Commissioners: Francisco Egulgren, Paulo Vannuchi, José De Jesus Orozco Henriquez
Petitioners, at a hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on March 22, 2017, discussed grievances against the government regarding extrajudicial murders committed by state police. One example Petitioners mentioned several times was the 1988 massacre of El Amparo, in which a military police unit attacked fourteen fishermen, claiming they were guerillas. Petitioners requested more information from La Comisión Por La Justicia y La Verdad (La Comisión), ways to prevent massacres from happening, more training for police against using torture and excessive force, de-militarization of prisons, an oversight committee, and that the bodies and remains of victims to be returned to their families.
Both Petitioners and Representatives of Venezuela agreed that they needed to have procedures in place to prevent future massacres. The State explained that the desire to avoid atrocities in the future is what lead to the creation of La Comisión Por La Justicia y La Verdad, which translates to the Commission for Justice and Truth. However, Petitioners stated they were worried about corruption, especially since most members who were appointed to La Comisión were connected to former President Hugo Chavez. Petitioners also worry that there is a lack of oversight and that Venezuela has failed to institute any of the protocols in place to address past penalties. Petitioners voiced concern that La Comisión was taking too long to complete its investigation into the Venezuelan massacres. La Comisión has been working on its investigation since 2010.
The State argued that it has taken so long to conduct its investigation because it does not have immediate access to the decades-old documents. The State further stated that it has to work against time to find people, documents, and other relevant information.
One of the Petitioners had lost family members in one of the massacres and asked the State to find out why these murders occurred. The State argued that part of the investigation was focusing on military and political related deaths.
Petitioners were also concerned that the remains and bodies of victims had not been returned to their families; however, there was insufficient time to address this issue during the hearing.
The Commission stated that it is important to have protections in place so that these massacres do not happen again and it is important to restore dignity to the victims of these crimes.
Author’s Legal Analysis
The massacre of civilians by agents of the State goes against the Geneva Conventions, the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and the Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish Torture. Venezuela is also a signatory to the Inter-American Convention on Forced Disappearance of Persons. In 2010, the IACHR castigated Venezuela for punishing the people responsible for the El Amparo massacre. Due to international and domestic pressure, it is in Venezuela’s best interest to improve police training in non-lethal tactics. To comport with its international legal obligations, Venezuela should also create an oversight committee to review police tactics, and prevent future massacres. The faster La Comisión’s completed investigation should ideally provide insight on how the massacres occurred and how they can be avoided in the future. La Comisión should also facilitate the return of bodies and remains of massacre victims back to their families.