9 million Venezuelans, 1.77 million of whom have migrated to Colombia, where they have a range of migratory statuses, according to data from the Coordination Platform for Refugees and Migrants from Venezuela (R4V). Likewise, according to the figures provided by UNHCR and the IOM, the number of Venezuelan migrants and refugees could reach more than 6.5 million people by the end of 2020, including 1.9 million children, compared to the 1.18 million recorded by UNICEF in 2019.

The IACHR observed and received testimonies that reveal the precarious situation in which certain groups of people who have historically suffered discrimination and exclusion find themselves, as is the case for children and adolescents, women, pregnant women, older people, people living in poverty, people with disabilities, indigenous peoples, LGBTI people, and people of African descent, among others. In view of the particular risks faced by these groups, which put them in extremely vulnerable situations with implications for their human rights, the IACHR deemed that the impact of forced migration must be addressed through a differentiated approach.

Based on the information gathered during its visit, including numerous testimonies and meetings with different stakeholders, the IACHR observed that the humanitarian crisis Venezuela is experiencing has multiple causes, and can thus be described as a complex, serious, multidimensional humanitarian crisis. According to the reports the IACHR received, the crisis entails economic, social, and institutional factors that include the contraction of the economy and hyperinflation; frequent interruptions to public services such as electricity, drinking water, gas, and sewerage and sanitation; the rapid deterioration of health services; a serious food security crisis; shortages of medicines, especially for chronic diseases; and insecurity, instability, and political persecution.

The IACHR has also warned that there is a direct relationship between the deterioration of the economic and social situation in the country and the precarious human rights situation, as was demonstrated by the World Food Programme’s survey to evaluate food security in Venezuela, which was carried out between July and September 2019. According to this assessment, around one-third of the Venezuelan population is experiencing food insecurity, and 7.9% of the total population (2.3 million people) are experiencing serious food insecurity.

According to information from the Central Bank of Venezuela (BCV), inflation allegedly reached 9,585.50% annually by 2019 and totaled 130,060.2% between 2016 and 2019. Certain public services, including essential services, were hit even harder by inflation in 2019, such as housing costs (22,045.50%) and healthcare (17,872.40%). Although inflation was below average for food and nonalcoholic beverages, it remained high (7,981.40%), revealing the deterioration in the possibility of accessing essential goods. The International Monetary Fund estimated that the country’s GDP may shrink by 25% in 2020.

The IACHR noted that UNICEF included Venezuela in its Humanitarian Action for Children report for the first time in 2019 as a result of the deepening of the humanitarian crisis, which has worsened due to the economic situation. According to UNICEF data, one out of every three children requires humanitarian aid, which means that 3.2 million children need food, medicine, and education. Save the Children’s Global Childhood Report 2019 ranked Venezuela 131st (of 176 countries that were evaluated) on its End of Childhood Index. The IACHR was able to corroborate this worrying situation during its on-site visit, when it received testimonies that pointed to conclusions regarding the weakness of essential services such as healthcare and education and interruptions to these. It received information that hundreds of children and adolescents have to travel daily over the border to the Colombian city of Cúcuta to access schools and basic social assistance services.

During its visit, the IACHR observed dramatic scenes of Venezuelans on the streets of Cúcuta, at the Erasmo Meoz University Hospital, at humanitarian canteens, and at the border itself. The IACHR noted with great concern the risk faced by those who cross the border daily formally or informally in search of access to basic health services, education, and to engage in some form of economic activity.

In addition to this circular migration, the IACHR observed intense flows of migrants who intended to stay permanently in Colombia, which comprised people of an economically active age. The IACHR noted that the circumstances suggest that many of these people may be leaving behind population groups that require care and intergenerational support, and there is a risk that this situation will have a disproportionate effect on women and girls and the elderly.

The IACHR is concerned that the humanitarian and institutional crisis and the deterioration of living conditions are placing women and girls at risk of suffering various forms of sexual violence in a context in which sexist stereotypes toward women’s bodies prevail. As a result, the current scenario facilitates sexual violence associated with human trafficking, induction into prostitution, and extortion. For example, the IACHR has become aware of reports documenting cases of women who have been forced to exchange sex acts for food.

During the on-site visit, it also noted that many young pregnant women migrate alone or in the company of their children or other women. This situation attracted the IACHR’s attention not only because this group is particularly vulnerable but also because, due to the gender stereotyping that women tend to face, they are disproportionately responsible for caring for the home, the sick, and the elderly. In this sense, the fact that women are migrating under adverse conditions can be taken as a new indicator of how widespread and severe the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela now is.

This migratory behavior is very different from circular migration to access education and healthcare in terms of both the length of migrants’ stay and their need for ongoing care and assistance and employment opportunities. This situation also suggests that many women perceive that the humanitarian crisis will not be solved in the short term and indicates that they no longer have protection and support networks in their country of origin and have been forced to restart their lives under adverse circumstances.

The IACHR was also struck by the fact that many pregnant young Venezuelan women crossing the border already have several children. In this regard, the IACHR was already aware of the shortage of contraceptive methods in Venezuela, which restricts women’s reproductive autonomy. On this point, the IACHR condemned recent statements by state authorities calling on Venezuelan women to have six children each for the benefit of the country. The IACHR warned that such statements reinforce gender stereotypes, encourage acts of violence, and hinder women from exercising their reproductive autonomy.

With regard to access to health and Venezuela, the IACHR verified that there is an absence of clear, precise, reliable information on the health situation and the health system. This lack of transparency makes vulnerable groups invisible and prevents people from understanding the scale of the current crisis and the public policies being designed to address it. During the on-site visit, the IACHR gathered information on the precariousness of the country’s health services. For example, pregnant women reported on the absence of prenatal checkups, while others stated that to access these and give birth in Venezuela, they had to take their own surgical instruments and prophylactic equipment to the hospital.

Likewise, according to a testimony from a civil society representative, “people living in Venezuela who suffer from a medical pathology are unable to purchase medicines or medical supplies and access treatment, which is compounded by the lack of economic resources to accessing food and basic services (...). The minimum wage is $2 per month and inflation is so high that all that this buys is 1.5 kg of bread flour. Most of the population cannot access fruit and vegetables, let alone meat, which costs $3.50 per kilogram in the state of Táchira. Costs are three times higher in other states, since food, including vegetables and meat, come from Colombia (...). In Venezuela, falling ill is a death sentence.”

The IACHR also observed the program implemented by the state of Colombia to provide food and education to hundreds of Venezuelan children and adolescents. As a result of this program, Venezuelan children and teenagers who walk across the border each day, often under the hot sun and without having breakfast, are picked up on the Colombian side by school buses. Once the school day is over, they are driven back to the border to return to their homes in Venezuela. The IACHR applauded this program but remained concerned over the safety of children and adolescents during their journey on the Venezuelan side of the border.

The IACHR noted that forced migration of this type is a serious, complex crisis that reaches across borders and thus requires regional and international responses that are rooted in a sense of shared responsibility and respect for human rights. It repeated its call for states in the region to take measures to ensure the social inclusion of migrants and prevent acts of violence against them based on discrimination on the basis of their nationality.


Both the information the IACHR gathered in the field during its visit and the nearly 200 testimonies it collected online and in-person indicate that the human rights situation in Venezuela is continuing to deteriorate.

Rights to life and personal integrity

Given this context, the IACHR received concerning information and testimonies from the relatives of young people and students who were allegedly killed as a result of the excessive use of force by state agents and armed groups attempting to curb various social demonstrations and protests. Incidents of this sort took place, for example, during the wave of protests that began on March 30, 2017, when thousands of people took to the streets to demand the restoration of democratic, constitutional order in response to various decisions made by the Supreme Court of Venezuela; and during the demonstrations in 2019 in support of the entry of humanitarian aid from various points on the border with Colombia and Brazil. According to data from civil society, more than 50 people were killed during the 2019 demonstrations.

Likewise, the IACHR noted the lack of due diligence during investigations into these deaths, the fact that those responsible for them have not been sanctioned, and that family members seeking access to justice and comprehensive reparation have complained of retaliation against them. The IACHR received information on cases including that of 14-year-old Kluibert Roa, who was shot in the head during clashes between students and security forces outside the Catholic University of Táchira (Ucat) on February 24, 2015, five years ago; and the student Luigi Guerrero, who was killed during the demonstrations in San Cristóbal in early 2019.

The IACHR also received information on other serious human rights violations that took place during these demonstrations. Specifically, it received testimonies from people who had sustained eye injuries after state agents fired pellets at them from a close range, as well as from victims of possible arbitrary arrests and acts of torture who experienced shoulder dislocations or electric shocks, forced postures, and teargas canisters being fired into closed spaces to cause asphyxiation.

On this point, the IACHR recalled that the fundamental rights to life and humane treatment that are set out in article 4 and 5 of the American Convention on Human Rights include not only the negative obligation that the state should not deprive people under its jurisdiction of life or inflict suffering on them but also require that these rights be protected and preserved. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has argued that both rights are essential under the American Convention and form part of the nonderogable core of this, as, in accordance with the provisions of article 27.2, they cannot be suspended even during war, public unrest, or other threats.

The IACHR recalled that the state must minimize any risk to such rights in the course of carrying out the functions of public security and order through careful scrutiny in strict compliance with international principles and standards. Actively protecting the right to life and personal integrity as part of the state’s duty to guarantee that all people under its jurisdiction can freely and fully exercise their rights, including the right to take part in gatherings and public demonstrations, and it applies to all state institutions and individuals who are responsible for safeguarding citizen security and public safety.

In view of this, the IACHR urged the state of Venezuela to investigate the violence and deaths that have taken place during social protests with due diligence, and to identify and, if appropriate, prosecute and sanction those responsible for planning and carrying out these acts.

During the visit, the IACHR was also brought up-to-date on serious cases of persecution, harassment, threats, and attacks against people who identified as being dissidents. Among other events, the IACHR was informed about the acts of aggression perpetrated by agents of the Bolivarian National Police (PNB) and the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB) on January 5, 2020, against opposition congresspeople attempting to enter the Venezuelan Parliament, some of whom were beneficiaries of precautionary measures.

The rights to freedom and humane treatment during detention

As the patterns of selective repression in Venezuela increase and worsen, the IACHR was concerned to receive information, including testimonies, regarding the circumstances in which dozens of active and retired military personnel find themselves after being deprived of their freedom on the grounds that they are dissidents or deserters. To date, according to the information provided by civil society representatives, at least 100 military personnel remain at the Ramo Verde facilities and the headquarters of the Department of Military Counterintelligence (DGCIM) after being accused of crimes such as treason and instigating rebellion.

The testimonies the IACHR received regarding these arrests coincide in noting that they are widespread, take place without a warrant or court order, involve the excessive use of force, and are sometimes implemented through false summonses to barracks, allegedly for interviews or promotions. According to detainees’ family members, these arrests have also been carried out during full operations involving the disproportionate use of force at the victims’ private homes, during which state security agents removed personal items and held those present prisoner for several hours, and even beat, kicked, and otherwise mistreated the victims in front of their families. According to the information the IACHR received, some of these arrests constituted forced disappearances as the authorities refused to reveal the detainees’ whereabouts to several days or weeks.

Among other cases, the IACHR was informed of the detention of Major Richard Rafael Carrasquel on May 11, 2018, who was reportedly held in incommunicado detention for 30 days at Ramo Verde prison. It also learned of the detention of Major Henry Medina Gutiérrez on March 2, 2018, who was held for interrogation for over 10 days in the sector of the DGCIM headquarters known as “la Boleíta” after attending a summons from the Ministry of Defense. It also received information about Sergeant Luis Alexander Bandres Figueroa, who was subjected to confinement, severe beatings, and other cruel treatment after his detention on January 21, 2019; and about Alonso José Mora, who was detained on April 15, 2018, and was subjected to beatings, multiple instances of asphyxia using plastic bags, the twisting of his arms and legs, shoulder dislocation due to hanging, and other cruel treatment for 17 days in the part of the DGCIM headquarters known as “la Boleíta.”

In response, the IACHR wishes to stress that article 7 of the American Convention on Human Rights includes protection against arbitrary detention by strictly regulating the grounds on which people can be arrested and the procedures that can be used to go about this. An arrest is arbitrary and illegal when it is not based on the reasons for arrest that are set out in the law, when it does not comply with the procedural formalities that must be followed by judicial authorities, and when it is used for purposes other than those foreseen by and set out in the law.

According to article 7.5 of the American Convention, any person who is arrested must be brought before a legal authority without delay. The IACHR noted that immediate judicial oversight is a measure that is designed to prevent arbitrary or illegal detentions, taking into account that under the rule of law, judges must guarantee detainees’ rights; authorize the adoption of precautionary or coercive measures, when strictly necessary; and generally ensure that the accused is treated in a manner that is consistent with the presumption of innocence. On these grounds, the IACHR urged the state of Venezuela to refrain from making unlawful or arbitrary detentions and, in the event that a person is deprived of their freedom, to ensure that the process complies fully with guarantees of due process, including the detainee appearing swiftly before a judicial authority.

With regard to conditions of detention, the IACHR was concerned to receive testimonies from the relatives of military personnel who are being held in the sector of the DGCIM headquarters known as “la Boleíta,” in Sucre, Caracas. These testimonies pointed to the widespread perpetration of physical punishment, torture, and cruel treatment. The IACHR observed that the cruelty and brutality of these acts reveal the particularly vicious treatment that military personnel who are accused of being deserters or traitors are subjected to. The IACHR categorically rejected the treatment to which military personnel who are deprived of their freedom are allegedly being subjected and noted that, under international human rights law, the prohibition of torture is absolute and nonderogable.

The IACHR recalled that the state is the guarantor of the rights of people in its custody, which implies a special duty to respect and guarantee these rights, particularly to life and personal integrity. Likewise, the IACHR has indicated that effectively guaranteeing the right to personal integrity of those who are deprived of their freedom entails the state’s duty to investigate, sanction, and provide reparation for any violation of this right to the detriment of people in its custody. In response to any form of torture or ill-treatment, the state must initiate a serious, impartial, effective ex officio investigation. The IACHR urged the state to ensure that such investigations are implemented using all available legal means, are oriented toward determining the truth of events, and are conducted within a reasonable timeframe.

The IACHR also received information regarding events that allegedly constitute violations of judicial protection, due process, and the right to a fair trial, all of which are enshrined in the American Convention and other international instruments. The testimonies the IACHR received during its visit to Cúcuta describe events such as the indefinite suspension of trials, arbitrary changes to the judges or prosecutors in charge of cases, lack of access to adequate defense, the constant postponement of hearings, denials of access to files and hearings, and other instances of harassment and threats against defense attorneys.

The IACHR noted that judges are the first line of defense in the judicial protection of human rights in a democratic state and reiterated that due process must be observed when states can implement a sanction. Within democratic systems, judges oversee the conventionality, constitutionality, and legality of the acts of other branches of government and government officials in general, while also imparting justice concerning disputes relating to the acts of individuals that may affect other people’s rights.

Consequently, the judiciary must remain independent from other branches or organs of the state, particularly the executive branch. The IACHR deemed it essential for Venezuela to review its procedures for selecting judges to ensure that these are clear and that they respect the principles of transparency and publicity; that it guarantee that a diversity of stakeholders and social groups take part in this process, especially ensuring that women participate on equal footing; that it implement and objective review of candidates based on their professional merits, using criteria that are established in advance to prevent the people or authorities involved in the selection from acting on their discretion; that it establish safeguards to ensure that selection processes are not conducted on the basis of individual and/or partisan interests that could undermine judicial independence; and to provide the appointing bodies with sufficient human and financial resources to be able to carry out their functions adequately.

The IACHR emphasized that selection processes must be open to scrutiny by social sectors, which significantly reduces the likelihood of the authorities responsible for selecting and appointing judges from acting at their discretion while facilitating the process of identifying the candidates’ merits and professional capacities.

It should be noted that the people the IACHR interviewed expressed fear that they would experience retaliation against them or their families because they took part in IACHR activities. This was particularly true in connection with people who are beneficiaries of precautionary measures and are being deprived of their freedom at the DGCIM and other detention centers. On this point, the IACHR strongly urged the state of Venezuela to abstain from implementing reprisals against these people or allowing these to take place.

By virtue of its findings during its visit to Cúcuta, the IACHR observed that the serious, widespread deterioration of the human rights situation in Venezuela continues. There are serious, ongoing violations of the rights to life, personal integrity, freedom, a fair trial, and judicial protection as a consequence of widespread repression in the country, particularly against people who ar identified as political dissidents. These circumstances have highlighted the pattern of persecution, harassment, threats, and aggression against people who have decided to organize, take part directly or indirectly in public affairs, and are identified with the opposition.

The weakening of democratic institutions and the absence of the rule of law have contributed to the impunity that has surrounded the violations that have taken place in the country in recent years, notably those relating to the excessive use of force to suppress demonstrations and protests, the militarization of public security, and the persecution and criminalization of dissidents.

The IACHR deemed that the state of Venezuela cannot delay any further in guaranteeing the immediate re-establishment and enforcement of the rule of law, guaranteeing the principle of independence and the separation of powers, which are essential for the entire population to be able to enjoy their human rights.


During its visit, the IACHR was able to confirm that there continue to be serious violations of the right to freedom of expression in Venezuela, against a backdrop of growing political and social conflict. Violence against journalists and media workers, often at the hands of members of the security forces themselves, increased during coverage of demonstrations and protests, political events, and while reporting on activities at the National Assembly.

According to the information received by the IACHR, the police and military security forces have reportedly repressed demonstrations demanding more democratic policies or improvements to health conditions, education, and food by using tear gas, water cannons, and bullets to disperse demonstrators, leading to hundreds of people sustaining injuries or being detained or killed. Numerous journalists reported that in Caracas and other areas of the country, including the state of Táchira, on the border with Colombia, media workers are arbitrarily detained by members of the police force or intelligence services. They are also harassed by other groups and sometimes forced to erase video footage they have filmed. The IACHR’s concern on this matter was confirmed by the incident that took place on February 11, 2020, when the president of the National Assembly arrived at Maiquetía airport and several journalists were prevented from going about their work by ad hoc groups.

Censorship is implemented in the country by blocking media outlet websites, social media accounts, and streaming services. Access to information is also hampered by the fact that internet access often fails due to the lack of investment in telecommunications infrastructure and electricity outages. Likewise, the National Telecommunications Commission (Conatel) ordered media and subscription television companies to block international news channels, independent media websites, and ordered the closure of some broadcasting stations. There have also been reports of pressure to cancel the broadcasting of certain programs and to force the media to refrain from mentioning members of the opposition and using the term “dictatorship” regarding the current administration.

Venezuelan journalists and organizations also provided the IACHR with documentation regarding journalists being subjected to arbitrary detention and criminal proceedings in retaliation for their work, without guarantees of due process. The application of vague, ambiguous, disproportionate criminal laws—such as the crimes of slander and the so-called Law Against Hate—seeks to silence opinions and publications that speak out against acts of corruption or the economic and political situation that the country is going through. The threat of arbitrary detention has forced a number of journalists who were subjected to such processes into exile.

The IACHR deemed that the picture described above made it clear that the Venezuelan regime has deliberately departed from respect for fundamental freedoms of expression and assembly that are a necessary condition for the very existence of a democratic system. In response, the IACHR’s Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression stated that “media workers are continually at risk of being physically harassed, arbitrarily detained, or subjected to criminal proceedings without guarantees, and within Venezuela, the media are subject to a regime of pressure that does not allow open, plural debate.”


During its visit, the IACHR met with patients and health professionals at the JM de los Ríos hospital and with organizations requesting precautionary measures on behalf of patients in the hospital’s maternity and emergency sectors and on behalf of newborns at the Concepción Palacios Maternity Hospital. The IACHR has granted precautionary measures to protect the rights to life and personal integrity of dozens of patients receiving care at these hospitals. However, according to the information provided, the situation has allegedly continued to deteriorate as a result of the state’s reluctance to comply with the precautionary measures in question.

The IACHR learned that these facilities were allegedly experiencing shortages of basic supplies, adequate infrastructure, and qualified medical staff. They also allegedly do not have continuous access to drinking water, hygiene supplies, prophylaxis, surgical equipment, laboratories for blood transfusion testing, sterilization equipment, vaccines for basic immunizations, functioning elevators, or contrast agents for diagnostic imaging.

Given the importance of protecting people’s health and the relationship between this and the rights to life and personal integrity and the differentiated approaches put forward in these precautionary measures, the IACHR called particularly on the institutions responsible for implementing them to do so appropriately and effectively. The IACHR deeply regretted the fact that the state of Venezuela did not see the precautionary measures that were granted as an opportunity to correct an urgent, serious state of affairs and thus prevent human rights violations.


During the IACHR’s visit, various student movements, faculty associations, and civil society organizations reported that academic freedom and university autonomy are at risk in Venezuela.

According to faculty members, university managerial staff, and students, the National Council of Universities, which is attached to the Ministry of Higher Education, has arbitrarily appointed senior university authorities to restrict critical thinking about the government and participation in public affairs. They also reported that the judiciary has systematically issued rulings that disregard the results of student elections, forcing universities to accept arbitrary appointments and even legislating on electoral procedures for the election of university authorities.

The IACHR also received reports of universities being subjected to extreme budgetary restrictions, which is allegedly detrimental to the provision of student services such as food, transportation, and library access. According to civil society representatives, individual student subsidies are now around $1 per month and university canteen dishes contain less than 600 calories. These measures, coupled with the economic crisis, have increased student dropout rates, which are now over 40% at some campuses. The economic crisis has also forced large numbers of university teaching staff to migrate due to the low or nonexistent wages they receive, which are below $8 per month. These circumstances particularly affect older retirees from the education sector, who lose access to some health services when they retire and whose pensions are lower than the contributions they made throughout their working life.

The student movement also spoke out against a policy of criminalizing student protests that entails excessive use of force and continual threats of arrest.

The IACHR reminded the state that university autonomy is a prerequisite for academic freedom, which is part of the right to education and includes the freedom to express opinions about institutions and society as a whole.

The IACHR has already established that the criminalization of people who take part in or lead public demonstrations not only impacts the right to freedom of expression and assembly but also has serious, systematic impacts on the exercise of rights to freedom of association and the right to participate in government. Specifically, criminalization has a series of effects on how organizations, political parties, trade unions, and student networks and movements function and articulate with one another.


Both the IACHR and the OSRESCER have already expressed concern about the serious situation of ESCERs in Venezuela. In the opinion of the IACHR and the OSRESCER, the complex humanitarian crisis entails a profound, increasingly serious lack of guarantees and enjoyment of ESCERs due to various circumstances, including lack of action by the state.

Through their different mechanisms, the IACHR and the OSRESCER have corroborated that the purchasing power of most of the Venezuelan population is extremely low, which is having repercussions on access to food and personal hygiene products. This is compounded by an absence of public policies around nondiscriminatory access to basic, nutritionally adequate food for the entire population.

Furthermore, the IACHR and the OSRESCER are concerned over the severe crisis affecting the country’s hospitals: medical services have continued to deteriorate and there are ongoing shortages of medicines and other health materials. This situation is particularly affecting people in vulnerable situations and patients suffering from chronic infectious diseases and is also restricting the exercise of sexual and reproductive rights.

The crisis that Venezuela is experiencing is a complex, multidimensional humanitarian crisis that affects all sectors of society in different ways. In this regard, there is a worrying tendency for existing social gaps to continue to widen and a widespread trend toward impoverishment, which is increasing the vulnerability of people who are already in a critical position regarding guarantees and the protection of their rights. In this sense, poverty is a structural, crosscutting phenomenon that has a direct, systematic effect on the enjoyment of all human rights, particularly ESCERs.

Civil society organizations have reported that poverty has increased by 10% in the last three years and that the income of 90% of people in Venezuela is insufficient to buy food. As a result, around 80% of households are allegedly at risk of food insecurity, and life expectancy at birth in the country has dropped by 3.5 years. In view of this data, the IACHR and the OSRESCER are concerned that the measures needed to address this situation are not being taken, which is aggravating the country’s limited development conditions and the overall well-being of the population.

The IACHR and the OSRESCER have received information on the use of social programs to exercise social and political control. In addition, the IACHR received information indicating that people are being asked to pay bribes to access state services. This is especially concerning given rising prices and the shortfalls in the availability of good-quality food. Some people claimed they need to work 10 hours per day on average to obtain food. Others argued that they would need 41 minimum wages to access the basic food basket and basic services.

These conditions are also affecting the enjoyment of the right to education. According to some reports, up to 8% of school coverage has been lost and there is a 26% gap in access to education for boys and a 23% gap for girls. Only half of those who are in school can attend classes regularly, mainly as a result of the lack of water, food, and transportation. The IACHR found that hundreds of children cross the Simón Bolívar bridge to receive education and food in Colombia.

It also received information that the serious situation in the area known as the Orinoco Mining Arc, as the state is not acting to prevent and mitigate environmental damage there. Similarly, the lack of effective control by the state in the area has led to reports that irregular armed groups being tolerated by the state and are the main beneficiaries of mining activities there.

As a consequence, the IACHR is concerned about the systematic failure of the state to comply with its international and inter-American obligations regarding ESCERs and the fact that it engages in discriminatory acts that only guarantee these rights to a small sector of society.


The IACHR noted that Venezuela is in the throes of a serious human rights crisis as a result of the prolonged weakening of democratic institutions and the absence of the rule of law. The IACHR observed that the state has not adopted decisive measures to reverse this situation, which has intensified the crisis and the challenges that must be addressed to overcome it. Although this state of affairs affects everyone in Venezuela, the IACHR has drawn attention to the particular effects it has on groups that have historically been discriminated against and are in a situation of vulnerability. The deterioration of the situation has prompted more than 4.9 million Venezuelans to leave their country in recent years.

The IACHR deems the humanitarian crisis to be a determining factor in this displacement. Many people migrating in adverse conditions because they are unable to access ESCERs, notably due to the severe deterioration of health services, shortages in both the quality and quantity of food available, and the frequent interruption of public services. Given this crisis, the IACHR is even more alarmed by the state of Venezuela’s lack of response to its international obligations. Consequently, the IACHR determined that these actions are directly and systematically jeopardizing the right to health, food, and water, particularly in relation to drinking water and sanitation services. The IACHR noted that the state is systematically failing to comply with and cover ESCERs, not only by exercising political discrimination to exert social pressure but also because of the regressive, negative indicators that these rights are being enjoyed.

The IACHR also concluded that the Venezuelan state has systematically violated the rights to life, personal integrity, personal freedom, assembly, and freedom of expression, especially in the context of its response to the demonstrations, social protests, and expressions of dissent that have taken place in the country. The IACHR is particularly concerned about the state’s failure to comply with its international obligations in the area of the rights to truth and access to justice regarding the impunity that surrounds the serious allegations of murder, extrajudicial execution, ill-treatment, potential acts of torture, and arbitrary detentions that continue to take place.

The IACHR observed that in Venezuela, torture and cruel treatment are systematically inflicted on both civilians and military personnel who are deprived of their freedom. The testimonies it gathered suggest that military personnel who are accused of being deserters or traitors are being subjected to particularly vicious treatment. These acts are serious violations of the rights to personal freedom and integrity and are a breach of the prohibition of torture that is widely established in international human rights law.

The IACHR also warned that politicians who identified with the opposition and journalists constantly face persecution and harassment, including the failure to respect the judicial guarantees that apply to any individual. These practices are also used to target health professionals and teachers who take part in antigovernment protests or demonstrations demanding improvements in guarantees for the population’s human rights.

The IACHR also noted that the precautionary measures granted in favor of the patients at the JM de los Ríos Hospital and the Concepción Palacios Maternity Hospital are not being complied with. This situation is particularly affecting women suffering from malnutrition, pregnant women, and newborns, and constitutes a violation of their rights to life and personal integrity and reproductive health.

The IACHR also deemed that there is ongoing criminalization of student protests in Venezuela and violations of various kinds that jeopardize university autonomy and academic freedom. This restricts critical thinking and participation in public affairs and also affects the creation of future social and political leaders in the country.

Finally, the IACHR stressed the historic nature of its visit to the Colombia–Venezuela border, where it observed first-hand the massive flows of people and learned about the situations that have forced millions of Venezuelans to leave their country. It also stressed the importance of being able to listen first-hand to the victims of human rights violations, their families, and the civil society organizations that were able to travel to Cúcuta or connect with the IACHR through its online channels. The IACHR reiterated that the prolongation of the humanitarian and human rights crisis, and the breakdown of constitutional order in Venezuela, and the state’s unwillingness to be subjected to international scrutiny are fanning the population’s demands for a system that fully guarantees the re-instatement of their human rights. The IACHR reiterated its recognition of and solidarity with the Venezuelan people.

In response to the dramatic circumstances that Venezuelans find themselves in, the IACHR once again drew attention to Resolution 2/18 on forced migration. The serious, complex wave of migration of Venezuelans to other countries is a crisis that is reaching across borders and thus requires a regional and international response that is rooted in shared responsibility and respect for human rights.

The IACHR also drew attention to Resolution 1/08, on the protection of people who are deprived of their freedom. The testimonies gathered during the visit are evidence of a total disregard for international obligations regarding the deprivation of freedom. The state of Venezuela must urgently adopt measures to prevent any type of torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment in detention centers and to guarantee that criminal convictions be preceded by trials upheld by legal guarantees.

Pursuant to the provisions of article 41.b of the American Convention on Human Rights, the IACHR called on the state of Venezuela to comply urgently with the following preliminary recommendations:

State’s Position Vis-à-vis the Inter-American System

1. Comply fully with the recommendations of the Inter-American System of Human Rights, in accordance with the obligations that arise from the OAS Charter.

2. Allow the IACHR to carry out an on-site visit as soon as possible so that it can assess the human rights situation in the country.

Democratic Institutions

3. Respect and guarantee (i) the independence of and balance between the branches of government, (ii) the right to participate in government without discrimination, and (iii) citizen control over the actions of the different branches of government.

4. Take resolute action to guarantee the separation of powers so that the National Assembly can properly exercise its constitutional functions.

5. With regard to the Constituent National Assembly, this should refrain from making decisions that exceed its constitutional powers.

6. Ensure that any provisions that relate to the state of emergency are only used in extremely serious and truly exceptional situations and are strictly tailored to the needs of the situation in a reasonable manner. These must not go beyond what is strictly necessary, should not be in place for prolonged periods, nor must they entail disproportionality or deviations or abuses of power.

Administration of Justice and Judicial Independence

7. Adopt urgent measures to (i) significantly reduce the number of provisional judges and increase the number of permanent incumbents; (ii) ensure that judges are only dismissed from their positions using a disciplinary process that respects the guarantees of due process, and especially the duty of due cause, even for temporary dismissals; and (iii) provide guarantees for their stability in office.

8. Ensure that the procedures for selecting and appointing judges to the High Court of Justice include issuing open public calls for applications, deadlines, and procedures; guarantees of equal, inclusive access for candidates; the participation of civil society; and a selection process that is based on merit and professional skills.

9. Take the necessary legislative and other forms of measures to ensure that civilians are not investigated, prosecuted, and/or tried in military criminal tribunals and, if necessary, to move any current such proceedings to the ordinary channel.

Political Rights and Participation in Public Life

10. Refrain from making unlawful or arbitrary detentions and, in the event that a person is deprived of their freedom, to ensure that the process complies fully with guarantees of due process, including the detainee appearing swiftly before a judicial authority, in order to prevent other human rights violations such as forced disappearances, torture, and other cruel and inhuman treatment.

11. Remove obstacles to the legitimate exercise of the right to protest, particularly by eliminating the requirement that prior authorization be obtained to hold demonstrations.

12. Take legal and other measures to prevent firearms from being among the devices permitted for controlling social protests and establish guidelines to guarantee that less lethal weapons are used instead.

13. Immediately investigate all such deaths that have occurred during demonstrations in a diligent, effective, independent manner that will lead to the prosecution and punishment of those responsible for them and obtain appropriate reparation for victims and their families.

Social Protest and Freedom of Expression

14. Grant journalists the fullest possible guarantees that they will not be arrested, threatened, or assaulted for exercising their profession, especially during public demonstrations. Their equipment and materials must not be destroyed or confiscated. The state must guarantee that Venezuelan and foreign media outlets can make live broadcasts of demonstrations and public events and must respect its duty to not adopt measures that regulate or limit the free flow of information.

15. Facilitate public demonstrations, including counterdemonstrations, and cooperate with demonstration organizers to enable them to go about their work without discrimination on the grounds of political opinion.

16. Amend ambiguous or vague criminal laws that place disproportionate limits on freedom of expression, including those designed to protect the honor of ideas or institutions or those that seek to protect national security or public peace, in order to eliminate the use of criminal proceedings to limit free democratic debate on matters of public interest and the full exercise of political rights.

17. Ensure that crimes against freedom of expression are subject to independent, prompt, effective investigations and judicial proceedings. In addition to criminal investigations, disciplinary proceedings should be initiated when there is evidence that public officials have violated the freedom of expression in the course of their work.

18. Adopt legislation on access to public information, in accordance with inter-American standards, to provide all people with tools to effectively monitor the functioning of the state, administration of the public sector, and control of corruption, which are essential in the democratic process.

19. Refrain from applying limitations to websites, blogs, applications, or any other systems for broadcasting information via the internet, online media, or similar channels, including support systems such as ISPs and search engines. Limitations of this sort are only admissible when they are compatible with the required conditions for limiting freedom of expression.

Violence and Citizen Security

20. Produce official, publicly accessible information on victims of violent deaths, the causes of this, and those responsible for perpetrating these crimes. This information should be disaggregated by age, gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, immigration status, and disability, among other factors.

21. Ensure that the use of force complies strictly with the principles of exceptionality, legality, necessity, proportionality, nondiscrimination, and accountability; and initiate a serious, impartial, effective ex officio investigation into events that may have involved the excessive use of force without delay.

22. Take immediate, decisive action to exclude the military and armed forces and armed civilian groups from citizen security tasks. In exceptional cases in which members of the armed forces are involved in initiatives to keep the public order, which are the responsibility of the civilian police, they must be subordinated to civilian authority.

Poverty and ESCERs

23. Implement redistributive fiscal and tax policies that promote transparency and accountability and prioritize combating the ways poverty prevents the most vulnerable sectors of the population from enjoying their rights. The state must step up the struggle against corruption and the diversion of public funds and take action to mobilize specific operations resources that contribute to guaranteeing ESCERs.

24. Monitor the availability of and population’s access to medicines, medical treatment, and health services and take further measures to guarantee the availability and quality of health services, ensuring that facilities have enough medicines and medical equipment.

25. Adopt measures to effectively guarantee the right to food and prioritize access to people and populations who are at greater risk and who have historically been subject to marginalization and discrimination, such as children and adolescents, the disabled, and the elderly.

26. Adopt measures to guarantee the availability, quality, and sanitation of water, ensuring that drinking water supply systems are not damaged or interfered with in ways that could affect the quality and supply of water, especially for sectors of the population living in poverty and extreme poverty.

27. Refrain from any action or behavior that might limit university autonomy and investigate and, if necessary, sanction any attempt to infringe on this, as well as reviewing and modifying any legislation or practice that undermines it.

28. Implement a broad socio-environmental study of the situation in the Orinoco Mining Arc, which will serve as the basis for establishing a programmer for monitoring social and environmental conflict by identifying specific threats and damage to nature, biodiversity, effluents, and human rights, especially those of indigenous peoples and the rural population.

People Deprived of Their Freedom

29. To make rational use of prisons, the state should promote alternatives to the deprivation of freedom and only use the pretrial detention regime as an exceptional measure that is limited by the principles of legality, the presumption of innocence, necessity, and proportionality. Take urgent, necessary measures to cease the use of police facilities as places in which people are held prisoner permanently.

30. To guarantee the personal integrity of all people who are being detained and deprived of their freedom, the state must adopt prison policies that ensure that (i) they have access to sufficient quantities of nutritious food and clean water and a hygienic circumstances, (ii) guarantee adequate medical care, and (iii) prisoners are held in healthy, hygienic conditions with access to light and ventilation.

31. With regard to the situation of women detainees, the state must incorporate a gender perspective that ensures that the treatment of women who are deprived of their freedom meets their specific needs in terms of health, gender identity, and social reintegration. Likewise, the state must implement measures that take the specific situation of risk of gender violence into account and, in this context, it is obliged to establish mechanisms to prevent, investigate, prosecute, and punish acts that could constitute harassment, assault, or sexual abuse within prison premises.


32. Produce comprehensive statistics on violence and discrimination against women on a regular basis, along with disaggregated information by gender, age, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, disability status, sexual orientation, gender identity, and location with a view to mapping the specific ways in which violence and discrimination affect women. Publish and engage in outreach work around this statistical information.

33. Adopt the measures needed to comply with the state’s obligation to enhance due diligence to prevent, protect, investigate, sanction, and provide reparation for all forms of violence against women. This includes guaranteeing women victims of violence access to justice without barriers or discrimination. Produce and publish statistical information on the matter.

34. Step up efforts to ensure that pregnant women have access to vaccines, medicines, and basic necessities and effective, nondiscriminatory access to prenatal and postnatal care in order to dramatically reduce maternal mortality rates. Produce and publish statistical information on the matter.

35. Take the measures needed to ensure that all women living with HIV or AIDS have access to adequate treatment and medical care, to prevent further damage to their health and preserve their personal integrity.

36. Urgently take all measures needed to make a varied, accessible, acceptable range of contraceptive and family planning methods for both men and women available throughout the country.

Children and Adolescents

37. Guarantee children and teenagers the right to engage in peaceful protest and take part in affairs that affect them, ensuring that there are safe environments in which they can exercise these rights.

38. Take the measures needed to ensure children have access to quality health services, including the provision of medication, taking the situation of children who suffer from chronic diseases particularly into account.

39. Ensure that there are sufficient water supplies to enable all families in the country to access safe water and thus prevent the consequences the absence of this may have on the exercise of other rights such as health and education.

40. Implement nutrition programs that prioritize adequate, sufficient food for children and adolescents, taking into account that they are growing and developing.

41. Take the actions needed to effectively guarantee access to the right to education and the quality of this, ensuring that it is universal, free, accessible, and appropriate and that it is provided in safe environments that are free from violence and discrimination.

Migrants, Asylum Seekers, Refugees, Beneficiaries of Complementary Protection, Internally Displaced People, and Victims of Trafficking

42. Guarantee access to and the provision and free movement of humanitarian aid for any members of the Venezuelan population that require it, which must be provided in accordance with the principles of humanity and impartiality, without any form of discrimination, in accordance with the Inter-American Principles on All Migrants, Refugees, Stateless Persons, Victims of Human Trafficking, and Internally Displaced Persons.

43. Overturn all measures that impede people’s right to leave Venezuelan territory and to request and receive asylum, complementary protection, or any other form of protection.

44. Guarantee the rights to juridical personality and identity by issuing identity documents such as passports, identity cards, civil registry records, and criminal record certificates in a timely fashion.

45. Ensure that the principle of the best interests of the child or adolescent be the primary consideration in any action taken regarding the rights of children and adolescents, whether at the border, during migration, or otherwise.

Finally, the IACHR expressed that it is at the disposal of Venezuelan civil society to provide support in the process of overcoming the institutional crisis through its Special Follow-Up Mechanism for Venezuela (MESEVE). It also reiterated its unwavering commitment to the victims of human rights violations in the country.

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. 106/20