Washington, D.C., September 5th2013
Her Excellency Dilma Rousseff
Presidenta da República do Brasil
Dear President Rousseff,
I am writing to urge your government and other MERCOSUR members to actively seek that the government of Venezuela revokes its decision to withdraw from the Inter-American human rights system, which enters into effect on September 10, 2013. After that date, citizens and residents of Venezuela will be left without recourse to what has been for years—in countries throughout the region—the most important external mechanism for seeking redress for abuses when national courts fail to provide it. This is particularly problematic in a country like Venezuela, where there is a lack of judicial independence and the Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld government policies that undermine basic rights.
As you may recall, in August 2012, after the inclusion of Venezuela into the membership of MERCOSUR, we wrote to all presidents of other MERCOSUR member states, stating that the Asunción Protocol on Commitment with the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights of MERCOSUR provided governments with both an important opportunity and a duty to seriously address with the government of Venezuela the very serious human rights problems that existed in that country.
Unfortunately, the human rights situation in Venezuela has only deteriorated in the last year. The problems we described in our previous letter, which include lack of judicial independence and increasing restrictions to exercise the right to freedom of expression and to limit the ability of nongovernmental organizations to work independently, remain serious concerns.
In addition, Venezuelan authorities have failed to adequately investigate serious allegations of human rights violations that occurred after the presidential elections of April 2013, in which Nicolás Maduro won the presidency by a very narrow margin, according to the official electoral authorities of Venezuela.
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 Henrique Capriles Radonski, the opposition candidate, 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.”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.
Venezuela has been a party to the American Convention on Human Rights and subject to the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court since 1977.For decades, Venezuelans have been able to seek redress at the Inter-American human rights system for abuses when local remedies were ineffective or unavailable. The Court has upheld the rights of Venezuelans in a wide range of cases involving, for example, extrajudicial executions, prison conditions, freedom of expression, the right to run for office, and judicial independence, among others. Venezuelans will no longer be able to request the court's intervention for abuses committed after the denunciation of the treaty enters into effect in the coming days.
A year has gone by since Venezuela entered MERCOSUR, and your government and other MERCOSUR member states have failed to seriously and publicly address with the government of Venezuela these very serious human rights problems. Today, Venezuela holds the pro-tempore presidency of the regional bloc. By ignoring the commitment to protect and promote basic rights and respect democratic institutions in member states, you are sending an unfortunate message that international commitments provided for in the Asunción Protocol are merely empty promises.
If your government and other member states were able to revert the Venezuelan government's decision to withdraw from the Inter-American system of human rights, you would be taking a very concrete step towards strengthening human rights protections, and an incredibly important one for victims of abuse in Venezuela.
José Miguel Vivanco
CC: Luiz Alberto Figueiredo Machado, Minister of Foreign Affairs
Article 1 of the Asunción Protocol on Commitment with the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights of MERCOSUR states: "The full respect of democratic institutions and the respect of human rights and fundamental liberties are essential conditions for the existence and evolution of the process of integration among parties." And article 2 establishes that: "The parties will cooperate for the effective promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental liberties through the institutional mechanisms established by MERCOSUR." Asunción Protocol on Commitment with the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights of MERCOSUR, Mercosur/CMC/DEC. N, 17/05, http://www.mercosur.int/msweb/Normas/normas_web/Decisiones/ES/CMC_2005-0... (accessed September 2, 2013).
Provea, "Criminalization of protests that took place in Venezuela during the month of April" (Criminalización de las protestas ocurridas en Venezuela durante el mes de abril del 2013), May 16, 2013, copy on file at Human Rights Watch.
COFAVIC, "Report on human rights in the post electoral context of April 2013 in Venezuela" (Informe DDHH en contexto post electoral de abril de 2013 en Venezuela, July 11, 2013, http://www.cofavic.org/det_noticia.php?id=244 (accessed September 2, 2013).
“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,
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, http://www.mp.gob.ve/web/guest/buscador/-/journal_content/56/10136/2373034 (accessed September 2, 2013).
The treaty was signed on November 22, 1969, and ratified on June 23, 1977. OAS International Law Department, “B-32: American Convenion on Human Rights” (B-32: Convención Americana sobre Derechos Humanos ‘Pacto San José de Costa Rica’), undated, http://www.oas.org/juridico/english/Sigs/b-32.html (September 2, 2013).
In September 2012, the government of Venezuela submitted before OAS authorities the denunciation of the Convention, which, according to its article 78, enters into effect in a year. "OAS General Secretary Communicates Venezuela's Decision to Denounce the American Convention on Human Rights," September 10, 2012, http://www.oas.org/en/media_center/press_release.asp?sCodigo=E-307/12 (accessed September 2, 2013).
OAS International Law Department, “B-32: American Convenion on Human Rights” (B-32: Convención Americana sobre Derechos Humanos ‘Pacto San José de Costa Rica’), undated, http://www.oas.org/juridico/english/Sigs/b-32.html (September 2, 2013).