Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela
Head of state and government Hugo Chávez Frías
Levels of violent crime, especially gun-related crime, remained high despite efforts to control the availability and use of firearms. Violence in prisons remained widespread and riots continued. The government initiated its withdrawal from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
Venezuela's human rights record was assessed under the UN Universal Periodic Review, whose report was adopted in March. Venezuela had accepted several of the recommendations made, including those on human rights defenders. It made a commitment to support their activities and to publicly recognize their role. However, it had rejected several recommendations, including to formulate a National Human Rights Plan and to issue standing invitations to regional and international human rights mechanisms and bodies.
In November, Venezuela became a member of the UN Human Rights Council, thereby making a commitment to co-operate with its Special Procedures and its universal system for the promotion and protection of human rights. By the end of 2012, Venezuela's ratification of several international human rights instruments and requests made by six Special Rapporteurs to visit the country remained pending.
Presidential elections took place in October. Election day was largely peaceful and approximately 81% of voters cast ballots, one of the highest levels of participation in Venezuelan history. Incumbent President Hugo Chávez was elected for a third six-year term.
Venezuela had one of the highest murder rates in Latin America due, among other factors, to the uncontrolled availability of firearms and ammunition. There also were concerns about the use of firearms by the police. According to a report from the National Police General Council, 80% of police institutions were using weapons that did not follow institutional guidelines. Lack of any other official and precise information on violence, especially around injury from firearms, remained a concern.
In 2012, the Presidential Commission for the Control of Arms, Munitions and Disarmament conducted research and consultations with the general public and initiated public campaigns to encourage people to voluntarily turn in their firearms. The government's new security initiative “Gran Misión a Toda Vida Venezuela” pledged to continue this work of disarmament, including through the creation of a national support system for the victims of gun violence.
In 2012, small arms were restricted in certain public areas and a new registration system was established to increase control over the existing firearms. People who owned small firearms were encouraged to register them, while new requests for licences to carry firearms were suspended for a year. At the end of 2012, a draft arms control law was before Congress.
Violence in prisons was widespread. At least 591 people were killed in Venezuelan prisons during the year. Firearms, explosives, and other weapons continued to be routinely used in prison clashes.
- In July, the announcement of a transfer of inmates from the Andean Region Penitentiary in Merida state to other prisons sparked a 20-day riot that left 17 people dead.
- In August, an outbreak of violence resulted in 26 deaths and 43 people injured in Yare prison.
Human rights defenders
Government officials and the state-run media continued to make baseless accusations against human rights defenders in an attempt to delegitimize their work. Human rights defenders were also the targets of physical attacks; those responsible were not brought to justice.