Press Release

IACHR and its Special Rapporteurship on Economic, Social, Cultural, and Environmental Rights Condemn the Violent Repression in Venezuela and Urge the State to Protect Human Rights in the Current Political, Economic and Social Crisis

March 1, 2019

   Contact info

IACHR Press and Communication Office
Tel: +1 (202) 370-9000
[email protected]

   More on the IACHR
A+ A-

Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and its Special Rapporteurship on Economic, Social, Cultural, and Environmental Rights (SRESCER) condemn the violent repression in Venezuela and urge the State to protect the human rights of the Venezuelan people in the ongoing political, economic and social crisis.

The IACHR gathered information about serious violence in Venezuela on February 23, 2019, in the context of efforts to try to get humanitarian aid into the country from various places across the border in Colombia and Brazil. Such repression involved officers of the Bolivarian National Police, the Bolivarian National Guard and groups of armed civilians.

According to the organization Observatorio Venezolano de Conflictividad Social (OVCS), four people were murdered in Santa Elena de Uairén, Bolívar, all of them shot: José Hernández, 25, José Esley Perez Márquez, 20, José Barrios Carrasco, 23, and Kliver Alfredo Pérez Rivero, 24. The IACHR has been informed of the alleged deaths of four other people in the states of Bolívar and Táchira, although they are yet to be identified. The OVCS also reported 295 injured, who suffered gunshot wounds, were intoxicated with harmful substances or suffered other types of aggression in at least 12 states. The OVCS mentioned two trucks that were burned while trying to enter Venezuelan territory loaded with humanitarian aid.

The organization Foro Penal also recorded 32 arrests, in the states of Zulia (16), Bolívar (6), Lara (4), Anzoátegui (3), Táchira (2) and Aragua (1). Of the people who have been arrested, 10 are Pemon indigenous persons—nine from the Kumaracapay community and one from Santa Elena de Uairén, Gran Sabana, in the state of Bolívar.

Further, on February 22, the IACHR was informed of the death of one person and injuries to at least 15 others in the Kumaracapay indigenous community, in San Francisco de Yuruaní, Bolívar, as trucks carrying officers of the Army and the Bolivarian National Guard who were en route to Brazil allegedly opened fire on members of that community.

The Commission observes with concern that recent violence happened in a context marked by the repression of protests in January and February; the use of lethal force during demonstrations; the persecution and stigmatization of opposition activists and citizens; complaints of searches without court warrants and arbitrary arrests during protests and following such events; expulsions and arrests of journalists and violations of people’s right to freedom of expression by blocking or suspending websites, platforms and Internet services more generally.

The organizations Observatorio Venezolano de Conflictividad Social and PROVEA recorded a total of 35 deaths in January 22-28 in the context of protests in 10 states around the country. All victims allegedly suffered gunshot wounds. In approximately 80% of all cases, the presence of security officers of the Special Action Forces, the Bolivarian National Police and the Bolivarian National Guard was documented. According to data gathered by Foro Penal, between January 21 and February 21, a total of 1,122 people—including 141 women and 141 minors—were subjected to arbitrary arrests in the context of protests. Of those, 1,030 have allegedly been taken before court and 636—including 75 women—remain deprived of their liberty. There have also been reports of arrests and of stigmatization and harassment campaigns targeting human rights defenders and humanitarian workers in the country, particularly in recent weeks.

According to the OVCS, during 2018, 89% of all protests held in the country were linked to the failure to protect economic, social, cultural and environmental rights. During January 2019 alone, the OVCS counted 2,573 demonstrations, an average of 86 protests per day all around the country. Of those, approximately 36% demanded the right to health, food, labor rights and access to essential services. The official minimum wage in Venezuela currently stands at 6 dollars a month, and it has suffered a loss of purchasing power.

The IACHR and its SRESCER warn that acts of repression and violence happen in a general context of permanent crisis, especially concerning an effective protection of the rights to food and health, which has particularly affected vulnerable individuals and groups. Over the past two years, food production has dropped, food prices have increased and there is limited access to food, which has seriously affected Venezuelans. A survey carried out by the Roman Catholic organization Cáritas found that, by November 2018, 57% of the 4,103 5-year-olds who were assessed showed some degree of malnutrition and 7.3% had severe malnutrition. Shortages and the high cost of products that are essential for the specific adequate nutrition of children and adolescents—such as milk and milk products, high biological value products, cereal, protein, vitamin supplements and food supplements—are some of the factors that make them particularly suffer the consequences of lack of access. Women have also been particularly affected by the food crisis. They often suffer malnutrition during pregnancy and while breastfeeding—both crucial for the health of mothers and their born and unborn babies—and that has led many to choose to undergo sterilization surgery.

The humanitarian emergency that is ongoing in Venezuela is also affecting indigenous peoples with little access to goods, services and financial resources. Malaria, measles and the flu, among other infectious diseases, have reached communities such as the Warao in Delta Amacuro state and the Yanomami on the Brazilian border. Such diseases are life-threatening in those cases, given the lack of access to healthcare facilities. Geographical barriers make it necessary to take medical assistance and food to the most remote areas of the country, which in turn requires very well-articulated transport logistics. Poor communication between service providers and indigenous communities are another major hurdle, and so is limited understanding of the realities and the sociocultural representations in place in those communities.

Considering the applicable international standards and regulations, the IACHR and its SRESCER stress that the right to food is only ensured when people have physical and financial access to adequate food or to the means to obtain such food at any time. In that context, the Venezuelan State must make more effort to ensure essential levels, in order to protect its people from hunger even when faced with seriously limited resources.

Scarcity and shortages of medication and medical equipment, inputs and treatment in Venezuela has gradually got worse since 2014. According to figures released by PROVEA and CodeVida, the current shortages affect 90% of all medication and inputs at the national level. There is reportedly also a collapse of hospital infrastructure around the country: 50% of all operating theaters are inactive, and 80% of all diagnostic services are not fit for use, according to the National Hospital Survey. Chronic medication shortages are allegedly having a particular impact on patients with chronic illnesses like HIV, diabetes, kidney failure, cancer and multiple sclerosis. JM de los Ríos Hospital (Caracas), Concepción Palacios Maternity (Caracas) and Andes University Hospital (Iahula) are some of the hospitals that are particularly affected by the health sector crisis.

According to information obtained by the SRESCER, more than 11,000 people with kidney deficiencies are at risk, given shortages of adequate inputs and difficult access to such resources, as well as poor equipment maintenance and a poor supply of power and water. Further, the number of weekly hours of therapy has been reduced due to the lack of resources, so patients are getting dialysis only once a week, in sessions that are too short to suit their needs. According to the information the Commission has had access to, 2,486 patients who previously received regular hemodialysis died between October 2017 and June 2018 in Venezuela (the latest available data). The Commission has also been informed of patients with kidney deficiencies who received regular dialysis across the Colombian border in San José de Cúcuta and who are now being prevented from accessing treatment because the border has been closed, which has in turn impacted their right to health. The IACHR and its SRESCER stress that health is a fundamental human right that is essential for the exercise of all other human rights. States have a general obligation to ensure people’s access to essential health services (by ensuring effective, good-quality healthcare) and to promote improvements in the health condition of their people.

Further, considering that access to medication is an integral component of the right to health, it needs to be protected and respected, among other things by supplying essential drugs to treat illnesses that pose public-health risks or that are crucial to preserve the health of the Venezuelan people. The process to select such drugs and to prioritize diseases will need to be based on evidence and must be transparent and participatory, particularly for the worst-affected groups.

The IACHR has observed that millions of Venezuelans have been forced to migrate to other countries in the region in recent years, as a consequence of mass human rights violations and of the serious food and health crisis in the country. This is the biggest contemporary forced-migration crisis in the region, as well as one of the most significant worldwide. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), there were nearly 3.4 million Venezuelan migrants and refugees in various countries around the world by February 1, 2019, 2.7 million of them in Latin American and Caribbean countries (mainly Colombia, Peru, Chile, Ecuador, Argentina and Brazil). This crisis context has also led to the forced displacement of indigenous peoples.

The Venezuelan crisis affects all human rights, which are indivisible and interdependent. The IACHR expresses its growing concern about the extreme vulnerability of the Venezuelan people—within and beyond the country’s borders—due to widespread poverty and to severe restrictions in access to rights including food, health, education, employment and housing, as well as the previously mentioned State repression of protests and freedom of expression.

The Commission stresses its huge concern about recent repression and about the persistence and escalation of violence. The IACHR urges the State to protect the population’s rights to life, personal integrity, personal liberty, freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and social and political participation. Further, the Commission asks the authorities to refrain from harassment campaigns targeting human rights defenders and humanitarian workers in the country. The IACHR calls on the State to end all forms of violence and to refrain from using lethal force in all circumstances. The Commission urges the Venezuelan State and all actors to reduce tensions and prevent further escalation of violence, which could particularly affect the most vulnerable population groups, especially children and indigenous peoples.

The SRESCER is an office of the IACHR and was especially created to brace the Commission’s compliance with its mandate to promote and protect economic, social, cultural and environmental rights in the Americas.

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. 052/19