Commissioners: Tracy Robinson, Felipe González, Rodrigo Escobar Gil, Emilio Álvarez Icaza (Executive Secretary).
Petitioners: Comité de Víctimas de los Sucesos de Febrero-Marzo de 1989 (COFAVIC) / Acción Solidaria contra el Sida (ACSOL) / Vicaría de Derechos Humanos de la Arquidiócesis de Caracas.
State: Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela
In a second hearing on the general human rights situation in Venezuela (see the first session here), the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on November 1, 2012, heard testimony from civil society organizations that submitted reports cataloguing an increase in general violence and harassment of human rights organizations by Venezuelan authorities. The petitioners alleged that the rights to life and personal integrity, enshrined in Articles 4 and 5 of the American Convention on Human Rights, have been breached through extra-judicial killings and the non-application of justice. Using the Office of the Public Prosecutor’s data, the petitioners presented records of more than 8,000 cases of extra-judicial killings, and evidence that twenty percent involved police officers. Most of these were shown to go unpunished, with ninety percent of cases being thrown out.
The petitioners primarily addressed the Venezuelan response to this situation, exemplified by the militarization of the national police force. They argued that Venezuela must adapt its current legal mechanisms to meet international standards. They further argued for better reforms to the Organic Penal Process Code to provide more assistance, noting that ninety-three percent of people who bring claims never see a judge. They also alleged that claimants are subjected to harassment from authorities, and that non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are impeded from providing assistance.
Finally, the petitioners addressed difficulties faced by human rights defenders in Venezuela. They argued that Venezuela has a duty to allow human rights defenders to do their work. Thirty-six articles of the Venezuelan Constitution deal with human rights, according to the petitioners, who contended that the rights have no meaning if advocates cannot pursue the protections. Furthermore, the petitioners argued that Venezuelan opposition to human rights defenders violates the right of free association, enshrined in Article 16 of the American Convention, which the petitioners claimed was only respected when it did not relate to the State’s authority. One example presented by the petitioners was that the State has expelled human rights organizations by calling them a “Mafia of NGOs.” Lastly, the petitioners alleged that human rights defenders have been subjected to harassment, kidnapping, and threats to their families through the legislature and Prosecutor’s Office. They finished their testimony by asking Venezuela to reconsider the steps it has taken to withdraw from the Inter-American Court, and to accept the validity of the IACHR
The Venezuelan representative began by explaining that the citizens, in a referendum, approved the Constitution in 1999, and that everyone within the national government defended human rights. To support this, he argued that the number of human rights organizations drastically increased after the adoption of the new Constitution. He called the Venezuelan Constitution the most advanced constitution for protecting human rights. He then argued that the real problem was that the petitioning organizations did not support the Constitution. In further steps to argue against the validity of the petitioners’ claims, he faulted international organizations for involving participation from civil society organizations instead of citizens. He charged that civil society cannot participate in governance, only citizens.
The State’s representative then used the lack of citizen participation in the prior regime to form his main argument that civil society refuses to acknowledge President Hugo Chávez’s human rights advancements. In this argument, he repeatedly referenced social and economic rights that he said did not exist before, including a decriminalization of poverty that he said the previous regime had done through arresting unemployed persons. He argued that the petitioners opposed this. He then argued that opposition to Chávez motivates human rights defenders, and that they engaged in an attempted coup against Chávez. He alleged that this hearing, and every other one regarding Venezuela, were all targeted at opposition to Chávez. He then said that Chávez is one of the only leaders to acknowledge the previous regime’s human rights violations, but that he could not change everything in fourteen years.
Following Venezuela’s remarks, Commissioner Tracy Robinson asked the State to respond to the statistics offered by the petitioners. Commissioner Felipe González commented on the merits of the IACHR, and said that new regimes always acknowledge wrongs of previous regimes. Emilio Álvarez Icaza, Commission Executive Secretary, commented that Venezuela must protect human rights defenders to move forward. In response, Venezuela again argued that human rights defenders participated in an attempted coup against Chávez, and that before Chávez the situation was worse.