March 5, 2004
Given how volatile the political climate in Venezuela is right now, it’s critical that government security forces exercise appropriate restraint in responding to protests.
José Miguel Vivanco, executive director of the Americas Division of Human Rights Watch

The Venezuelan government should conduct a thorough investigation into allegations that state security forces have beaten and abused detained protestors this week, Human Rights Watch said today. The investigation should also examine the circumstances of killings that occurred during confrontations between protesters and police.

“Given how volatile the political climate in Venezuela is right now, it’s critical that government security forces exercise appropriate restraint in responding to protests,” said José Miguel Vivanco, executive director of the Americas Division of Human Rights Watch. “The government needs to investigate these allegations of brutality to ensure that members of the police and the National Guard haven’t stepped over the line.”

There have been reports of at least nine protesters killed and dozens of people injured—including several journalists—during confrontations with the National Guard over the past week. Under international standards, the intentional use of lethal force by law enforcement officials is permissible only when strictly unavoidable to protect life.

There have also been numerous allegations of beatings and ill-treatment of civilians detained by the guard and by police. In Zulia State, for example, members of the National Guard detained 23 students and two professors who participated in a protest march on Monday. One of the professors reported to Human Rights Watch that he and five students were beaten by the guard members who detained them. The detainees were released the following day after a judge threw out charges against them.

There have also been reports of acts of vandalism committed by some demonstrators, as well as attacks on the pro-government press.

A commission appointed by the Supreme Court is reported to have summarily fired three judges in Caracas this week after they exercised their authority to grant provisional release from detention to opposition protestors.

“The firing of judges handling politically sensitive cases reflects a dangerous politicization of justice in Venezuela,” said Vivanco.

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