Annual Report: Venezuela 2013

Report
May 29, 2013

Annual Report: Venezuela 2013

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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.

Background

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.

Public security

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.

Prison conditions

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.

  • In May, Marianela Sánchez Ortiz of the Venezuelan Observatory of Prisons (Observatorio Venezolano de Prisiones, OVP) was threatened. Her husband, Hernán Antonio Bolívar, was abducted at gunpoint and told to warn his wife to stop complaining about prison conditions and criticizing the government, or she and her family would face reprisals. Government officials also accused the OVP of falsifying information about prisons in order to receive money from US funders.

Impunity

  • In December, Jorge Antonio Barrios was assassinated in Aragua state. He was the ninth member of the Barrios family to be killed since 1998 in circumstances suggesting police involvement. The killings continued despite decisions since 2004 by the inter-American human rights system ordering Venezuela to ensure protection for the family and to bring those responsible to justice.

Independence of the judiciary

  • Judge María Lourdes Afiuni remained under house arrest throughout 2012. In September, unidentified gunmen drove past the building where she lives and opened fire, aiming towards her apartment. In November, she disclosed publicly that she had been raped while in jail. Judge Afiuni was detained in December 2009 and remained imprisoned for over a year. She was charged with offences including corruption, abuse of authority and association to commit a crime. She had ordered the conditional release of a banker who had been held in custody awaiting trial for more than two years, a decision within her remit and in line with Venezuelan law.

International scrutiny

In May, President Chávez, with the support of the National Assembly and the Supreme Court, announced plans to withdraw from the inter-American human rights system. In September, Venezuela officially removed itself as a signatory of the American Convention on Human Rights, thereby initiating its withdrawal from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. As a result, victims of human rights violations will be barred from September 2013 from bringing complaints before the highest court in the Americas. However, Venezuela will remain a member of the OAS and so will be subject to monitoring by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Violence against women and girls

The Law on the Right of Women to Live Free of Violence continued to lack a regulatory framework that establishes guidelines on how the authorities should handle cases of violence against women.

  • Hearings were held in the case of Alexandra Hidalgo, who was raped and tortured by a group of men, among them her husband, in 2004. In October it was decided that her husband would stand trial for her kidnapping and rape.

Amnesty International visits/reports

  • Amnesty International delegates visited Venezuela in April.
  • Carta abierta a los candidatos y las candidatas presidenciales de la República Bolivariana de Venezuela (AMR 53/006/2012)
  • Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela's candidacy for election to the UN Human Rights Council: Open letter (AMR 53/008/2012)