OHCHR: Update on Venezuela by High Commissioner Türk
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) | July 5, 2023
Statement by Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
On this day on which Venezuelans commemorate their independence, I acknowledge Venezuela’s engagement with my Office, which is, in and of itself, an important signal.
The authorities continue to facilitate visits to civilian detention centres, and interviews with detainees, by my team. Last month, my staff were also able to visit two military detention centres.
In addition, they were given access to 13 prosecution case files and three judicial hearings, and had direct exchanges with prosecutors on cases and issues identified by OHCHR, expanding engagement with the Office of the Attorney General to new areas of cooperation. This has enabled the formulation of precise recommendations for greater compliance of investigations and trials with international human rights standards.
The Office of the Attorney General has also agreed to develop a protocol for the investigation of gender-based killings, or femicides, addressing an important recommendation of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). I encourage further measures to advance women’s rights, including by amending restrictive legislation on abortion.
I note with appreciation the March 2023 judgement of the Supreme Court that de-criminalized same-sex relations in the Code of military justice, and I encourage additional measures to advance the rights of LGBTIQ+ people.
I also note that last month, in an important step towards justice and accountability, Venezuela signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to establish an in-country presence.
The number of documented killings by agents of the State, as well as reports of torture and ill-treatment, continue to decrease.
Official reports indicate that in 2022, 362 officials were indicted, and 47 convicted, for torture and ill-treatment. The Office has received information about 91 other complaints of torture submitted by victims and their representatives since 2018, and I urge the authorities to ensure adequate follow up, without exception, and in full transparency.
There have been prolonged delays in the investigation of deaths during protests that took place in 2014, 2017 and 2019. Moreover, of the 101 deaths that my Office has documented in the context of security operations, only eight have been brought to trial.
I repeat my call to release all those who are unlawfully or arbitrarily detained, including 16 people whose detentions have been deemed arbitrary by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; and people whose pre-trial detention has surpassed the legal limit.
I am concerned about the case of Javier Tarazona, a leading human rights defender who has been detained for two years, and who is reportedly in poor health. His trial is underway.
I urge resolution of these issues, and full implementation of other recommendations contained in my report to accelerate efforts to establish an effective, impartial and independent administration of justice. My Office is ready to support this work.
It is important that the authorities implement our recommendations regarding the full enjoyment of civic space. The Office has documented threats and stigmatization of civil society activists, members of opposition parties and other dissenting voices, including 67 incidents in which State officials were allegedly involved. My Office has also documented 17 instances of undue judicial proceedings, and arbitrary detention. The number of these incidents has declined from the previous year but it remains preoccupying.
Restrictions on public information, as well as on freedoms of opinion and expression, are also concerning. These include the closure of 16 radio stations nationwide The Office continues to document cases of undue restrictions to the registration of NGOs that work on human rights issues.
In these and other areas, legislation needs to be reformed to align with international standards, in order to strengthen freedom of association through an enabling environment for the participation of civic associations in public life.
Venezuela’s upcoming national electoral processes must be transparent, inclusive, and participatory. I urge the lifting of all undue restrictions on the right to participate in public affairs; full compliance with due process; and measures to prevent and sanction attacks, intimidation, and the criminalisation of people voicing dissent.
Reports of obstacles to free participation in political affairs – including administrative disqualification of members of the opposition from holding office – need to be addressed as a matter of urgency. We are closely following developments surrounding the appointment of a new National Electoral Council, from the perspective of international human rights standards.
Protests have continued during the reporting period, often centred on demands for economic and social rights, such as better working conditions and wages.
The arrest last month of two trade union leaders of the State-run SIDOR steel company in Bolívar State, on charges of incitement to hatred, criminal association, and boycott, is one of several cases of concern. Another is the ongoing trial of six union and labour leaders on charges of conspiracy and criminal association, following their arrests a year ago, also reportedly in relation to labour protests.
All Venezuelans have the right to peaceful assembly. I call on the Government and employers’ organizations to respect these fundamental rights, and to engage in serious dialogue with unions and workers.
I remain concerned about the alleged criminalization, threats and even murder of campesino leaders for defending land rights or denouncing corruption. Measures are needed to protect these rural leaders and to investigate all such alleged crimes.
We also continue to document threats and intimidation by non-state armed and criminal groups against indigenous defenders protecting their territory from drug trafficking and mining. Efforts to counter these activities must be in line with international human rights law and be accompanied by measures to improve the livelihoods of those affected. There is a clear need to reactivate the demarcation process of indigenous territories, with an emphasis on self-demarcation. I welcome commitments for my Office and the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples to work jointly towards the realization of indigenous peoples’ rights.
Sectoral sanctions continue to exacerbate the country’s human rights challenges, and affect the rights of Venezuelans, including their access to medicine and adequate healthcare. They need to be lifted.
It is important to support all efforts conducive to inclusive and effective dialogue between Venezuelans. I encourage swift and full implementation of agreements reached to date, including the Mesa Social accord that was reached in November last year. Rebuilding trust and a cohesive social contract for the future is the way forward.