(New York) – The Organization of American States (OAS) and its member countries should proceed with a meeting on the situation in Venezuela, Human Rights Watch said today. The OAS should use the meeting to address the human rights violations committed in response to widespread public demonstrations since February 12, 2014. The OAS should not allow such an important opportunity to engage on human rights issues at the heart of the situation in Venezuela to be derailed.
On February 25, the government of Panama asked the OAS Permanent Council to hold a special session to discuss the possibility of organizing a meeting of foreign affairs ministers to address the “situation that Venezuela is facing.” The special session was scheduled for February 27, but was suspended after the government of Venezuela invoked a procedural technicality. As a result, there is uncertainty about whether the meeting will take place.
“Venezuela is not the only country in the region that has faced massive, mostly peaceful demonstrations,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “What sets it apart is the way the Maduro government has reacted with an abusive combination of censoring news outlets, arbitrarily locking up a prominent political opponent, and bringing brutal force down on protesters.”
Venezuelan security forces have used excessive and unlawful force against protesters on multiple occasions since February 12, including beating detainees and shooting at crowds of unarmed people. It has also blocked transmission of a TV channel and threatened to prosecute news outlets for their coverage of the violence. Journalists and human rights defenders have reported violence and intimidation by government agents and supporters.
Thirteen people have died and scores have been injured, according to Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz.
The Maduro government has blamed opposition leaders for the violence. Leopoldo López, one of the most prominent opposition figures, was arrested on February 18, and a judge ordered his pretrial detention on February 20. An arrest warrant has also been issued for Carlos Vecchio, another leader of López’s political party, according to news reports. The government has yet to present credible evidence linking either man to any crime.
Under the OAS Charter, any member country may request a “[m]eeting of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs … to consider problems of an urgent nature and of common interest to the American States.” Panama based its request on “the organization’s principles to promote and consolidate representative democracy and respect for human rights.”
Several governments in Latin America, including Argentina, Bolivia, Cuba, and Ecuador, have expressed support for the Maduro government and criticized what the government characterizes as attempts to destabilize the country.
On February 26, a spokesperson for the Brazilian Foreign Affairs Ministry said Brazil would defend the principle of noninterference in internal affairs during the OAS Permanent Council meeting, media reports said.
“There is no doubt that the human rights violations that have occurred in Venezuela deserve the attention of the OAS,” Vivanco said. “It would be a serious mistake to allow the Venezuelan government to prevent a meaningful discussion from taking place.”