Civil society denounces systematic criminalisation in Venezuela
In February 2020, 155 Venezuelan civil society organisations signed a statement demanding an end to the criminalisation of human rights defenders in the country. In their press release, the organisations say that the human rights movement has been affected by the view that there are “internal enemies seeking to destabilise peace”. This has meant that attacks shifted beyond stigmatisation and smear campaigns toward a policy of control and repression, through instruments such as restrictive legislation, judicial persecution, arbitrary detention and criminalisation of association. An acutely hostile environment has left social movements, civil society organisations and defenders exposed to violence and insecurity. In this context, the organisations urged that the Venezuela state cease all acts of criminalisation, intimidation, harassment, delegitimisation and aggression against defenders and civil society. They also demanded the implementation of mechanisms to guarantee an enabling environment, to curb abuses by authorities and ensure proper investigation and sanction of attackers.
On 21st January 2020, the Observatorio Venezolano de Conflictividad Social (Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict - OVCS) published their annual report which indicates a record number of protests in 2019. Between January and December 2019, OSVC documented 16,739 protests, a significant increase from 2018’s 12,175 demonstrations. 58% of protests involved socio-economic, cultural and environmental rights, while 42% demanded civil and political rights.
On 27th February 2020, Amnesty International also published their annual report on the situation of human rights across the Americas in 2019. According to their data, in 2019 at least 47 people were killed during demonstrations in Venezuela, of which at least 39 were killed by members of state forces or government supporters. In addition, there were at least 11 extrajudicial killings and over 900 people were detained during protests, including minors. This pattern of repression has been in place since 2014, for which Amnesty International considered that there is justice to claims that these systematic attacks against the civilian population constitute crimes against humanity. The report also covers several other issues such as lack of access to justice, attacks against Indigenous populations and displacement.
En nueve años han sido documentadas 76.526 protestas en todo el país.— Observatorio de Conflictos (@OVCSocial) March 5, 2020
El 2019 fue el año récord en manifestaciones. En su mayoría las exigencias son por los derechos sociales.#OVCS pic.twitter.com/6UQ9rThqcP
El abuso del poder estatal, las agresiones y amenazas, la desinformación, la opacidad y los mecanismos de censura prevalecieron en el país #Lee más en nuestro #ReporteAnual2019 https://t.co/32W08i5jND pic.twitter.com/YJjJEJACRr— IPYS Venezuela (@ipysvenezuela) March 26, 2020
The Instituto Prensa y Sociedad de Venezuela (Venezoela’s Press and Society Institute – IPYS Venezuela) published their annual report warning that the state was the main violator of freedom of expression in the country during 2019. According to the organisation, abuse of power, attacks and restrictions on access to public information made 2019 a year of historic setbacks for freedom of information. IPYS documented 534 cases and 1,032 violations of the rights to freedom of expression and access to public information against journalists and citizens. These include 512 incidents of power abuse and 326 attacks against journalists and the media, as well as several cases of censorship and restrictions to access to information.