Martes, 28 de marzo, 2023

Venezuela resumed diplomatic relations with Colombia, and the two countries announced a progressive opening of their shared border.

Lack of access to economic and social rights remained a serious concern, with the majority of the population suffering from severe food insecurity and lack of access to adequate medical care. Security forces responded with excessive force and other repressive measures to protests demanding economic and social rights, including the right to water, involving various sectors of the population. Impunity persisted for continued extrajudicial executions by security forces. The intelligence services and other security forces, with the acquiescence of the judicial system, continued to arbitrarily detain, torture and otherwise ill-treat people considered to be opponents of the government of Nicolás Maduro. A report by the UN Fact-Finding Mission on Venezuela revealed patterns of crimes against humanity and called for investigations into several identified government officials. Prison conditions remained a major concern, especially in relation to overcrowding and the use of illegal detention facilities, as well as access to fundamental rights such as water and food. Despite the adoption of legal reforms relating to the administration of justice, victims continued to face difficulties in accessing the right to truth and reparation. Between 240 and 310 people remained arbitrarily detained for political reasons. The State directed its repressive policies against journalists, independent media and human rights defenders. Illegal mining and violence threatened the rights of indigenous peoples in the Orinoco Mining Arc. Abortion remained criminalized in almost all circumstances. Violence against women persisted, despite the existing legal framework. No progress was made in guaranteeing the rights of LGBTI persons. By the end of the year, more than 7.1 million Venezuelans had fled the country.
General information
Judicial reform implemented in 2021 and 2022 did not translate into improvements in the administration of justice.
Hyperinflation and an alarming lack of purchasing power to buy basic goods caused the majority of the population, especially those living outside the capital, Caracas, to suffer a deep humanitarian crisis.
In an attempt to control the private sector, the authorities continued to impose arbitrary inspections and administrative sanctions on companies and businesses.
Negotiations between the government and the opposition regarding the next elections continued during the year, but no agreement was reached.
Venezuela resumed diplomatic relations with Colombia, and the two countries announced a progressive opening of their shared border.
The mandate of the UN Fact-Finding Mission was renewed for a two-year period, and the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) requested permission from the Court to resume the investigation into crimes against humanity committed in Venezuela.
Dissident Repression
The policy of repression continued. Those who belonged or appeared to belong to the political opposition were continuously attacked and were at risk of arbitrary detention, torture and other human rights violations. Several thousand people were subjected to custodial measures due to past or ongoing politically motivated judicial proceedings.
Freedom of expression and assembly
The number of mass demonstrations to demand civil and political rights declined from previous years. The authorities reacted with more selective but still systematic repressive tactics, such as using the judicial system to silence dissent and criminalize human rights defenders.
According to the Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict, 7,032 protests were held in 2022, 77% of which demanded economic and social rights. The authorities responded to many of these demonstrations by using excessive force and arbitrary detentions. One example was the arbitrary detention in June of six activists participating in a vigil held in Caracas in memory of Neomar Lander, a teenager killed in 2017 during a protest.
As of August, local organization Espacio Público had documented 228 attacks on freedom of expression in the form of censorship, verbal aggressions and acts of intimidation against journalists. The National Telecommunications Commission - with the active participation of police and military agents - had shut down 78 radio stations as of December.
The telecommunications company Telefónica admitted having received and complied with government requests to block access to several websites and to tap telephone lines without a court order.
Espacio Público reported that José Urbina, director of the community radio station Frontera 92.5 FM, had been murdered - apparently by armed groups - in the state of Apure, bordering Colombia. The communicator reported having received threats for highlighting alleged human rights violations committed by the Bolivarian National Guard in that area.
Extrajudicial killings
In September, the Fact-Finding Mission released a report expressing concern about persistent extrajudicial executions - consistent with previously documented patterns - carried out in the context of security operations in low-income urban neighborhoods.
According to the human rights organization Comité de Familiares de Víctimas del Caracazo (COFAVIC), as of September, security forces had carried out 488 alleged extrajudicial executions in various parts of the country. Those responsible for these acts went unpunished.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights reported in June that the authorities had disbanded the Special Action Forces (FAES) of the Bolivarian National Police, which had been involved in several hundred alleged extrajudicial executions. However, the government made no public statement on this issue and civil society organizations continued to denounce that the FAES remained active.
Enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention and torture
The practice of arbitrary detention remained widespread, and torture or other ill-treatment was frequently inflicted in custody. Authorities also carried out short-term enforced disappearances as part of this pattern of human rights violations.
Several local NGOs reported that, as of November, between 240 and 310 people were being arbitrarily detained for political reasons.
In early July, within 72 hours, Néstor Astudillo, Reynaldo Cortés, Alcides Bracho, Alonso Meléndez and Emilio Negrín - activists of the opposition Red Flag party, linked to the trade union movement - and Gabriel Blanco - a grassroots activist - were arbitrarily detained and subjected to serious violations of their right to due process. No arrest warrants had been issued against them, a fact that coincided with such human rights violations documented by the Fact-Finding Mission.
In the same month, agents of the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN) arbitrarily detained Angel Castillo, a militant of the Venezuelan Communist Party - not aligned with government policies - while he was participating in a protest in support of labor rights; the activist was released that same day.
The human rights NGO Foro Penal reported that, as of July, the authorities had carried out 23 arbitrary detentions.
In August, Emirlendris Benítez, who had been arbitrarily detained on political grounds since 2018 and suffered from various health problems, was sentenced to 30 years' imprisonment. Her sentence was not made public, which prevented her lawyer from appealing. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention had called for her immediate release.
In September, the Fact-Finding Mission reported that the structures of the General Directorate of Military Counterintelligence (DGCIM) and SEBIN remained in place, and that patterns of human rights violations within these agencies that had already been documented - such as torture and other ill-treatment - persisted. The Mission also identified a group of individuals within these intelligence agencies who had carried out arbitrary detentions and acts of torture and other ill-treatment, as well as a chain of command that linked them directly to Nicolás Maduro, and requested that they be investigated for crimes against humanity.
Inhumane conditions of confinement
Conditions of confinement in detention centers continued to deteriorate, with overcrowding and insufficient food and water being provided, leaving detainees dependent on family members for basic necessities.
The practice of prolonged detention in police stations and other illegal detention centers also continued to be of concern.
The conditions of detention of women were of particular concern due to the lack of gender-sensitive facilities and environments.
Human rights violations went unpunished. The Fact-Finding Mission reports highlighted the manipulation of the judicial system to shield from justice police and armed forces agents responsible for these violations.
Venezuela requested that the ICC Office of the Prosecutor defer the investigation on the grounds that the country's authorities were already investigating human rights violations and crimes under international law at the national level. However, the ICC Office of the Prosecutor requested to resume its investigation claiming that Venezuela had failed to provide additional information on the extent to which the country's domestic proceedings complied with the ICC Rome Statute standards and questioning the authenticity of the proceedings that Venezuela had notified it of. The ICC Pre-Trial Chamber's decision on the possible continuation of the investigation was still pending at the end of the year, although the Chamber had invited the victims to submit their observations - no later than March 2023 - in relation to the investigations that Venezuela claimed to have carried out.
Unfair trials
The Fact-Finding Mission reiterated its concern about the use of the judicial system to facilitate the commission of human rights violations, such as arbitrary detention, and crimes under international law, such as persecution.
The Prosecutor's Office made informal accusations against several individuals through social networks, which jeopardized their rights to a fair trial and the presumption of innocence, among others. Among the accused persons were children and adolescents.
Right to truth, justice and reparation
At the end of the year, the special rapporteurships and UN treaty bodies were still awaiting official invitations to visit the country.
The Fact-Finding Mission saw its mandate extended, although by the end of the year the Venezuelan authorities had not granted it access to the country.
Despite the judicial reform announced in 2021, the main problems surrounding access to justice continued, including a lack of judicial independence, the political use of judicial proceedings against those perceived to oppose the government, and obstacles hindering victims' access to justice, such as denying them access to case files, arbitrarily denying them the right to appoint their own legal representation, and unjustified delays.
Rights of indigenous peoples
Illegal mining in the Arco Minero del Orinoco area seriously affected human rights in Bolivar State, especially the right of indigenous peoples to self-determination and a healthy environment. In its report, published in September, the Fact-Finding Mission documented serious human rights abuses and violations in the Arc and noted the collusion of some state authorities with, and sometimes control of, criminal groups operating in the mining areas and the failure to investigate and punish those responsible for such acts.
In March, an incident in the locality of Parima B (southern border of Amazonas state), involving members of the armed forces and Yanomami indigenous persons, resulted in the death of four indigenous persons and injuries to two members of the armed forces and at least two other indigenous persons who had allegedly witnessed the killings and were taken to an unknown location. Although the witnesses eventually surfaced and received medical treatment, there were concerns that the authorities had transferred them to Caracas without legal assistance and that no measures had been taken to avoid re-victimization and to ensure culturally appropriate treatment.1
In June, indigenous leader and defender of territory, land and the environment Virgilio Trujillo was shot dead in the city of Puerto Ayacucho, capital of Amazonas state. No progress was known to have been made during the year in the investigation into his death.
Human Rights Defenders
Repression of civil society organizations increased and intensified. According to the Center for Defenders and Justice, 396 attacks were committed against human rights defenders, including acts of intimidation and stigmatization and threats.
Javier Tarazona, a prisoner of conscience and human rights defender belonging to the organization Fundaredes, remained in arbitrary detention and was facing terrorism-related charges.
Human rights defenders Marino Alvarado and Alfredo Infante were served with a defamation suit brought against them by the governor of Carabobo state, Rafael Lacava, in response to a report published in March by the NGOs PROVEA and Centro Gumilla (of which the men were members respectively), which revealed possible extrajudicial executions in the state and called for full accountability.2
Rights of refugees and migrants
By the end of the year, more than 7.1 million people had left the country. Venezuelan refugee women found it more difficult to access international protection in host countries such as Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Trinidad and Tobago.3 This lack of protection exposed them to a high risk of multiple forms of gender-based violence, including sexual violence and human trafficking for sexual and labor exploitation.
Economic, social and cultural rights
Lack of access to food, water and medical care continued to be of grave concern.
Right to health
Access to medical treatment and health services for chronically ill persons remained a major problem. Acción Solidaria, a local organization providing humanitarian aid, reported that 33% of chronically ill people over the age of 60 were not receiving treatment.
During the year, several children's rights organizations highlighted the death of children at the J. M. de los Ríos hospital due to the suspension of the organ transplant program, despite the precautionary measures that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights had granted in favor of patients at this health care center.
Right to food
According to the Centro de Documentación y Análisis para los Trabajadores, the cost of the basic monthly food basket in November was equivalent to about US$386, while the monthly minimum wage, set in March, was only US$13, so that the majority of the population was food insecure. In December, the situation worsened further as a result of a drastic devaluation of the national currency.
The World Bank reported that in August, Venezuela had the third highest food inflation rate in the world.
Right to water
Negligence and lack of maintenance continued to reduce the population's access to water, despite official statements promising 95% coverage throughout the country by the end of the year. This situation led to widespread and repeated community protests regarding access to water and sanitation.
Sexual and Reproductive Rights
The impact of the ongoing humanitarian emergency on sexual and reproductive health services contributed to hindering access to these rights.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights also denounced that the lack of access to sexual and reproductive health services, such as family planning, affected the maternal mortality rate.
In September, a civil society initiative called Ruta Verde held a march to the National Assembly to present a document demanding the decriminalization of abortion, which was only permitted when life-threatening and still lacked medical protocols. By the end of the year there had been no significant progress on this issue.
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) Rights
LGBTI people continued to suffer discrimination. Several organizations called on the authorities to include in the legal system the right of the LGBTI population to be free from discrimination. At the end of the year there had been no progress in relation to LGBTI rights.
Likewise, an appeal filed in 2021 to annul Article 565 of the Organic Code of Military Justice, which criminalized intimate relations between adults of the same sex when one of them was a member of the armed forces, was still pending at the end of 2022.
Violence against women and girls
At the beginning of the year, the National Assembly approved a reform of the Organic Law on Women's Right to a Life Free of Violence. Civil society organizations and the feminist movement criticized the amendment on the grounds that it did not comply with the State's obligation to prevent and punish violence against women because public policies did not include a gender perspective and civil servants were not trained to provide primary care to women survivors of sexual and gender-based violence.
According to the local human rights organization CEPAZ, 199 alleged femicides were reported between January and September. Authorities did not collect or publish official data on femicides, making it difficult to implement informed initiatives to prevent such crimes.