Letter to Bernardo Álvarez Herrera, Ambassador of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela to the United States
August 19, 2010

Bernardo Álvarez Herrera
Ambassador of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela to the United States

 

Dear Ambassador Álvarez,

As a follow-up to the meeting that Mr. Angelo Rivero Santos held on August 16 with Ms. Gimena Sánchez-Garzoli, Senior Associate at the Washington Office on Latin America, we are writing to express our concern regarding the apparent campaign of harassment against Carlos Correa, a human rights defender and director of the Venezuelan NGO Espacio Público. Venezuela's public television station is repeatedly airing spots criticizing Mr. Correa for having received funds from the United States. Meanwhile, government prosecutors have opened a criminal investigation into Espacio Público. The investigation and the media campaign against Mr. Correa appear to be intended to intimidate him, and to hamper Espacio Público's work on behalf of freedom of expression and human rights, in contravention of the Venezuelan government's international obligations.

Espacio Público is currently under criminal investigation for having received international cooperation funds. On July 13, 2010, the Venezuelan group Movimiento Periodismo Necesario (MPN) presented a formal complaint before the Attorney General's Office, seeking an investigation into funding received by Espacio Público and the Instituto de Prensa y Sociedad (IPYS), two prominent Venezuelan groups that monitor human rights and freedom of expression.[1] MPN argued that the fact that the NGOs receive international funding constitutes international interference in Venezuela's internal affairs, and asked that prosecutors investigate whether the NGOs had committed a crime against national sovereignty.[2]

This investigation is particularly disturbing in light of a recent ruling by the Venezuelan Supreme Court, which could provide the grounds for prosecuting for treason individuals or organizations that receive foreign aid. On July 22, the Court held that "obtaining financial resources, either directly or indirectly, from foreign states with the intent of using them against the Republic, [and] the interests of the people... [could constitute] treason."[3]

The day after MPN filed the complaint, President Chávez publicly stated that prosecutors should "thoroughly investigate" the "millions and millions of dollars" that the US State Department gives to Venezuelan NGOs.[4] Since then, the Venezuelan public television station has repeatedly aired spots criticizing Mr. Correa for receiving international funds. One spot, which shows sections of an interview with Mr. Correa on Globovisión, a television station critical of the government, questions his assertions that Espacio Público has multiple sources of funding and is an autonomous organization.[5] Another spot consists of an animated sequence that depicts a cartoon image of Mr. Correa leaving the US embassy in a limousine, his suitcase overflowing with US dollar bills.[6] A third spot, combining images of the Globovisión interview and the cartoon, is also being aired.[7] Additionally, Espacio Público reports that government supporters have been posting Mr. Correa's home address on Twitter, which could pose a risk to Mr. Correa's safety.

Opening a criminal investigation into the work of a human rights organization for merely receiving international funding to do its work, together with what appears to be a harassment campaign waged through the public television station against a human rights defender, are inconsistent with Venezuela's obligation to not obstruct the work of human rights defenders. We are also concerned the public accusations could lead to physical attacks against Mr. Correa and his organization.

As you are well aware, states have a special obligation to protect human rights defenders against risks that they may face as a direct result of their work. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights emphasized the importance of the work of human rights defenders when it indicated, for example, that "respect for human rights in a democratic state depends largely on human rights defenders enjoying effective and adequate guarantees so as to freely go about their activities, and it is advisable to pay special attention to those actions that limit or hinder the work of human rights defenders."[8]

Specifically on the issue of international funding, Article 13 of the United Nations Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms states that "[e]veryone has the right, individually and in association with others, to solicit, receive and utilize resources for the express purpose of promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms through peaceful means."[9]

We respectfully urge you to ensure that Espacio Público and Mr. Correa are no longer subjected to the previously described harassment, and are able to freely practice the defense and promotion of human rights.

Sincerely,                                              

José Miguel Vivanco                                                              Joy Olson
Americas Director                                                                  Executive Director
Human Rights Watch                                                            Washington Office on Latin America

[1]     The allegations originate from declassified US documents that Ms. Eva Golinger obtained through the US Freedom of Information Act. These documents include a description of a US Federal Assistance Award of $699,996 to the Pan American Development Foundation (PADF) for the two-year project "Fostering Media Freedom in Venezuela," July 7th, 2008 - July 6th, 2010. The program, which was administered by the sub-grantees Espacio Público and IPYS, provided training in new media technologies and investigative journalism in several regions throughout Venezuela. United States Department of State Congressional Notification, "Support for Democracy, Human Rights and Rule of Law in the WHA Region," March 15th, 2010. US Department of State Federal Assistance Award to "Fostering Media Freedom in Venezuela," March 15 th, 2010.

[2]     Movimiento Periodismo Necesario, "Las evidencias analizadas según investigación de Eva Golinger," July 13th, 2010.

[3]     Tribunal Supremo de Justicia, http://www.tsj.gov.ve/decisiones/scon/Julio/796-22710-2010-09-0555.html.

[4]      Venezolana de Televisión, http://www.vtv.gov.ve/noticias-nacionales/39608.

[5]    Venezolana de Televisión, http://www.vtv.gov.ve/videos-especiales-vtv/40539 .

[6]    Venezolana de Televisión,  http://www.vtv.gov.ve/videos-especiales-vtv/40994 .

[7]    Venezolana de Televisión, http://www.vtv.gov.ve/videos-especiales-vtv/41009 .

[8]    Inter American Court of Human Rights, Lysias Fleury Case. Order of June 7, 2003, para. 5; Inter American Court, Nieto Palma Case. Order of July 9, 2004, para. 8.

[9]    United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, "Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms," General Assembly resolution 53/144, December 9th, 1998, art. 13.