1. Latest Updates on Venezuela's Crisis
  2. An 11-year-old victim
  3. Getting Medicine into Venezuela
  4. Venezuelan Immigration to Peru
  5. Preparing Military Snipers
  6. Confiscating Passports
  7. UN Security Council meeting on Venezuela
  8. What’s happening in the interior of the country?
  9. Breaking into Homes in Valencia
  10. About State Responsibility for Actions by “Colectivos”
  11. New Accounts Describe Abusive Prosecution of Civilians by Military Courts
  12. A Year-Long State of Exception
  13. No More Palliative Care
  14. Moving Forward, by the International Crisis Group
  15. The Venezuelan Church on Abuses
  16. The Interpreter on Venezuela
  17. Official Data on Health Crisis
  18. IACHR Statement on Abuses Against Protesters
  19. An Arbitrary arrest
  20. Civilians Tried by Military Courts
  21. A Human Rights Radio
  22. Videos on Venezuela’s Crisis
  23. Letter to President Maduro requesting authorization to visit Leopoldo López
  24. Updated Data: Deaths, Injuries, Detentions as of May 4
  25. Latin American Governments on Abuses in Venezuela
  26. The role of Venezuela’s armed forces
  27. Is Leopoldo López ok?
  28. Repression on May 3
  29. The Wives of Political Prisoners
  30. Statement on Maduro's Constituent Assembly Proposal
  31. 2017 Editorials on Venezuela’s crisis
  32. Detentions by Intelligence Agents
  33. Free Press Under Siege
  34. Official Data: Deaths, Detentions, Injuries
  35. OAS vs CELAC
  36. International community must confront the scourge of Maduro
  37. The “Ombudsman” on Leopoldo López’s isolation
  38. Venezuelan Emigration in Numbers
  39. The Demonstrations Continue
  40. What the world needs to do about Venezuela
  41. Looting and Death in Caracas Slum
  42. Twins Tortured into Confessing
  43. Thousands Protest Human Rights Crisis in Venezuela
  44. Live feed of April 19 protests
  45. Maduro gets ready for April 19 demonstration
  46. Repressing dissent
  47. Report: Venezuela's Humanitarian Crisis is Spilling into Brazil
  48. Latin America is watching
  49. Venezuela’s crumbling façade of democracy
  50. For Leopoldo López, 1,000 days as Maduro’s Hostage
  51. Venezuela: Government Assails Critics as Crisis Deepens
  52. Venezuela: Dissidents Allege Torture, Coerced Confessions
  53. Venezuela: Police Raids Hit Poor Areas
  54. Venezuela: Unarmed Protestors Beaten, Shot

Venezuela’s Crisis

Venezuela is facing a human rights and humanitarian crisis. The Maduro administration enjoys tremendous concentration of power, which it has used to gradually erode human rights guarantees and checks on its own power. Opponents including anti-government demonstrators, critics, and opposition politicians have been arbitrarily arrested and prosecuted. Venezuelan groups identify over 100 detainees as political prisoners. Security forces have committed egregious abuses, including torture. The Supreme Court routinely fails to demonstrate any independence, endorsing government abuses and stripping the National Assembly of its powers. Severe shortages of medicine and food seriously undermine Venezuelans’ ability to secure adequate nutrition or access to healthcare.

Latest Updates on Venezuela's Crisis

Police fire tear gas toward opposition supporters during clashes while rallying against Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, April 20, 2017.

© Reuters 2017

So much has happened in the last few weeks that we thought it would be useful to kick off this blog with a summary of where the discussion about Venezuela’s compliance with the Inter-American Democratic Charter stands. The most recent events underscore the lack of judicial independence and separation of powers in Venezuela, and the government’s determination to shut down discussion of the crisis, making growing international pressure on the Maduro administration as important as ever to restore human rights and rule of law. 

 

 

 

An 11-year-old victim

On May 18, María González, an indigenous woman from the Wayuu group who lives in Zulia state, told NTN24 that members of the National Guard had tied her 11-year-old son’s hands behind his back and placed a “bomb” on his back, which caused burns on his back, arms, and eyes. A video posted on YouTube the night before, filmed by neighbors who say they found the boy, shows him with his arms tied behind his back and includes images of his burnt back. In another video, aired by NTN, the neighbors show a teargas bomb that allegedly exploded on the boy’s back. A doctor who treated the boy told NTN24 and a local newspaper that the boy had suffered first and second degree burns that did not require hospitalization but needed to be treated, and were consistent with the boy’s description of what had happened to him.

The Attorney General’s Office issued a press release confirming it was investigating the case. The statement says the boy had been close to a bakery when an “irregular situation” took place, and that “several people” had tied, beat, and burnt the boy’s back with an unnamed “device.”

 

Getting Medicine into Venezuela

On May 16, The Associated Press published this piece explaining the difficult work carried out by nongovernmental organizations to bypass the Venezuelan government’s ban on humanitarian aid. While the Venezuelan people continue to suffer the consequences of severe shortages of medicine and medical supplies, and Venezuela’s foreign minister denies the humanitarian crisis that the country is facing, some groups such as Acción Solidaria have become “a lifeline for Venezuelans suffering from all kinds of illnesses,” reports the AP.

 

Venezuelan Immigration to Peru

Peruvian officials have confirmed to Human Rights Watch that more than 10,000 Venezuelans have requested permission to stay in Peru in 2017, taking advantage of Peru’s welcoming policies. These policies reflect the Peruvian government’s understanding of the severity of Venezuela’s ongoing crisis and build upon the government’s efforts to press Venezuela to respect human rights and the rule of law.

In January 2017, President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski adopted a decree that lays out a special permission for Venezuelans to stay in the country. The decree states that those Venezuelans who arrived in Peru before February 2—the date it entered into force—who do not have a criminal record, and whose legal permission to stay in the country had expired, may request a temporary residency permit that lasts one year. Those who obtain the permit are allowed to work, enroll their children in school, and have access to health care.

As of April 30, 5,834 Venezuelans had obtained their temporary residency permits, according to official data. The superintendent of immigration, who reports to the Interior Ministry, told Human Rights Watch that an additional 4,300 Venezuelans had requested an appointment online to obtain their permit by August. Venezuelans who entered Peru since February 3 are entitled to legally stay in the country for 183 days, and the government is evaluating measures to deal with that influx of Venezuelan immigration when that period expires, the superintendent said.

Most arrive by plane, although approximately 30 percent spend days traveling by bus to reach Peru, authorities told us. Here are some accounts relayed to Human Rights Watch by Venezuelans who fled the crisis and are now living in Lima:

Ludiskel Mass, 32, is a schoolteacher and was a student activist with the opposition party Un Nuevo Tiempo (A New Time). After spending a few months abroad in 2013, she returned to Maracaibo, Zulia state, where she was living in 2015 when she started having repeated instances of vaginal bleeding. Doctors told her they believed she had a cyst but that they lacked the medical supplies to provide a proper diagnosis, she said. Mass told Human Rights Watch she experienced regular bleeding and anemia over the next three months. She unsuccessfully tried to buy Vitamin K and contraceptive pills, which doctors had told her might help control the bleeding. In August 2015, two friends paid for her bus ticket to Lima, where she arrived after a six-day road trip, she said. In Peru, doctors diagnosed her with uterine cancer for which she underwent a successful operation, she told Human Rights Watch. At the time of the interview, she was cancer free. In September 2016, she was able to take her then 11- and 12-year old children to Lima. Mass has obtained her temporary residency permit.

Carlos Márquez (pseydonym), 59, an economist, arrived in Lima in April 2017. Márquez’s 24-year-old son was arrested during anti-government protests in 2014, beaten, and subsequently released on conditional liberty, Márquez told Human Rights Watch. The prosecutor eventually dropped the charges, he said. Members of the National Guard detained his son again in 2015 as he was walking in a public area, with no judicial order, he told us. One of the lawyers who worked on the case also affirmed that Márquez’s son was subject to arbitrary prosecution based on what he called planted evidence. Márquez said he spent all his savings to bribe the judge in charge of his son’s case so his son would be transferred out of a regular prison where he had suffered scabies and gastrointestinal problems. Márquez, whose son remains detained, arrived in Lima with plans to work in gastronomy. “I’m starting a new life at 59 to be able to help my family from here,” he said.

Kerwin Duarte, 26, left Barquisimeto, Lara state, in October 2016. A psychology student who worked at a store selling cooking utensils, Duarte told Human Rights Watch he had spent hours standing in line to buy food and left Venezuela due to high levels of insecurity and because “there is no future.” He took a bus to Colombia, and flew to Lima from there, he said. Duarte said he relied on the hospitality of a Peruvian man for a month, eating only bread. Now, in Lima, he rents a small apartment, sells arepas—the typical Venezuelan corn-flour dish—on the street, and says he makes enough for a living and to send between 20-30 dollars a week back home to help his family, including his grandmother who has hypertension and cannot afford the medicines she needs, when she finds them. Duarte obtained his temporary residency permit in March.

Leomar Rodríguez, 28, left Caracas in January 2017, soon after graduating from the university with a business major. Rodríguez told Human Rights Watch that in Venezuela, he ran his own business stamping t-shirts but, due to the economic crisis, he was no longer able to purchase the materials he needed to stamp the t-shirts, and his earnings were barely enough to afford food, which he bought after hours standing in line. Rodríguez arrived in Lima after a five-day road trip. He now sells arepas and tizana, a Venezuelan drink made of fruit juice with fruit salad in it, on the street. Rodríguez told Human Rights Watch he’s better off in Lima, where he can eat, there’s more security, and he can earn some money to send back home to help his parents and brothers who still live in Caracas.

Preparing Military Snipers

On May 18, the Spanish newspaper ABC published the audio of a taped conversation allegedly between a group of Venezuelan generals who discussed the use of military snipers in Venezuela. In the tape, one general reportedly said, “the moment will arrive in which we will have to employ [snipers] and I want to be prepared for that moment, because the president will not stay in a ´green phase,’ sirs, he’s already signed a series of operations.” He added, “we are at the beginning of an urban subversive war” and “the Armed Forces will have to solve this problem. So start getting those military officers who could operate as snipers ready.”

Here's the audio:

 

On May 19, the Caracas Chronicles published this piece by Francisco Toro, with a link to a longer version of the audio, which includes an interesting analysis of its content. Toro highlights that the tape shows that some of the generals are concerned about the consequences of using snipers, including the possibility of ending in jail. As Toro says, “it’s not that these guys have suddenly grown a conscience. It’s that they are scared.” The fact that these men are pushing back because they realize that shooting protesters is not in their best interest shows that an amnesty that excludes human rights abusers may be a good strategy to break their unity, says Toro. 

Confiscating Passports

On May 17, Venezuelan immigration authorities stopped journalist César Miguel Rondon at the Caracas airport when he was heading abroad to participate in a public event. This happened a day after President Maduro said on television that Rondon and another journalist had “promoted a persecution.” Rondon had commented on Twitter about cases in which Venezuelan government officials had been harassed by Venezuelan citizens abroad, Espacio Público reported. Rondon’s passport and that of his wife were annulled and he was not allowed to leave the country.

On May 18, Venezuelan immigration authorities confiscated the passport of opposition leader Henrique Capriles Radonski at the Caracas airport, when he was heading to a meeting with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Capriles was not allowed to leave the country.

 

UN Security Council meeting on Venezuela

What’s happening in the interior of the country?

Here are some good sources from the human rights world that provide information on what’s happening in the interior of the country:

In Zulia state, CODHEZ is monitoring the protests and abuses against protesters. For a glimpse of the information they’ve gathered in April, please see this report and this special publication on the protests. @CODHEZ

In Mérida state, see what’s being reported by PROMEDEHUM, on Facebook and @promedehum, and the Human Rights Observatory of the Los Andes University, on their website or @uladdhh

In Lara state, check out information produced by FUNPAZ, on Facebook and @Funpaz2013 and the MOVIMIENTO VINOTINTO, also on Facebook and @movinotinto

Breaking into Homes in Valencia

On May 15, dozens of neighbors participated in an anti-government demonstration in Mañongo, a residential area of Valencia, Carabobo state. The demonstration consisted of cutting main roads, and was part of a nation-wide protest called “the Planton,” or sit-out. Around 4 pm, after the demonstration ended, a group of at least 50 members of the National Guard and the investigative police forcefully entered four residential buildings in the area, without a judicial order, claiming that they were looking for a sniper, a resident said. Several residents told Human Rights Watch that security agents used force to break into several apartments, and stole personal belongings, including cellphones, clothes, and cash. One said she saw an agent pointing a gun at a woman who was carrying a baby; others reported that agents beat residents and detained several residents as well as two people working at the buildings, without showing any judicial order.

This is how they left one of the doors of an apartment they broke into:

 

About State Responsibility for Actions by “Colectivos”

A lot has been said about the existence of armed pro-government groups, called “colectivos,” that collaborate with Venezuelan security forces to repress peaceful protests, or operate with their acquiescence. Human Rights Watch has documented such cases since 2014. This interesting piece recently published by the Caracas Chronicles analyzes international human rights jurisprudence and concludes that the Venezuelan government is responsible for the crimes and abuses committed by these gangs. Food for thought.

New Accounts Describe Abusive Prosecution of Civilians by Military Courts

Joint Statement by the Venezuelan Penal Forum and Human Rights Watch 

As of May 15, the Venezuelan Penal Forum has obtained information regarding the prosecution of at least 275 civilians by military courts in Venezuela. In all these cases, the Venezuelan Penal Forum has directly assisted detainees or verified information regarding the prosecutions through direct contact with family members. Human Rights Watch interviewed several of the lawyers representing detainees. The cases include the prosecution of 192 civilians in Carabobo state, 19 in Falcon state, 20 in Zulia state, 18 in Caracas, 13 in Lara state, 10 in Sucre state, two in Barinas state, and one in Táchira state. 159 of these defendants were in pretrial detention as of May 12. Detainees are being held in military prisons, prisons for detainees subject to military prosecution, high-security prisons, or in headquarters of the intelligence services.

While no public record of these proceedings is available—a problem in its own right—the accounts by lawyers and family members include many disturbing allegations of abuses and procedural defects in the conduct of these prosecutions, including the following:

  • Detainees being subjected to physical and other abuses that may in some cases amount to torture at the moment of their arrest or during detention.
  • Hearings being held in military courts or other military installations, presided over by military judges who report to the Minister of Defense, and sometimes in the presence of armed guards.
  • Judges charging large groups of protesters with crimes en masse, without any individualized consideration of the evidence against them.
  • Hearing times not being specified in advance, leaving independent lawyers and families waiting at the entrance of military facilities or courts for hours. Lawyers say that when hearings are held, they are sometimes not able to enter the courtroom; when they are allowed to enter, they often are only able to speak to detainees a few minutes before the hearings, only have access to the criminal file when they are at the hearing, and cannot take pictures or copies of the files.
  • Protesters being charged with serious crimes under the military code, such as “rebellion” and “treason,” for alleged acts of violence at protests.

Accounts of the proceedings provided by lawyers who attended the hearings

On May 5, 40 people who had been detained separately near a food company in Valencia, Carabobo state, which had been looted a day earlier, were brought before a military judge in an improvised courtroom inside military headquarters. The hearing started at 7 p.m. and lasted 12 hours. During the hearing, most detainees showed bruises that they said were caused by members of the National Guard who beat them, sometimes with an aluminum bar or a baseball bat. Some claimed the officers cut their hair during their detention. At least 15 said they were forced to eat raw pasta with human excrement—the officers allegedly put teargas powder in their noses so they would be forced to open their mouths to eat. Without individualizing the criminal responsibility of each, all 40 were charged with rebellion. The military judge admitted the charges against all, but sent only 19 to the high-security prison “26 of July” in Guárico state, without providing any explanation, the lawyer said. The others were released on conditional liberty.

On May 6, Carlos Sardi, a man who collaborates with local groups working with cancer patients and on LGBT rights, was detained while he was protesting with his wife in Valencia, Carabobo state. Sardi said that he was brutally beaten and forced to wear a black hood, while authorities he could not see asked him about people who had allegedly been involved in the protests. Prosecutors argued he had been in phone contact with other protesters, and was carrying Molotov cocktails, nails, and gasoline—evidence he claims was planted. Sardi was taken before a military court and charged with rebellion, treason, and contempt. A military judge ordered his pretrial detention in the “26 of July” security prison in Guárico state.

On May 9, 16 people who had been detained in different circumstances in La Villa de Rosario were brought together before a military court in Maracaibo, Zulia state. The detainees included a man who said he was walking home from work when he was picked up by the National Guard, and two brothers who said they were working on the roof of their home and were detained without a judicial order. Two others were reportedly taken from the hospital—one said he was there after suffering a domestic accident and the other said that he was a government supporter who had been hit by a bottle in a protest—to the offices of the investigative police to declare who had injured them, and were then detained. Eight of the 16 detainees claimed they were beaten by members of the National Guard when they were detained, and that the officers spread a white powder on their faces that caused a burning sensation and made them cry, which they described as being similar to the effect of teargas bombs. The lawyers who were able to enter the hearing—which took place inside a military installation—were searched by officers and were not allowed to take their cellphones or personal belongings into the hearing. There were no female officers, so female lawyers were physically searched by male military officers. On May 11, the prosecutor charged the 16 detainees with rebellion and insult to a sentinel, without specifying what each of them had done. The judge accepted the charges against all detainees, but ruled seven would be held in pretrial detention at the Santa Ana prison, an installation for people prosecuted in military courts, without providing any explanation for the distinction, the lawyer said. The rest were released on conditional liberty.

Sergio Contreras, an activist with the Voluntad Popular (Popular Will) opposition party and a lawyer who taught at the Catholic University Andrés Bello, said that on May 10, he was beaten and detained by members of the Bolivarian National Police while he was demonstrating in Caracas. Contreras said he was speaking to a group of students with a megaphone. Contreras was taken before a military court on May 12 and charged with rebellion, treason, and “stealing military material” (based on a firearm he said was planted). The judge accepted the charges, ordered his pretrial detention, and sent him to the Ramo Verde military prison.

On May 11, Lisbeth Añez, an activist who has visited political prisoners detained in Venezuela, was arrested at the Caracas airport when she was boarding a flight to Miami. She was taken before a military court in Caracas a day later, and charged with rebellion and treason based on evidence that included alleged WhatsApp messages that lawyers say are not described in judicial documents, as well as books, letters, and recognitions of her social work. This evidence, according to the court, proved she was promoting violent acts, in light of the “notoriety” of the fact that Venezuelan protests are violent, the lawyers said. She was ordered detained at the headquarters of the National Bolivarian Intelligence Services in Caracas.

International human rights standards

Both Venezuelan and international law provide that civilians should not be prosecuted before military courts. The Venezuelan Constitution, in article 261, limits military jurisdiction to crimes that are of a military nature. Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Venezuela ratified in 1978, guarantees the right to a timely trial by a competent, independent, and impartial tribunal. In 2015, the Human Rights Committee, the expert body charged with interpreting the ICCPR, expressed concern that military courts in Venezuela are competent to try civilians under certain circumstances and called on the Venezuelan government to “adopt the necessary measures to prohibit military courts from trying civilians.” Similarly, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has ruled that military courts should not try civilians.

A Year-Long State of Exception

On May 12, 47 Venezuelan human rights organization published this press release criticizing the government’s decision to extend the presidential decree that had declared a “state of exception and economic emergency.” The decree was criticized by 125 Latin American and international organizations when it was adopted in May 2016 because it included vague language that would allow restricting basic rights and limit the ability of the opposition-led National Assembly and Venezuelan nongovernmental organizations to challenge abuses of power by the government. The state of exception has been extended six times without legislative approval, the press release says.

No More Palliative Care

On May 11, the Venezuelan Society of Palliative Care published a letter stating that today in Venezuela there are no opioid medicines available to alleviate moderated to severe pain, and that health professionals have “no way of alleviating the suffering of so many patients who fight for their lives or are close to death.” The letter calls on Venezuelan authorities to ensure the availability of medicines to control pain, to comply with their obligation to respect the right to health. The full letter is available here: 

 

Moving Forward, by the International Crisis Group

This piece by the International Crisis Group provides a comprehensive summary of the Venezuela crisis and explains two problematic measures adopted by the Venezuelan government recently: President Maduro’s proposal to create a Constitutional Assembly, and the his decision to withdraw from the OAS. It argues that “taken together, these two decisions mark the crossing of a threshold in Venezuela, and the abandonment of ‘revolutionary’ regime in Caracas of representative democracy.” The ICG describes a series proposals to move forward with a negotiated solution (as opposed to interminable dialogues) that includes an amnesty for certain government officials—excluding those responsible for drug-trafficking and grave human rights abuses—and an interim government of national unity, including some government officials, that would organize elections.

 

The Venezuelan Church on Abuses

On May 5, the Venezuelan Episcopal Conference issued a press release arguing that most Venezuelans perceive President Maduro’s proposal to draft a new constitution as a step that further undermines the rule of law provided for in the existing constitution. The statement says, “What the Venezuelan people need the most today is food, medicines, liberty, personal and juridical security, and peace, all of which would be achieved if the government respected the existing constitution.” It also calls for the end of repression, after describing the “repressive nature” of the government and excessive violence by security forces and armed groups called “colectivos” that act “under the protective watch” of authorities.

A similar line was adopted by Father Luis Ugalde, a Jesuit priest that is a former dean of the Catholic University Andrés Bello in Caracas, in this interview:

 

The Interpreter on Venezuela

Since the latest round of massive protests erupted in early April, The New York Times’ The Interpreter published two very good pieces worth reading. A first piece, published on April 1, describes how populism turned authoritarian in Venezuela, starting with the political takeover of the Supreme Court by President Hugo Chávez in 2004. Another article, published on May 6, analyzes the existing and potential fractures within political and military elites, including recent dissenting statements by the Venezuelan attorney general, Luisa Ortega Díaz.

Official Data on Health Crisis

On May 9, Reuters reported that, according to official data, in 2016 Venezuela’s infant mortality rates rose 30 percent, maternal mortality increased 65 percent, and cases of malaria jumped 76 percent. You can access the official reports by clicking here. This information is consistent with Human Rights Watch’s findings on the humanitarian crisis, available here.

 

IACHR Statement on Abuses Against Protesters

On May 9, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) issued a public statement deploring “repressive measures taken by Venezuelan authorities in response to the wave of protests that began in March in the country.” The IACHR expressed concern regarding the number of deaths and injuries caused by firearms and the excessive use of other less lethal weapons, such as teargas and birdshot, and highlighted that hundreds of the nearly 2,000 detainees remained in custody. The commission has received allegations of torture and ill-treatment by security forces, and information that authorities are using the military criminal justice system to try civilians, it said. The IACHR condemned “any attempt by the Venezuelan authorities to prevent holding of elections” and deplored President Maduro’s unprecedented decision to denounce the OAS charter.

An Arbitrary arrest

Civilians Tried by Military Courts

On May 4, the general commander of the Bolivarian National Guard, Antonio Benavides Torres, stated that a special operation ordered by President Nicolás Maduro would be carried out to prosecute, in military courts, civilians who had been detained two days earlier during protests in Carabobo state. The operation is part of the “Zamora Plan,” an initiative meant to address “internal and external attacks that threaten the country’s peace and sovereignty.” (For background on the Zamora Plan, with links to official sources, check out this outline prepared by the Human Rights Center of the Andrés Bello Catholic University in Caracas).

Benavides Torres claimed 43 people had been “involved in serious crimes against the public order, such as looting, rebellion, and robbery and attack to a sentinel.” Francisco Ameliach, the governor of Carabobo who belongs to President Maduro’s political party, tweeted that “more than 70 hooligans” had been detained and taken before military courts, and authorities were “in search of intellectual authors and collaborators.”

On May 5, the interior and justice minister, Néstor Luis Reverol, tweeted that “military courts will be in charge of all investigations that are necessary of these TERRORISTS hired by the right” (caps in the original).

These actions occur days after Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz publicly criticized policies by the Maduro administration and requested courts to release 38 people detained by the National Guard in Nueva Esparta, arguing that the police report on their detention did not specify why they had been detained. 

Local human rights groups have confirmed that dozens of civilians have been prosecuted by military courts. In one case, at least 19 were prosecuted days ago for “rebellion” and “contempt.” The military court rejected the defense’s argument that they did not have jurisdiction to try civilians. Armed military officials stood guard inside the courtroom.

Both Venezuelan and international law provide that civilians should not be prosecuted before military courts. The Venezuelan Constitution, in article 261, limits military jurisdiction to crimes that are of a military nature. Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Venezuela ratified in 1978, guarantees the right to a timely trial by a competent, independent, and impartial tribunal. In 2015, the Human Rights Committee, the expert body charged with interpreting the ICCPR, expressed concern that military courts in Venezuela are competent to try civilians under certain circumstances and called on the Venezuelan government to “adopt the necessary measures to prohibit military courts from trying civilians.” Similarly, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has ruled that military courts should not try civilians.

To see OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro’s statement on the use of military courts against civilians, click here.

 

Videos on Venezuela’s Crisis

A good way to understand what’s happening in Venezuela is to see it with your own eyes. The Financial Times has published this piece and video with an excellent overview of the crisis, including testimony from government supporters and former government supporters, as well as information on pro-government armed groups of civilians called “colectivos.” A recent in-depth article and video by the Wall Street Journal, available here, provides a thorough and moving description of the food crisis and the difficulty that Venezuelans are facing to feed their families. For Human Rights Watch reporting on the humanitarian crisis, including a video report on food and health shortages, see here.

Letter to President Maduro requesting authorization to visit Leopoldo López

On May 5, Human Rights Watch requested authorization to President Nicolás Maduro to visit Leopoldo López in the Ramo Verde military prison. López has not received visits from his family or lawyer since early April. The full letter in English is available here and in Spanish, here.

Letter to President Maduro requesting authorization to visit Leopoldo López.

 

 

Updated Data: Deaths, Injuries, Detentions as of May 4

Between April 1-May 4, 35 people died in the context of demonstrations—18 in Caracas, six in Carabobo state, five in Lara state, two in Mérida state, two in Miranda state, one in Barinas state, and one in Táchira state, the Attorney General’s Office reported. A total of 717 people were injured in demonstrations nation-wide, including 329 cases in which there were allegations of violations of basic rights, the office said.

On May 4, the Venezuelan Penal Forum, a nongovernmental organization that provides legal support to detainees nation-wide, reported that 1,708 people had been arrested during demonstrations that started on April 4, and that 596 of them remained in detention.

 

Latin American Governments on Abuses in Venezuela

On May 4, eight Latin American governments—Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, and Paraguay—issued a statement deploring the violence in Venezuela that has led to deaths and hundreds of injured people. The statement condemns the excessive use of force by authorities against the civilian population, called on the Venezuelan government to respect the human rights of its citizens, and highlighted the need to organize elections, release political prisoners, restore the powers of the National Assembly, and guarantee the separation of powers. The statement is available in Spanish here, and in Portuguese here

 

 

 

The role of Venezuela’s armed forces

On May 4, The Economist published an interesting article examining the critical role the Venezuelan military is playing in the current crisis. Check it out here:

Is Leopoldo López ok?

In the evening of May 3, a Venezuelan journalist and a US senator tweeted that Leopoldo López had been transferred to a military hospital in delicate health conditions. Around 11 p.m., Diosdado Cabello, the powerful Chavista politician, showed what he called a “proof of life” video in his weekly TV show, allegedly filmed two hours earlier, in which López tells his family that he is alright and does not know why he is filming the video.

López has been unable to see his family or lawyer since early April. Although his wife and mother visited the military hospital where he had reportedly been transferred as well as the prison where he is being held on May 3 at night and in the morning of May 4, they were unable to see or talk to him. 

 

 

Repression on May 3

At least 200 people were injured during clashes that erupted during a demonstration in Caracas on May 3 against the Maduro administration, Reuters reported. Thousands had marched peacefully until they were blocked by security forces. The death toll during incidents in Venezuela rose to 34, Reuters said.

The Wives of Political Prisoners

There are more than 140 political prisoners in Venezuela, according to the Venezuelan Penal Forum, a local group that provides legal support to detainees. Human Rights Watch has documented that judicial processes in several of these cases violate the most basic due process rights, and prosecutions have been based on non-existent or fabricated evidence. These cases, however, also have a dramatic impact on the lives of the detainees’ families. Here are some videos in which the wives of five men who have been detained and prosecuted for political reasons in Venezuela share their stories:

  • Lilian Tintori, the wife of Leopoldo López, explains here the impact that her husband’s detention has had on her life and on their two children, and shows here images of one of several days in which she and her children were not allowed to visit López in jail. For additional information on López’s case and detention conditions, see here and here.
  • Rosaura Valenti, the wife of Yon Goicoechea, explains here her husband’s detention conditions, and describes here that she and her son were unable to visit him. For additional information on Yon Goicoechea’s case, see here.
  • Patricia Gutiérrez de Ceballos, the wife of Daniel Ceballos, explains here the impact that her husband’s detention has had on their children and describes their prison visits. For additional information on Ceballo’s case, see here.
  • Silvia Martínez, the wife of Braulio Jatar, describes here her search for her husband when he was detained and here the lack of evidence against him and his health condition while in detention. For additional information on Jatar’s case, see here.
  • Mizty Capriles de Ledezma, the wife of Antonio Ledezma, explains how difficult her husband’s detention has been for her and her daughters here. For additional information on Ledezma’s case, see here.

Statement on Maduro's Constituent Assembly Proposal

On May 1, President Nicolas Maduro announced that his government will organize elections to establish a constituent assembly and draft a new constitution. But what he should be doing now -- without any further delay-- is upholding the rights enshrined in the existing constitution, which was enacted by his predecessor Hugo Chavez and contains basic guarantees that his government is violating. The solution to Venezuela's crisis requires setting a date for overdue regional elections, releasing political prisoners, restoring the independence of the judiciary and the National Assembly's powers, and accepting desperately-needed international humanitarian aid. Maduro's proposal to write a new constitution should not be allowed to distract from his flagrant disregard for the rights enshrined in the existing one.

- José Miguel Vivanco

2017 Editorials on Venezuela’s crisis

This year, major newspapers worldwide have published editorials on the Venezuela crisis. They have addressed issues ranging from the humanitarian crisis to the need to release political prisoners and restore powers to the National Assembly. Many editorials have supported the OAS process to evaluate Venezuela's compliance with the Inter-American Democratic Charter and called for increased international and multilateral pressure on the Maduro administration. For a list of editorials published in 2017, with links to access them, please see here.

Detentions by Intelligence Agents

In August 2016, intelligence agents detained Yon Goicoechea, an activist of the Popular Will opposition party, as he was driving to a press conference about an opposition rally scheduled for the following month. Goicoechea’s family and lawyer received no official information about his whereabouts for more than 56 hours. A judge subsequently charged Goicoechea with several crimes and ordered his pretrial detention. He has since been detained at one of the headquarters in Caracas of the Bolivarian Intelligence Services for almost eight months, despite the fact that the Attorney General’s Office decided not to press charges on October 17, 2016, and a court ordered his release three days later, according to official documentation reviewed by Human Rights Watch.

There have been reports of at least 17 other cases in which people are being detained by intelligence services, even after a court has ordered their release.

Free Press Under Siege

On April 26, two experts on freedom of expression of the United Nations and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights criticized acts of censorship and internet blocking in Venezuela, as well as the detention, attacks, and stigmatization of journalists and media workers covering protests in Venezuela.

At least 12 Venezuelan and international journalists have been detained, some for hours and others for days, according to the statement. Journalist Braulio Jatar, who was detained after his independent news outlet reported on a protest against President Maduro in September 2016, remains in detention.

At least three online platforms offering news and information of public interest in Venezuela have been blocked by private internet service providers, in response to orders by the National Telecommunications Commission, said the UN and IACHR experts. And at least three international news channels suffered interruptions to their transmissions or had their signals suspended.

For updated information on attacks against journalists and the press, visit the Venezuelan NGO Espacio Público’s website.

 

Official Data: Deaths, Detentions, Injuries

Between April 3-25, 26 people died in Venezuela in “violent incidents,” 437 were injured, and 1.289 were detained, Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz said. An official list of those who died, most of whom were killed with gunshots, is available here. The attorney general reported that 65 people were in pretrial detention and 217 others would be taken before a judge on April 25. 

OAS vs CELAC

On April 24, 16 OAS member states requested a meeting of the organization’s Permanent Council to approve a resolution that will decide to organize a special meeting of foreign ministers to address the situation in Venezuela. It cites OAS charter provisions that allow for such meetings to consider “urgent problems” that are of “common interest.” The meeting will take place on Wednesday, April 26 at 4 pm local time.

Meanwhile, on April 25, the Venezuelan foreign affairs minister warned that if the OAS foreign affairs ministers meet without Venezuela’s consent, the government would withdraw from the OAS—note, however, that under OAS Charter rules (art. 143) that decision would only enter into effect two years later.

The Venezuelan minister also said the Venezuelan government was organizing another extraordinary meeting of foreign affairs minister to denounce “the opposition violence.” Only members of allied governments belonging to another regional organization called CELAC were invited to this one. The meeting is scheduled to take place on May 2.

International community must confront the scourge of Maduro

Maria Patricia Molina, 27, moved to Brazil when she was seven months pregnant due to insecurity and the shortages of food and medicine in Venezuela. Sasha, her daughter, was born at Roraima's Maternity Hospital on February 15, 2017. Molina had requested asylum, and was waiting for a decision by the Brazilian refugee agency when Human Rights Watch met with her. February 15. 2017.

© 2017 César Muñoz Acebes/ Human Rights Watch

The nurses spoke a foreign language, and narrow beds crowded the stuffy ward, but María gazed blissfully into her newborn Sasha’s eyes. María was far from family and friends, but she’d made it to a land of relative plenty — rich with diapers and cooking oil.

Covering Venezuela for Human Rights Watch these past eight years, I’ve watched the country tailspin into repression and privation. In recent weeks, security forces have used excessive force and fired teargas indiscriminately against anti-government protesters, and the Supreme Court effectively shut down Congress — although it later reverted part of its ruling, at the president’s request. There’s little doubt that the Maduro administration looks more and more like a full-fledged dictatorship. My story shows disturbing parallels with the Latin American dictatorships of yesteryear, said Tamara Taraciuk Broner in an article published by the Miami Herald.

The article was also published in Spanish in La Nación (Argentina), La Prensa Gráfica (El Salvador), La Nación (Costa Rica), El Tiempo (Colombia), El Nacional (Venezuela), and in O Globo (Brazil) in Portuguese. 

The “Ombudsman” on Leopoldo López’s isolation

Often, Venezuelan authorities have imposed bans on visits to Leopoldo López—the opposition leader who was arbitrarily detained and convicted to almost 14 years in prison—by his family or lawyers. The most recent ban, his wife reports, has been in place for a month. Instead of questioning the ban, Venezuela’s ombudsman, Tarek William Saab, said he had “mediated” with the government, and told López’s family they would be able to see him after his “sanction” ended. This just adds to the list of abuses Saab has failed to speak up about, and has made more than 100 Venezuelan NGOs call for his resignation

Venezuelan Emigration in Numbers

On April 21, the Spanish newspaper El País reported that 3.960 Venezuelans had requested asylum in 2016—a seven-fold increase from 2015, when 585 Venezuelans had done so. More Venezuelans sought asylum in Spain during that year than nationals of any other country. According to official sources reviewed by Human Rights Watch, 124 Venezuelans had requested asylum in Spain in 2014, up from 35 in 2013 and 28 in 2012.

Although Spain is a popular destination for Venezuelans who are fleeing the political, economic, and humanitarian crisis in their country, a review of official sources elsewhere shows a similar increase of Venezuelan immigration:

  • In Argentina, the number of temporary residencies granted to Venezuelans increased from 1.777 in 2014 to 4.707 in 2015. An additional 3.768 permanent residencies were granted in the first four months of 2016
  • In Brazil, as of December 31, 2016, 4,670 Venezuelans had requested asylum in Brazil since 2012. The number of Venezuelans seeking asylum in Brazil increased from 54 in 2013 to 208 in 2014, 825 in 2015, and 2,595 between January and December 1, 2016. There are more than 4,000 Venezuelans in a waiting list to file asylum applications in Brazil.
  • In Chile, the number of visas granted to Venezuelans (including student, work, and temporary visas) increased from 1.463 in 2013, to 2.874 in 2014, and to 8.381 in 2015.
  • In Mexico, in 2014, 56 Venezuelans requested asylum and nine were granted asylum; in 2015, 57 requested asylum and 26 were granted asylum; and in 2016, 361 requested asylum and 296 were granted asylum.
  • In Peru, the number of Venezuelans who requested a foreigner’s ID increased from 180 in 2013 to 550 in 2014, 1.445 in 2015, and 1.543 in 2016.
  • In the United States, in 2014 Venezuela entered the list of “Leading Nationalities for Asylum Applications filed with USCIS.” In December 2014, the US received 395 applications, in December 2015 it received 958, and in December 2016 it received 2.334. In December 2016, it was the first country in the list.

The Demonstrations Continue

Today, the Venezuelan opposition organized “The National Plantón,” a demonstration that consists of sitting on the streets and closing down main roads in various cities. For updated information and pictures on what’s happening in different parts of the country, visit NTN24’s website.

 

What the world needs to do about Venezuela

Demonstrators clash with riot police during the so-called "mother of all marches" against Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela April 19, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters

Tens of thousands of Venezuelans who have reached a breaking point over the country's humanitarian and political crisis poured into the streets all over the country on Wednesday. They demanded that the government let aid enter Venezuela to help the many people who are desperate for food and medicine. They demanded that the government hold elections, free political prisoners, and reestablish judicial independence and the powers of the National Assembly.

The Venezuelan government's harsh reaction -- complete with a show of force -- was a hugely irresponsible replay of its response to previous protests. The government's response to these protests is further evidence of the need for strong international pressure, especially from other states in the region, to push for the restoration of human rights and democracy in Venezuela -- and a demonstration of the potential cost of a failure to act, said José Miguel Vivanco and Tamara Taraciuk Broner in an op-ed published by CNN.

 

Looting and Death in Caracas Slum

On the evening of April 20, incidents of looting began in El Valle, a hillside slum area in Caracas, according to the Caracas Chronicles. Security forces were sent in to confront the looters, reportedly alongside armed civilians with links to the government. Many social media postings reproduced videos and audios of repeated gunfire, while others reported that the Children’s and Maternity Hospital in the area had to be evacuated after teargas entered the building. Local residents set up a series of small, burning barricades to try to stop security forces and the armed civilians from passing through, the Caracas Chronicles reported.

On April 21, the Attorney General’s Office said it was investigating the death of 11 people, including a 17-year-old boy, and injuries to six others in El Valle on April 20-21. Some victims were electrocuted, and others were killed by a firearm. The office was also investigating the death of another man who died in “a similar incident” in Petare, another poor area in Caracas.

Twins Tortured into Confessing

On April 18, a criminal court in Caracas ordered the pretrial detention of the twins Francisco José Sánchez Ramírez and Francisco Alejandro Sánchez Ramírez, 22-year-old university students and opposition activists. The twins had been arrested five days earlier and accused of participating in an attack, during an anti-government protest on April 8, on a building that belongs to the judiciary.

On the day of their arrest, the interior and justice minister tweeted that security forces had delivered a “hard blow to the Venezuelan right’s terrorism” and that the twins had been “organizing terrorist acts against the country’s peace.” The minister said they had “confessed” their participation in “violence” and the government had “obtained valuable elements of proof that implicate right-wing leaders in terrorist acts.”

On April 16, President Nicolás Maduro aired a video supposedly of one of the twins, with his face blurred—and the voices of those questioning him altered—confessing that an opposition politician had paid him to recruit people and participate in violent acts.

But José Sánchez, the twins’ father and a lawyer, said the twins told the judge at the hearing that, after being detained as they were leaving the home of one’s girlfriend, they were driven to the offices of the Bolivarian National Intelligence Services (SEBIN), where they were physically abused and threatened with death so they would film the video. When the father visited SEBIN offices that day, he was told they were not there. He was only able to see them 72 hours later, he said.

A prosecutor at the hearing said the video could not be used as evidence against the twins, the father reported, and that the allegations of torture would be investigated.

At a public appearance at the National Assembly on April 18, the father broke down when he reported what the twins had said: “They bent us, but they did not break us. Dad, tell all our friends that today’s tears will be tomorrow’s smiles.”

Thousands Protest Human Rights Crisis in Venezuela

The opposition in Venezuela organized what they called the “mother of all marches” today, as thousands poured into the streets to demand that the government hold elections, release political prisoners, reestablish judicial independence and the powers of the National Assembly, and allow sufficient humanitarian aid into the country.

Demonstrators clash with riot police during the so-called "mother of all marches" against Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela April 19, 2017. 

© 2017 Reuters

The turnout was massive. But you’d never be able to tell from the information published by Venezuelan official sources – including the vice-president, Telesur, and VTV – that have been reporting exclusively on pro-government rallies in which large numbers of people participated, including some who sing and dance “in defense of peace.”

There aren’t many reasons to sing and dance in Venezuela today. Leave aside, for the moment, the political, economic, human rights, and humanitarian crisis that pushed thousands into the streets in protest. Today, security forces used force and deployed teargas against demonstrators, and dozens of people have been detained. Journalists covering the protests reported suffering harassment at the hands of security forces and pro-government supporters, and a TV cable channel that reported on the protests was taken off the air. At least one person was killed – a 17-year-old boy who was reportedly not participating in the demonstrations died after being shot in the head.

This was totally foreseeable. Today’s protests unfolded amid explosive tensions, in a country where security forces have brutally repressed anti-government demonstrations, sometimes in collaboration with armed pro-government groups. Before today’s demonstration, President Nicolás Maduro – invoking his “defending peace” slogan – accused the opposition of engaging in “violence, conspiracy, [a] coup d’etat, and interventionism.” He announced he would multiply the number of pro-government militias and arm them, while organizing parallel pro-government demonstrations to counter the opposition’s one.

In advance of today’s protests, the region’s eyes were on Venezuela. What is happening today should only be further evidence that there is an urgent need for strong international pressure to push for the restoration of human rights and democracy in Venezuela – and that the potential cost and risk of not exercising such pressure is rapidly increasing.

Maduro gets ready for April 19 demonstration

Repressing dissent

The Venezuelan Penal Forum, a local group that provides legal support to detainees, reported today that 470 people have been detained during anti-government protests in Venezuela between April 4-14, including 165 who were released before being brought before a judge. Security forces used excessive force and teargas indiscriminately to disperse demonstrations, leading to serious injuries, the report says. At least five people were killed with firearms during the demonstrations, some of them by pro-government armed groups, the report says. Lawyers collaborating with the organization report that some detainees were beaten and tortured, while others were prosecuted without evidence implicating them in any crime, including sometimes by military courts. 

 

Report: Venezuela's Humanitarian Crisis is Spilling into Brazil

Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis is spilling across its borders, Human Rights Watch said today. Latin American governments need to apply strong pressure on the Maduro administration to address severe shortages of medicine and food in Venezuela that are causing Venezuelans to leave the country.

Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis is spilling across its borders.

 

Latin America is watching

On April 17, in advance of anti-government protests scheduled to take place in Venezuela on April 19, the governments of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Paraguay, and Peru called on the Maduro administration to ensure Venezuelans can exercise their right to demonstrate peacefully, and set a date for elections “to solve the grave crisis that Venezuela is facing, and worries the region.”

 

Venezuela’s crumbling façade of democracy

On March 29, the Venezuelan Supreme Court effectively shut down Congress, the only key government institution that remained independent of executive control, making the incredible announcement that it would assume all legislative powers itself or choose some other institution to delegate them to. This ruling is the end of Maduro administration’s façade of democracy, José Miguel Vivanco writes in Univisión.

Venezuela: Government Assails Critics as Crisis Deepens

The Venezuelan government has targeted critics of its ineffective efforts to alleviate severe shortages of essential medicines and food while the crisis persists, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Regional governments should press the administration of President Nicolás Maduro to adopt immediate measures to better address the profound humanitarian crisis, including by exploring avenues for increased international assistance.

The Venezuelan government has targeted critics of its ineffective efforts to alleviate severe shortages of essential medicines and food while the crisis persists.

 

Venezuela: Dissidents Allege Torture, Coerced Confessions

The Organization of American States (OAS) should press authorities from Venezuela’s Maduro administration to release and drop criminal charges against anyone who has been arbitrarily detained and charged, Human Rights Watch said today. The OAS should also press Venezuela so its authorities investigate allegations that several detainees have been beaten and tortured in custody, and make the results of the investigations public.

Venezuela: Police Raids Hit Poor Areas

Police and military raids in low-income and immigrant communities in Venezuela have led to widespread allegations of abuse, the Venezuelan Human Rights Education-Action Program (PROVEA) and Human Rights Watch said in a joint report released today. The allegations included extrajudicial killings, mass arbitrary detentions, maltreatment of detainees, forced evictions, the destruction of homes, and the arbitrary deportation of Colombian nationals.

Venezuela: Unarmed Protestors Beaten, Shot

Venezuelan security forces have used unlawful force in response to antigovernment demonstrations, severely beating unarmed protesters and shooting them at point blank range, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Security forces also subjected detainees to severe physical and psychological abuse, including in some cases torture, and justice officials failed to safeguard detainees’ due process rights.

 

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