Press Release

IACHR Deplores Repressive Measures Taken by Venezuela against Protests and Condemns Resulting Deaths and Injuries

May 9, 2017

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) deplores the repressive measures taken by the Venezuelan authorities in response to the wave of protests that began in March in the country. The IACHR calls on the State to cease these measures and to effectively comply with its international human rights obligations.
The IACHR particularly condemns the rise in deaths, injuries, and mass detentions that has accompanied the militarization of management of the protests, in regard to which the IACHR has expressed its concern. According to figures recently published by the Office of the Public Prosecutor, 36 people have died and at least 757 have been injured in the context of the demonstrations in Venezuela. Four of those who died were teenagers. The number of deaths and injuries caused by firearms or by the abuse of less lethal weapons such as tear gas and birdshot is of concern. For their part, civil society organizations have documented that 1,991 people have been arrested since April 4 until the date of elaboration of this press release. In addition, it was reported to the IACHR that hundreds of those detained are still allegedly being held in custody. The available information brought to the Commission’s attention includes a series of allegations of torture and ill-treatment of detainees by State forces, as well as violations of judicial guarantees and protection, including the use of the military criminal justice system to arrest and try civilians.

Moreover, high-level State authorities are using the media to stigmatize and criminalize people, characterizing those who call for and participate in demonstrations as “terrorists” or “armed insurgents.” At the same time, there has been a reported increase in attacks and arbitrary detentions of journalists, and censorship of national and international media outlets.

The IACHR notes that the Office of the Public Prosecutor has commissioned national and regional prosecutors to coordinate the investigation into the facts surrounding the deaths, torture, and arbitrary detentions. The Commission urges the authorities to ensure that these investigations are carried out in an effective, serious, and independent manner. It also reiterates that the authorities must comply with their international human rights obligations, including the duty to facilitate demonstrations and protests, guaranteeing the life, integrity, and personal liberty of the demonstrators, as well as their rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression. The IACHR also urges the State of Venezuela to cease the prosecution of civilians under military jurisdiction.
The IACHR is deeply concerned that the political leader Leopoldo López has been kept incommunicado since the beginning of the protests until Sunday, May 8th. The IACHR condemns the lack of information about his situation and the place of detention for a month. The Commission reiterates that the Venezuelan State must guarantee the right to life and integrity of Leopoldo López, as well as the right of anyone detained to communicate with his or her relatives and lawyers and the right to judicial oversight of the detention. The State must also guarantee access to timely and reliable information on where the political leader is being held and on the state of his health.
The new wave of social protests in Venezuela began on March 30, 2017, when thousands of people mobilized in the streets of several cities to demand the restoration of constitutional and democratic order in the country, following decisions taken by the Supreme Court of Venezuela. The protests spread in April and May and intensified after the issuance of Decree 2830, by which President Nicolás Maduro intends to convene a National Constituent Assembly, which has been denounced as unconstitutional and undemocratic by various opposition parties and many sectors of civil society, as well as international organizations and bodies. The constituent assembly could reportedly result in the dissolution of the current national assembly.

The IACHR condemns any attempt by the Venezuelan authorities to prevent the holding of elections and to suppress citizens' right to vote. As stated in the Inter-American Democratic Charter, "The peoples of the Americas have a right to democracy and their governments have an obligation to promote and defend it." The arbitrary restriction of political rights and the closure of democratic spaces cannot be the answer to the demands of society; on the contrary, it is a sign of the inability to respond to the demands in democratic terms, which only increases social and political conflicts.
In this critical context, the Commission deeply deplores President Nicolás Maduro’s decision—unprecedented in the inter-American system—seeking to denounce the Charter of the Organization of American States (OAS) and thereby nullify the protection the hemispheric human rights system affords to the people of Venezuela.
The Commission is evaluating the legal and juridical implications of the Venezuelan President’s decision. Under any circumstance, given that the process of denouncing the Charter takes two years to enter into force, the Venezuelan State remains bound to respect its international human rights obligations under the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man and the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Commission. The Commission calls on the Venezuelan government to reconsider its decision to denounce the OAS Charter.

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. 058/17