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Letter to the UN about post-electoral violence in Venezuela

Washington, D.C., July 11, 2013


Mr. Maina Kiai, UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association

Mr. Frank La Rue, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression

Mr. Juan Méndez, UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment

Members of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention

Ms. Gabriela Knaul, UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers

Mrs. Margaret Sekaggya, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders

Ms. Naventhem Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights


I am writing to respectfully urge you to consider issuing a public statement on post-electoral violence in Venezuela. Human Rights Watch has been closely following the situation in the country since the April 14, 2013 presidential elections. We are extremely concerned that Venezuelan authorities are using criminal investigations as a political tool to accuse the opposition, without adequate justification, of the commission of crimes, while at the same time failing to adequately investigate credible allegations of serious human rights abuses.

As you are probably aware, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elías Jaua met with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) on June 13, 2013 to provide her office with information on post-electoral violence in Venezuela.[1]Mr. Jaua gave the UNHCHR a copy of a report by the Ombudsman Office (Defensoría del Pueblo), which states that six "violent and aggressive" demonstrations took place after the elections, and that in the context of post-electoral violence nine government supporters were killed; 35 people were injured; and 15 health centers, five headquarters of political parties, and one office of the Ombudsman Office were vandalized.[2]

The report attributes responsibility for these incidents to Henrique Capriles Radonski, the opposition candidate who—according to Venezuelan electoral authorities—lost the April presidential election by a narrow margin to Nicolás Maduro. President Maduro, the minister of justice and interior, and the foreign minister had all accused Capriles, soon after the violent incidents occurred, of being responsible for the violence that occurred in the country.[3]In addition, Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz accused Capriles of “urging citizens to take the streets and be violent,” and said the violent actions that occurred after the elections could constitute “instigation of hatred” and “civil rebellion.”[4]The minister of prisons stated she had a prison cell ready for Capriles.[5]

According to Attorney General Díaz, her office is conducting thorough investigations into violence allegedly promoted by Capriles, which led to the nine deaths mentioned above, and injuries to 78 other people.[6]On June 7, the Attorney General's Office accused eight individuals of being responsible of five of these deaths, which, according to the National Radio of Venezuela, occurred in the context of “fascist attacks.”[7]

In contrast, no serious investigations have been conducted into credible allegations of serious human rights abuses documented by local human rights organizations. For example, a delegation from the Forum for Life (Foro por la Vida), which is a network of 18 Venezuelan human rights organizations, issued a report stating they had found evidence indicating that security forces used excessive force to disperse demonstrations in favor of Capriles in the state of Lara on April 15 and 16. According to their report, drafted by members from the well-respected human rights organization PROVEA and the Human Rights Center of the Central University of Venezuela, security forces arbitrarily detained at least 62 individuals who were participating peacefully in the demonstration and injured 38 others, including 11 who worked for media outlets. The detainees reported that they were severely beaten, threatened with sexual violence, and deprived of food for more than 24 hours. According to the organizations who interviewed the victims, the detainees were asked, “Who is your president?” If they did not respond “Nicolás Maduro,” they were beaten in several parts of their bodies. Several witnesses stated that one individual suffered electrical shocks.

Similarly, COFAVIC, another well-respected human rights group in Venezuela, issued a report with information on 72 cases of alleged arbitrary detentions, torture, and due process violations, which reportedly took place in the states of Lara, Carabobo and Barinas on April 15 and 16. According to the report, security forces used force excessively to disperse peaceful demonstrations by firing rubber and lead bullets indiscriminately on protestors. Security forces also reportedly detained protestors arbitrarily and beat them on their heads, necks and backs with police batons, helmets, and bottles of frozen water. The group reported that detainees --most of whom were detained in military bases from the National Guard or police stations-- were generally forced to chant in favor of President Maduro and throw away hats, bracelets, or other election paraphernalia supporting Capriles. In at least eight of the cases, the detainees said that they were forced to take off their clothes and threatened with death and sexual violence. According to the report, those who suffered injuries in detention and at the rally did not have immediate access to medical care.

Local human rights groups told Human Rights Watch that, according to the information they were able to gather on the investigations, government authorities have failed to adequately investigate the cases documented in these reports, despite the fact that victims had filed complaints in several of these cases. In response to allegations in the press that security forces had abused detainees in several demonstrations, including in Lara, the attorney general said the claims were false “because individuals who are deprived of their liberty are not mistreated in Venezuela.”[8]According to official sources, out of 35 complaints of abuses by security forces during and immediately following rallies in the state of Lara, only two were being investigated for alleged mistreatment by security forces.[9]

To ensure that you have adequate information to analyze these incidents and the context in which they took place—as well as allegations of other human rights violations related to the election that have not been addressed in this letter, such as political discrimination against workers in the public sector who voted for Capriles—I am attaching the following reports produced by Venezuelan civil society:

* "Criminalization of Protests Occurred in Venezuela During the Month of April 2013," written by PROVEA.

* "Report on the Human Rights Situation in the Post-Electoral Context of April 2013," written by COFAVIC.

* "Electoral Process of Venezuela in April 2013. Complaints and Cases Regarding the Right to Free Expression," written by Espacio Público.

* "Assassinations in the Context of Venezuelan Post-Electoral Violence. Incidents occurred between April 15 and 19, 2013," written by Espacio Público.

* "Cases of Labor Discrimination with Political Motivations," written by the Human Rights Center of the Catholic University Andrés Bello.

* "Human Rights Situation in Venezuela in the Context of Presidential Elections, April 14-30, 2013," written by CIVILIS.

* "Institutional Framework of April 13, 2013 and Subsequent Events," written by Carlos Ayala, Director of Public Law at the Catholic University Andrés Bello.

* "Electoral Alert. Venezuelan Elections 2012," written by Transparency Venezuela.

* "Tendencies of Social Conflict in Venezuela in April 2013," written by the Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict.

In light of the serious allegations of abuses documented by local human rights organizations, I respectfully urge you to call on the government of Venezuela to conduct prompt, thorough, and impartial investigations into all these incidents, and in cases where abuses have occurred, to hold those responsible to account.


José Miguel Vivanco

Human Rights Watch


[1]"Jaua denounces before the UN Human Rights Office violence by the right" (Jaua alerta a la ONU de la violencia y desestabilización de la derecha venezolana),Venezuelan News Agency, June 13, 2013, July 10, 2013).

[2]Ombudsman Office, "Presidential Election of April 14, 2013" (Elección Presidencial de Abril 14, 2013), May 2013, p. 146.

[3]“Nicolás Maduro Blamed Henrique Capriles” (Nicolas Maduro responsabilizó a Henrique Capriles del incendio en las casas del Psuv), April 15, 2013, video clip, YouTube, July 10, 2013). “Reverol claims policemen from Miranda, Sucre, and Baruta are amongst demonstrators” (Reverol denuncia que entre manifestantes del distribuidor Altamira hay Policías de Miranda Sucre y Baruta), Venezolana de Televisión, n.d, July 10, 2013). “Jaua: The one who summoned the violent demonstrations was the ex-candidate Capriles” (Jaua: Quien convocó a manifestaciones violentas fue el excandidato Capriles), Agencia Venezolana de Noticias, April 16, 2013, July 10, 2013).

[4]“Venezuelan Attorney General's Office initiates investigation into opposition violence” (Fiscalía de Venezuela inicia investigación por violencia opositora), Telesur, April 16, 2013, (accessed July 10, 2013).

[5]“Iris Varela to Capriles: We are preparing a prison cell for you” (Iris Varela a Capriles: Te estamos preparando la celda porque tienes que pagar tus crímenes), April 23, 2013, video clip, YouTube, July 10, 2013).

[6]National Assembly of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, “Zulia Councilman indicted for attacking an Integral Diagnostic Center” (Imputan a concejal Zuliano por asedio a CDI), May 17, 2013, July 10, 2013). Prensa Web RNV/NAM, “Luisa Ortega Díaz: Fascist attacks record 7 deaths and 61 injured” (Luisa Ortega Díaz: Ataques fascistas registran 7 fallecidos y 61 lesionados), Radio Nacional de Venezuela, April 16, 2013, July 10, 2013); “Violence of the fascist opposition left a total of 9 deaths and 70 injured” (Violencia opositora fascista dejó un saldo de 9 personas fallecidas y 78 lesionadas), Venezolana de Televisión, n.d, July 10, 2013).

[7]Fiscalía General de la República, “Public prosecutor accuses eight men for the death occured after the presidential election of April 14” (Ministerio Público acusó a ocho hombres por muertes ocurridas después de elección presidencial del pasado 14 de abril), June 7, 2013, July 10, 2013). Prensa Web RNV/NAM, “Luisa Ortega Díaz: Fascist attacks record 7 deaths and 61 injured” (Luisa Ortega Díaz: Ataques fascistas registran 7 fallecidos y 61 lesionados), Radio Nacional de Venezuela, June 27, 2013).

[8]“The State of Venezuela respects rights of detainees who participated in fascist acts” (Estado venezolano respeta derechos de privados de libertad que participaron en actos fascistas), Venezolana de Televisión, n.d, July 10, 2013).

[9]Attorney General's Office, "We only have two complaints of alleged mistreatment in the State of Lara" (FGR: Sólo se manejan dos denuncias por presuntos maltratos en el estado Lara), May 9, 2013, July 10, 2013).

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