UN interviews find widespread use of excessive force by security forces to quell protests

As covered in the most recent Monitor update, the Constituent Assembly election took place on 30th July 2017, with Human Rights Watch and other groups calling the election a “sham.” As evidence of this claim, the company that has provided the technology for elections in Venezuela since 2004 issued a statement reporting that "the turnout figures of the July 30 election of members for the Constituent Assembly were tampered with”. In addition, twelve foreign minister from the Americas signed a resolution in which they declared that they “will not recognize the Constituent Assembly nor its resolutions”. 

Despite the criticism and questioning, the Constituent Assembly held a session on 5th August 2017, deciding that it would remain in place for the next two years. The Assembly also decided to remove Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz from office. As featured on the Monitor, the Supreme Court had previously decided to freeze the Attorney General's assets and impose a travel ban. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights granted protection measures for Luisa Ortega and her family. The Commission considers them in a “serious and urgent situation as their rights to life and integrity face an imminent risk of irreparable harm”. 

Peaceful Assembly

The local organisation Observatorio Venezolano de Conflictividad Social most recently reported that 6,729 protests took place from 1st April to 31st July 2017 and that as of 13th August, 163 people have been killed in the protests, though the Office of the Prosecution has reported 129 deaths in connection with the protests.

The monthly report from the organisation Foro Penal Venezolano stated that in July alone there have been 1,414 arbitrary detentions of protesters and 1,150 have been injured in the protests. The report also highlight cases of torture and ill treatment among those being held in detention. For example, at court hearings some protesters have claimed to have been sexually assaulted while in prison, including one case of a 12-year old girl who was arrested along with her brother. Other protesters claimed they were subject to physical aggression, including one case of alleged rape.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights released a report that “paint[s] a picture of widespread and systematic use of excessive force and arbitrary detentions against demonstrators in Venezuela.” The UN office conducted 135 interviews with witness, families and members of civil society organisations regarding the anti-government protests that started in the country in April 2017. The interviewers found eye-witness accounts of “security forces firing tear gas and buckshot at anti-Government protesters without warning”, including at short range and in some cases, “[security forces] reportedly also resorted to the use of deadly force against demonstrators”.

In addition, the UN team analysed the cause of death of 124 people during the protests. The team concluded that “security forces are allegedly responsible for at least 46 of those deaths, while pro-Government armed groups, referred to as “armed colectivos” are reportedly responsible for 27 of the deaths”. The Venezuelan government, however, rejected the findings, claiming that the UN office has political objectives with the aim to attack Venezuela.

The legal environment to exercise the right to peaceful protest is not improving. It was reported that President Maduro presented a draft law to the Constituent Assembly to “stop hate and violence promoted by extreme sectors of the opposition”. The law contains punishment of 15 to 25 years in prison for persons convicted of “violent actions [that] generate chaos and anxiety in the population”. Human Rights Watch stated that "[t]he proposal includes incredibly vague language that would allow them to jail anyone for almost anything".

Local organisation Espacio Publico also issued a statement of concern over the proposed law, not just in regards to the dis-proportionality of the penalty, but moreover due to the arbitrary and retaliatory nature of it to be used against those who are already being criminalised for exercising their right to protest. 

Association

Leaders from opposition political parties in the country continue to face harassment and intimidation. According to a report from Transparency Venezuela, 39 of the 77 mayors elected in 2013 have been subjected to judicial or administrative sanctions, including five who have been arrested.

Opposition leaders Antonio Ledezma and Leopoldo Lopez, who were returned to prison on 1st August as reported on the Monitor, were granted house arrest once again a few days later.

Expression

As previously reported on the Monitor, journalist Carlos Rojas is currently in detention in a military prison. Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Prensa reported that he has been a victim of torture while in detention. Espacio Publico also reported on this issue, stating that the journalist was held incommunicado for 15 days.

In addition, Espacio Publico reported that the state media regulatory body CONATEL initiated a process to sanction two media outlets for not covering the Constituent Assembly election. The organisation also reported that CONATEL ordered the closure of two media outlets and at least four radio stations reportedly due to lack of documentation or a proper permit to operate the media outlet. 

Due to the ongoing crisis and volatile situation, Venezuela remains on the CIVICUS Monitor's Watch List of countries where there is an immediate and developing threat to civic space.