Press Release

IACHR Expresses Concern over Ongoing Acts of Harassment and Stigmatization of Human Rights Defenders in Venezuela

July 15, 2020

   Related links

   Contact info

IACHR Press Office
[email protected]

   More on the IACHR
A+ A-

Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) wishes to express its concern over the ongoing acts of harassment and stigmatizing speech against human rights defenders in Venezuela. The IACHR urges the State of Venezuela to adopt all the measures necessary to guarantee that human rights defenders can go about their work in an atmosphere free of intimidation.

In the first half of the year, the IACHR continued to receive information on stigmatization campaigns against human rights organizations. On this point, civil society organizations informed the IACHR that on June 28, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) were accused through the government website Misión Verdad [Mission Truth] of receiving funding from the United States and participating in a campaign to overthrow the government. These events added to a series of smear campaigns against human rights organizations led by State authorities. For example, on February 19, the President of the National Constituent Assembly (ANC), speaking on the television program “Con el mazo dando,” threatened to revise the laws on NGO funding, adding that the greatest possible sanctions would apply to those receiving funding from the US. The alleged grounds for this statement were that human rights organizations are conspiring against the country.

The IACHR has also been made aware of statements by high-ranking State authorities seeking to discredit the work of human rights organizations. According to publicly available information, on May 4, 2020, the president of the ANC allegedly accused the Venezuelan Program for Education and Action on Human Rights (PROVEA) of “inciting the armed invasion of Venezuela,” referring to the organization as “traitors of the nation” and “destabilizing agents.” These statements allegedly arose after the organization used its social media channels to ask for respect for the human rights of people under arrest for their connection to an armed anti-government uprising that allegedly took place on May 3.

Similarly, the IACHR learned of acts of harassment against human rights defenders in Táchira. On March 29, the homes of some human rights defenders were allegedly vandalized with the message “LaFuriaBolivariana” [Bolivarian Rage], a phrase used the previous day by the leader of the ANC via the same TV program, “Con el mazo dando,” to refer to sectors of the opposition and NGOs. Those affected included the president of FundaRedes, José Javier Tarazona Sánchez, to whom the IACHR granted precautionary measures on June 18, 2020. The IACHR also learned of the arrest of human rights defender Henderson Maldonado on March 31 in the state of Lara, and of how a member of a human rights organization from the state of Táchira was allegedly followed after being photographed during activities in connection with the IACHR’s visit to the Venezuela–Colombia border in March.

The IACHR called once more on the State to take steps to end the campaigns of stigmatization and harassment of human rights defenders in the country, as already noted in Press Release No. 40/19. The IACHR noted that repeated stigmatizing statements against human rights defenders may contribute to heightening the climate of hostility and intolerance among different sectors of the Venezuelan population, which may affect the lives and personal integrity of defenders and increase their vulnerability.

On this point, the IACHR notes that public officials should refrain from making statements that stigmatize human rights defenders or suggest that organizations are acting improperly or illegally simply because they are promoting and defending human rights. The IACHR wishes to emphasize that the work of human rights defenders is essential to building a solid, lasting, democratic society. They play a central role in the process of achieving full rule of law and strengthening democracy.

Finally, the IACHR observed that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the risks to exercising the right to defending human rights in Venezuela. According to an investigation by the Center for Justice and Peace (CEPAZ), at least 11 defenders have allegedly been victims of persecution since the beginning of the pandemic; at least 5 have allegedly been arbitrarily detained, including the director of the Center for Action and Defense of Human Rights (CADEF), Gabriel Arangueren, who was detained for several hours on April 23 in the state of Cojedes, when he was overseeing deliveries of facemasks on behalf of his organization.

The IACHR urges the State of Venezuela to foster an environment of respect for the fundamental freedoms of human rights defenders that is free of hostilities. In this sense, the State’s obligations to defenders and the right to defend human rights are directly related to the enjoyment of the rights to life, humane treatment, freedom of expression and association, a fair trial, and judicial protection, as enshrined in the American Convention on Human Rights. Together, these rights allow activities to defend human rights to be freely exercised and are embodied in this exercise.

Finally, the IACHR urges the State to guarantee that human rights defenders can go about their work defending human rights and providing information during the pandemic and to abstain from detaining human rights defenders for monitoring the State’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and acting on any possible violations of human rights, in accordance with the provisions of Resolution 01/20.

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. 165/20