Venezuelan government continues to repress freedom of association

Vice President of Venezuela Delcy Rodriguez addresses the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters on September 27, 2019. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images).
Vice President of Venezuela Delcy Rodriguez addresses the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters on September 27, 2019. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images).

Association

Retaliation against CSOs that contributed to UN human rights report

On 8th September 2019, Venezuelan human rights organisations reported that the country’s human rights situation has worsened since the visit of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, in June 2019. According to Marino Alvarado, founding member and coordinator of Programa Venezolano de Educación Acción en Derechos Humanos (Venezuelan Human Rights Action Education Programme - PROVEA), the number of political prisoners has increased and there is no sign that Nicolás Maduro’s government will stop persecuting dissenters. In addition, institutions such as the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the Ombudsman’s Office have not investigated any violations and the government has made no effort to implement the recommendations outlined in the High Commissioner’s report on Venezuela from July 2019.

On 9th September 2019, Bachelet gave an update on Venezuela at the UN Human Rights Council, warning that some civil society organisations involved in the report’s preparation have since been subjected to retaliation for cooperating with the United Nations. They reported being publicly vilified and receiving threats from government officials since the report’s publication.

In a related development, on 22nd August 2019, a group of 11 Venezuelan and international civil society organisations published a short report documenting the worsening humanitarian emergency and deterioration of human rights in Venezuela. With this document, the organisations advocate for the establishment of a commission of inquiry by the United Nations Human Rights Council to examine serious human rights violations in the country and to ensure that the perpetrators of arbitrary detention, torture, extrajudicial killings and other violations face justice for their actions. The document was published in preparation for the September 2019 session of the UN Human Rights Council.

Human Rights Watch’s director for the Americas, José Miguel Vivanco, stated:

“The victims of the dire human rights and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela deserve a thorough and authoritative response from the Human Rights Council to address their right to truth, justice, and reparations. The Human Rights Council has the opportunity and responsibility to create a mechanism to investigate grave violations in Venezuela and to identify those responsible and, where possible, the chain of command.”

Threats against HRDs

On 13th August 2019, Rocío San Miguel, president of CSO Social Watch, reported on Twitter that an unidentified caller threatened her, warning that she and her family were “targets”. She later also published screen captures of threatening messages received on her mobile phone, and stated that it is clear that whoever sent these threats is operating with impunity. San Miguel previously received threats for her work denouncing the politicisation of the National Armed Forces and the government’s support for paramilitary armed groups.

Conviction of workers’ union leader

Also on 13th August 2019, the Monagas military court sentenced trade union leader Rubén Gónzalez to five years and nine months in prison for attacking and insulting security personnel and Venezuela’s National Armed Forces. Rubén González, secretary general of state-owned mining company Ferrominera Workers’ Union, was detained in December 2018 while returning home from a protest denouncing non-compliance by the government with their contracts with the union. According to reports, Gónzalez’s family was prevented from attending his court appearance by members of counter-intelligence agency Dirección General de Contrainteligencia Militar (DGCI). This is Gónzalez’s second conviction; he was in prison for over a year for leading a protest in 2009.

On 15th August 2019, union leaders, social organisations and human rights defenders demonstrated in front of the Public Ministry in Caracas to protest his conviction. They denounced several organs of Venezuela’s justice system, including the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the Supreme Court of Justice, for being complicit in the militarisation of political persecution of social, political and trade union leaders. On 9th September 2019, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, condemned González’s conviction, saying that the use of military courts to try civilians constitutes a violation of the right to a fair trial.

Legislative project to sanction CSOs for receiving foreign funding

On 14th August 2019, Diosdado Cabello, president of the government-led National Constituent Assembly, announced the intention to create law to sanction NGOs or individuals receiving international funding. Speaking on his television programme “Con el Mazo Dando”, Cabello said some civil society actors receive money from “imperialism”, particularly from the United States, to conspire against Venezuela.

The director of Centro para Defensores y la Justicia (Centre for Defenders and Justice), Mariana Romero, observed that such legislation would foster an environment of hostility toward human rights defenders and “criminalise the right to defend rights”.

Expression

On 11th August 2019, the Venezuelan ambassador to the United Nations, Samuel Moncada, accused journalist Nelson Bocaranda of acting as an agent for foreign governments, using documents from the UK and U.S. governments to corroborate his claims. Moncada made a series of allegations against Bocaranda, stating that the journalist provided confidential information to these governments and used his position as a reporter to spread misinformation on Venezuela. The president of the government-led National Constituent Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, supported Samuel Moncada's accusations. Bocaranda responded on his website, stating that the meetings and events used by Moncada to accuse him were previously discussed in his book and on his website. He also highlighted that information on meetings with the UK government was publicly registered, as required by the UK’s Access to Information legislation.

In a separate development, on 27th August 2019, the National Telecommunications Commission (CONATEL) ordered Unicable TV to take the interview and opinion programme "Bajo la Lupa" off the air. A few days later, Bajo la Lupa announced that it would also end the radio version of its show but that it would continue to share news and opinions online. The programme aired on television in simultaneous transmission with the radio show, which had aired for 11 years. Venezuela’s National Council of Journalists (CNP) condemned this decision and warned that, in addition to impeding journalistic work, it amounts to censorship and a violation of freedom of expression. CNP also urged all Venezuelan authorities to respect the work of journalists.

Figures on freedom of expression violations in August 2019

CSO IPYS Venezuela reported registering 14 cases of violations of the rights of expression and access to information in Venezuela during the second and third weeks of August. IPYS highlighted the continuing intimidation and arbitrary detention of journalists as well as attacks on the media. The CSO also stated that power outages have continued to affect internet services in several regions of the country. On 3rd September 2019, CSO Espacio Público reported 57 violations of freedom of expression taking place in Venezuela in August 2019. Intimidation, censorship and harassment were factors in 23 of the cases recorded. According to Espacio Público, primary victims were journalists, the media and citizens.