As Venezuelans prepare to go to the polls on 14 April, Amnesty International has identified some of the key human rights issues that every candidate should prioritize in their plans.
Venezuela has one of the highest murder rates in Latin America due, among other factors, to the uncontrolled availability of firearms and ammunition.
Policing remains a challenge and while there have been advances in recent years, authorities must ensure that all human rights abuses by the security forces are investigated and those responsible brought to justice.
Moreover, official information on firearms and injuries resulting from them must be collected and available to the public and a national support system for victims of gun violence, established.
For years, Venezuelan prisons have been overcrowded and violence has been widespread.
This has become particularly problematic in recent years and in 2012 at least 591 people died in Venezuela’s jails, where there is triple the number of inmates than the system was built to handle. Firearms, explosives, and other weapons are rampant throughout prisons, while violent clashes and riots are all too common.
Authorities must ensure all detention centres meet basic standards when it comes to infrastructure and personnel. The judicial system must also ensure that undue delays in processes do not lead to overcrowding.
Finally, measures must be put in place to prevent and punish violence in prisons, including preventing the proliferation of arms in detention centres and carrying out investigations into abuses.
Freedom of expression and association
Those who express opposition to government policies – including journalists and human rights activists - are frequently subject to baseless accusations from authorities and the state-run media in an attempt to delegitimize their work.
Some human rights defenders have even reported suffering physical attacks. Those responsible rarely face justice.
The Venezuelan authorities must respect the right to freedom of expression and association, including by protecting the rights of people to protect human rights without fear of reprisal.
Violence against Women
As in many other countries around the world, violence against women is an endemic problem in Venezuela.
Even though the country has recently passed a Law on the Right of Women to Live Free of Violence, six years on, it still lacks a regulatory framework on how the authorities should handle these crimes.
Authorities should make efforts to implement the law and strengthen specialized tribunals dealing with violence against women and provide enough shelters with the necessary resources to deal with the needs of survivors of violence.
International human rights scrutiny
Last September, Venezuela officially removed itself as a signatory of the American Convention on Human Rights, initiating its withdrawal from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. As a result from September 2013 victims of human rights violations will be barred from bringing complaints before the highest court in the Americas.
A strong independent and impartial judicial system is crucial to deliver justice to all without discrimination. However, every country also needs regional and international protection human rights mechanisms to provide people with another channel for justice when their human rights complaints are not answered at home.
Venezuela must reinstate its commitment to regional and international human rights mechanisms to ensure all people can access international mechanisms, which is a constitutional right of all Venezuelans.