Venezuela: High Commissioner Bachelet details plans for new human rights assistance
Oral Update on the Situation of Human Rights in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela
Informational Session of the Human Rights Council
Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
Geneva, 18 December 2019
Members of the Human Rights Council,
Since my last oral update to this Council, on 20 September, I have signed a Letter of Understanding with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, which establishes terms of cooperation for a renewable period of one year. This letter confirms the presence of two human rights officers in Venezuela, and grants them access to the whole country, including to detention centres.
The Letter of Understanding also establishes nine areas of technical cooperation with State institutions, including collaboration with the United Nations system in the country. Finally, it envisages support to civil society organizations engaged in the promotion of human rights.
My Office and the Venezuelan authorities have agreed on a joint work plan to develop technical cooperation activities. An inter-institutional Coordination Committee has been created for its implementation, meeting with staff of my Office twice a month.
In this context, my Office has organized two training workshops for State officials to guide the process of establishing a national mechanism for reporting and follow-up of recommendations of international human rights mechanisms, as well as the adoption of an inclusive and participatory methodology for the development of the Second National Plan for Human Rights, during the second half of 2020.
My Office has also collected information from the justice, security and penitentiary systems, as well as from the Ombudsperson, with the aim of providing technical assistance on the prevention of torture, investigations of extrajudicial killings, and the situation regarding preventative detention centres, beginning in the first half of 2020.
My Office appreciates the willingness of the authorities to review the progress of investigations of suspected extrajudicial killings in the context of security operations and of deaths that occurred during the 2017 protests.
Likewise, my Office takes note of the new request by the Venezuelan authorities to the Special Rapporteur on the negative impacts of unilateral coercive measures and the Special Rapporteur on the right to development to undertake visits to the country in 2020, and I urge the authorities to extend a request to a third mandate-holder, on the basis of agreed commitments.
In the past three months, my Office has carried out nine visits to detention centres managed by the Ministry of Penitentiary Services and the Ministry of Defence. The team was able to conduct confidential interviews with over 70 individuals deprived of their liberty. I appreciate the cooperation of both Ministries, and reiterate our request to visit detention centres of the civilian and military intelligence services, as soon as possible.
During this same period, my Office documented 118 cases of persons deprived of their liberty (109 men and 9 women) which need to be urgently addressed due to health reasons, judicial delays, non-execution of judicial release orders, and/or continued detention despite completion of their sentences. These cases have been submitted for consideration to the inter-institutional Coordination Committee.
I would like to highlight the release of 28 individuals (24 men and 4 women), in September and October, who had been deprived of their liberty for political motives and I urge the authorities to unconditionally release all persons who are being detained for political motives, including members of the military. I reiterate my call for continued compliance with the decisions of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, and accordingly, for the unconditional release of parliamentarian Juan Requesens.
This month the trial for the attempted assassination of President Maduro began, with 14 men and 3 women being tried. During the initial hearings, only the parties and some family members were allowed into the courtroom. Similar restrictions were in effect during the first hearing of Roberto Marrero, the chief of staff of the President of the National Assembly. I urge the judiciary to guarantee the right to a fair trial, including the right to a defence, and to uphold the principle of public hearings.
The socio-economic situation continues to affect economic and social rights. According to ECLAC, the economy contracted by 25.5 percent in 2019, amounting to a cumulative GDP loss of 62.2 percent since 20131. Although there has been a noted improvement in food supplies in recent months, only a minority of the population, with access to foreign currency, can regularly afford the high food prices due to hyperinflation, and de facto dollarization of the economy.
Although the Government decreed in October a 375 percent increase in the minimum wage, its purchasing power in terms of the basic food basket has declined by 72.5 percent since the beginning of 2019. The minimum wage currently only covers 3.5 percent of the basic food basket.2
My Office has received information indicating that financial institutions’ over-compliance with recent economic sanctions continues to negatively impact the economy and public services at all levels. There is a need for greater official, detailed information to determine the precise extent of the impact of the sanctions on the implementation of social programs.
Failures in public services persist. The State of Zulia is among those particularly affected. My staff have carried out a visit to Maracaibo and witnessed extremely long lines to buy fuel, and the recurring and prolonged electricity outages, which also impacted the water supply. The rights to health and education have also been affected, primarily due to lack of personnel, infrastructure deficiencies, and lack of supplies. Thousands of people from Zulia have migrated abroad or to the country’s capital.
The risks for girls, boys, and adolescents, is worrying. For example, the J.M. de los Rios Paediatric Hospital, saw the deaths of three girls in the haematology department and one boy in the oncology department in the past month. Of 39 girls and boys needing bone marrow transplants, fifteen are in critical condition.
During the month of November, Caritas reported that in the poorest parishes of 19 States of the country, 11.9 percent of boys and girls receiving assistance showed signs of acute malnutrition, an increase of 56 percent in comparison with 2018, and that 32.6 per cent have delayed growth. Caritas also reported that 48.5 per cent of pregnant women treated were suffering nutritional deficiencies.
According to the Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict, 16,439 protests have been registered this year. 4,433 protests have been registered in the last three months – most of them led by professionals engaged in education, health, and industry, protesting poor working conditions and the lack of supplies and basic equipment in schools and hospitals.
On 16 and 21 November, national protests were organized by members of the opposition, students, and Government supporters. Considerable security forces were deployed in the context of the opposition and student protests. In some cases, security forces dispersed protestors to prevent them from gathering. More than 20 arrests were reported in that context, and at least five of these people are still being detained in Lara State.
In the absence of updated official figures, the Venezuelan Observatory of Violence estimated a rate of 60.3 violent deaths per 100,000 inhabitants from January to November 20193. Although this represents a decrease since 2018, it is one of the highest rates in the region.
I reiterate my concern about levels of violence, which in recent months have also affected local political leaders, as illustrated by the killing of former opposition councillor Edmundo ‘Pipo’ Rada Angulo, and of former ruling party Governor Johny Yáñez Rangel.
Since August, my Office has continued to document allegations of extrajudicial killings, mainly of young men, by members of the Special Action Forces (FAES) in the context of security operations carried out in marginalized neighbourhoods.
Recently, the Attorney General announced that since August 2017, 770 officials have been accused of human rights violations; 509 of them have been charged, 393 were detained, and 131 convicted. According to information shared with my Office, of the total convicted, at least 55 officials were charged with homicide in relation to 68 victims. Of the officials convicted, 14 were members of the Bolivarian National Police, although the information did not specify whether they were members of FAES.
I appreciate the information provided by the Attorney General’s Office, which we continue to analyse. It is important to know the total number of complaints of human rights violations received by the Attorney General’s Office during this period, including for alleged extrajudicial killings, in order to evaluate the impact of the work of the Attorney General’s Office in this area.
My Office continues to document high levels of violence in the state of Bolivar, and the presence of irregular armed groups, involved with the illegal exploitation of natural resources in the Orinoco mining belt (Arco Minero del Orinoco). Between 22 and 23 November, in the community of Ikaburu, located in Pemon indigenous territory, eight people were killed by firearms, including a sergeant of the Bolivian National Guard, a Pemon indigenous person, and one adolescent. The Attorney General’s Office announced the detention of 13 individuals allegedly responsible for the killings, who are said to be members of a criminal gang that has sought to seize land in the territory to practice illegal mining.
We understand that some members of the community have since fled the area, fearing more violence. I acknowledge the investigation efforts made by the Attorney General’s Office, and I urge the authorities to adopt measures to protect the affected communities and to dismantle the irregular armed groups present in the area.
The Coordination Platform for Refugees and Migrants from Venezuela estimates that 4.7 million Venezuelans have fled the country, and it projects that this number will reach 6.5 million by the end of 2020. I am concerned about the increase in irregular migration due, in part, to heightened entry requirements by some transit and destination countries, as well as difficulties that Venezuelans face in obtaining their travel documentation.
Recently, Venezuelan authorities increased costs for issuing passports by 70 percent, a cost equivalent to 54 minimum salaries. There has been an increase in the use of more dangerous routes and exposure of persons to smuggling and human trafficking. My Office received information that between April and June 2019, 102 migrants, who were heading to the Caribbean islands in three boats disappeared, although the reasons are unclear. To date, the whereabouts of 32 women, 10 adolescents, 3 children, and 46 men are unknown.
My Office has continued to document restrictions to public freedoms, limiting the civil and democratic space.
We have received complaints of harassment, threats, and detention by intelligence services and security forces. The opposition demonstrations of 16 November were preceded by acts of intimidation on social media against some journalists. On 19 November, members of the General Directorate for Counter-Military Intelligence (DGCIM) raided the headquarters of an online media outlet and detained the operations manager who was held incommunicado for ten days. To date, she is still detained in the DGCIM headquarters in Caracas.
The DGCIM also briefly detained three journalists and their drivers who were covering the raid of the media outlet.
Non-governmental organizations continue to face restrictions. My Office has observed significant delays in the process of registering organizations’ incorporating documents, due to the exhaustive review of documentation by the authorities.
2020 will be an election year. It is crucial to guarantee public freedoms, which are fundamental for creating the necessary conditions for free, impartial, credible, transparent, and peaceful elections. In this regard, I am concerned about the lifting of parliamentary immunity of five opposition parliamentarians, bringing the total to thirty parliamentarians who have been stripped of their immunity, as well harassment of opposition representatives, including the President of the National Assembly.
Also worrying are calls by high level authorities to continue arming militias, as well as the presentation, before the National Constituent Assembly, of a bill that would strengthen and incorporate national militias into the National Bolivarian Armed Forces.
I reiterate my call to all political actors in Venezuela to resume negotiations, to reach a solution to the political and economic crisis and to bring hope back to the population. My Office remains committed to contributing to the improvement of the human rights situation. I particularly emphasise the importance of establishing a more comprehensive and strengthened presence in the country that allows us to advance human rights.
Thank you, Mr President.
2/ Centre for Documentation and Analysis for Workers (CENDA). http://cenda.org.ve/default.asp
3/ Information shared by the Venezuelan Observatory of Violence. Information to be published in a comprehensive report on 27 December 2019.