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Press Release

Venezuela: Message from the Office of the Secretary General of the OAS in connection with the demonstrations of September 1

  August 30, 2016

Just a few hours away from the demonstrations expected on September 1, the Office of the Secretary General of the Organization of American States issues a reminder that what matters above all is peace and the rights of people. Every one of us, institutionally or in our own walk of life, must strive for mutual understanding and uphold tolerance of the ideas of others. The practice of politics must be forged from principles and values that create an ethical framework of peaceful coexistence, solidarity, and harmony.

In this context, it is up to the Government, those holding government office, and the State security forces to guarantee the right to life, safety, and integrity for all inhabitants, mindful that they are personally and institutionally accountable, internally and internationally, before the appropriate political and legal bodies, for the consequences of their deeds or omissions.

Offers by the General Secretariat to observe the march on September 1

On August 12, 2016, the Secretary General of the Organization, Luis Almagro, received a request from the Chair of the Foreign Relations Committee of the National Assembly of Venezuela, Deputy Luis Florido, and political leader Carlos Vecchio that the OAS General Secretariat proceed to observe the marches and demonstrations expected for September 1, 2016. That request, which was later backed by leaders and members of civil society, was received by Secretary General Almagro in a spirit of complete readiness to cooperate.

That being so, the Office of the Secretary General contacted the permanent mission of Venezuela to the OAS with a view to activating the mechanisms needed for the OAS to observe and be there at the march.

Thus Note OSG 425 was dispatched to the aforementioned diplomatic mission on August 12, 2016 and similar moves were repeated on August 22 (Note OSG 438).

In those Notes, the General Secretariat of the OAS stated:

• Its readiness to provide institutional assistance in the form of international observation of the aforementioned demonstrations, with a view to offering the Venezuelan Government, opposition, and citizens with the greatest possible guarantees of impartiality in connection with the free expression of the will of the people and to help ensure peaceful proceedings within a framework of harmonious coexistence.

• That said intention falls within the spheres of competence of the Secretary General established in the OAS Charter, the Inter-American Democratic Charter, and other legal instruments with respect to the promotion and protection of human rights.

• Willingness to jointly explore ways for the General Secretariat and/or other OAS bodies to monitor the demonstrations that had been convened in order to provide a mechanism for assistance and joint observation that would be effective and offer the necessary safeguards.

• The need to work together with the support of the inter-American and international community to guarantee citizens’ rights to air their views.

• That the lamentable events of 2014, during street demonstrations, when excessive violence was unleashed, with arbitrary arrests, and the irreparable loss of 43 human lives and hundreds of people wounded, remind us of the constant need to do everything possible to preserve peace and harmonious coexistence among citizens, which are prerequisites for guaranteeing rights, ensuring that past horrors are not repeated, and establishing accountability mechanisms.

• That the General Secretariat of the Organization of American States possesses tried and tested, effective, impartial, and professional mechanisms for providing appropriate observation and monitoring safeguards.

• That the legal obligations derived from the OAS Charter, the Inter-American Democratic Charter, and other instruments relating to the promotion and protection of human rights require the authorities of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela to fully observe and comply with those instruments.

• That those same legal instruments constitute for the Secretary General of the OAS a legal, ethical, political and functional obligation to strive to ensure compliance with them and to denounce systematic violations.

• That the context characterized by the erosion and deterioration of institutions, the militarization of civilian activities, humanitarian crisis, and the existence of political prisoners makes it all the more necessary for all parties to be able to rely on actors who can help provide the necessary guarantees for peaceful coexistence among citizens.

Despite the reasons and arguments submitted, the Government of Venezuela has rejected the offer of the General Secretariat of the OAS to work to ensure the best possible safeguards for the scheduled marches and demonstrations.

The fact that it has rejected a proposal that offered safeguards for people to be able to exercise their rights clearly demonstrates a refusal to ensure conditions conducive to peace and tranquility for the people in connection with the September 1 demonstrations. The General Secretariat of the OAS holds the Government of Venezuela responsible for safeguarding the people's right to demonstrate peacefully, its right to assemble, and its right to freedom of expression without being subjected to any form of violence or intimidation. The General Secretariat will consider any abuse of authority completely unacceptable. The General Secretariat holds the Government of Venezuela responsible for any victim: a lamentable outcome it hopes will not occur.

Attempts to intimidate the opposition

The General Secretariat voices its concern over developments in recent days prior to the convocation by Venezuela’s democratic opposition of the September 1 march. Complaints have been received of increased repression and human rights violations. An attempt is being made to criminalize protest. There are threats of outlawing political parties and criminalizing the actions of elected members of the National Assembly and of civil society activists: steps that raise serious doubts as to whether the Venezuelan Government is interested in serious and constructive dialogue to overcome the crisis it has plunged Venezuela into.

The General Secretariat reiterates its concern at the increasing deterioration of institutions in Venezuela and, in this context, calls for the scheduled demonstrations and marches, convened pursuant to the legitimate right of the people to assemble and express its will, to be conducted peacefully and in an atmosphere conducive to peaceful coexistence.

What is needed is an immediate stop to the arbitrary and brazen measures deliberately designed to intimidate opposition leaders and the general public just a few hours for the march.

These measures have included:

• The imprisonment of the former mayor of San Cristóbal, Daniel Ceballos, ordered without any regard for civil rights or objective criteria. That is an extraordinary abuse of power, clearly designed to sow fear not only in Mr. Ceballos’ family and those close to him, but in the general public as well.

• On Monday, youth leader and activist Yon Goicoechea was arrested by hooded police officers, when he was out on the street in Caracas. Only late at night did a government party deputy disclose his whereabouts: the SEBIN prison.

• The arrest warrant against Mayor Warner Jiménez has all the appearance of similar arbitrariness and tyranny.

• The arbitrary police raids in the homes of Deputy Lester Toledo - who possesses immunity- and

• Mayor Delson Guarate, with total disregard for due process, demonstrate the viciousness with which opposition leaders are treated.

• The media are constantly being intimidated and today the head office of the “El Nacional” newspaper was attacked by violent groups that support the Venezuelan Government. International journalists now arriving in Caracas to cover the September 1 march are being kept at the airport and even awaiting deportation, as in the case of the Al Jazeera reporters, as a way of preventing coverage freely reaching the international press.

• Today’s harassment of the Voluntad Popular headquarters is another part of the intimidation operation under way.

• The arrest of Carlos Melo constitutes a further exacerbation of the abuses and denial of rights amounting to provocations that make it even harder to achieve reconciliation among citizens shortly before the demonstrations expected on September 1.

• The arbitrary imprisonment in the Tocuyito prison of two young men (Francisco Márquez and Gabriel San Miguel), without showing an arrest warrant or having informed either their lawyers or family members. They remain in prison, with no charges brought against them.

The imprisonment in the early hours of this morning (in the 26 de Julio de Guárico high security prison) of Raúl Baduel and Alexander Tirado, likewise without notifying either defense counsel or next of kin.

•The detention today of Deputy María Hernández is yet another example of arbitrary abuse.

• Along the same lines, violating the constitutional rights that guarantee all Venezuelans the right to make their own judgments and express their opinions, the Venezuelan Government has ordered the dismissal en masse of more than 4,000 civil servants who voted for the recall referendum.

• Venezuelans already marching on the capital to take part in the demonstrations report road blocks put there by the national government to stop them from getting through or to send them in another direction, as happened with the indigenous march walking thousands of kilometers from the State of Amazonas to participate in the demonstrations.

• Today, too, there was an attempt to set fire to the headquarters of the Acción Democrática party in San Carlos.

Throughout history, attempts to intimidate the population ahead of expressions of the people’s will have always characterized the most notorious authoritarian regimes.

Such moves help create an atmosphere of confrontation and tension and exacerbate the risk of excesses in response to the arbitrariness and brazen impunity.

All the acts listed above are part and parcel of a systemic plan relying on State repression. They constitute a total violation of the fundamental rights of the Venezuelan people. They also run completely counter to democratic principles and values and establish the Government of Venezuela as a dictatorship that systematically violates the human rights of its people.

A Call to the Government of Venezuela to respect Human Rights and grant maximum guarantees

In particular, we call upon the Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela to allow the demonstrations by the people within a framework of ample freedom and civic guarantees and to avoid any measures that may incite violence and create the conditions for confrontation, such as the scheduling of pro-Government marches and demonstrations on the same day.

In the same vein, we call upon the electoral authorities to safeguard the constitutional rights of Venezuelan citizens and to provide certainty that the recall referendum will be held in 2016.

It is incumbent upon the National Electoral Council (CNE) to be a bastion of impartiality and upholder of guarantees, not a tool of political power, twisting duly stipulated deadlines or percentages of signatures collected.

Failure to comply with these obligations on the part of the CNE exacerbates the deterioration of conditions for peaceful coexistence and stokes political and social polarization.

Moreover, the proven existence of political prisoners not only violates the human rights of Venezuelans; it prevents the establishment of a democratic system and further erodes the bases for much-needed peaceful coexistence among citizens. We reiterate the call for their immediate release, a measure that will undoubtedly help restore democratic standards in the country.

The OAS General Secretariat also draws attention to the manipulations that have prevented Secretary General Almagro from meeting with the Committee of Victims of Guarimba (first requested by the General Secretariat on October 21, 2015) and it reiterates the need for light to be shed on what happened and for justice to be done. Using underhand tactics to thwart the victims’ access to a dialogue with the OAS General Secretariat runs counter to the need for clarification and for much-needed guarantees of accountability and measures to ensure that it does not happen again. It also does nothing to build civic peace.

There is an urgent need for genuine dialogue in the quest for solutions. Establishing deadlines, goals and mediators accepted by all parties is a prerequisite for the restoration of democracy in Venezuela.

Finally, the General Secretariat reiterates its call for peace, harmony, and reconciliation among Venezuelans, rooted in respect for the rights of all and for the tolerance that is vital for September 1.

Reference: E-090/16