(June 6, 2016) – The international community should press Venezuela to revoke the recent “State of Exception and Emergency Decree” that granted the government powers to restrict rights, suspend international cooperation for civil society groups, including human rights organizations, and limit the constitutional powers of the National Assembly, 125 human rights and civil society organizations from around the world said today.

The groups emphasized that these powers could be used to seriously undermine the work of civil society organizations and harass and intimidate human rights defenders, noting that the measures are inconsistent with Venezuela’s obligation as a member of the UN Human Rights Council to “uphold the highest standards of human rights”. The groups called on states to raise these concerns during the upcoming UN Human Rights Council session in June 2016, and governments in the Americas to carry out a candid assessment of the human rights situation in Venezuela before competent Organizations of American States (OAS) bodies. The OAS and United Nations human rights systems should request Venezuela to revoke the state of exception and economic emergency decree, the groups said.

On May 13, 2016, President Nicolás Maduro adopted an emergency decree that declared a state of exception in the country for 60 days, granting his government the power to potentially restrict human rights. Venezuela is facing an economic crisis, with severe shortages of medicines and basic goods, as well as electricity shortages, which the decree states it aims to address.

President Maduro claims that the emergency measures are in response to concerns including a foreign-led plot to destabilize his government. The May 13 decree authorizes the president to “adopt measures and execute special security plans that guarantee the sustainability of the public order when faced with destabilizing actions” and “any other social, environmental, economic, political, and legal measures he deems convenient.” In the past, the Venezuelan government has responded to alleged “destabilization” plots by jailing opponents and critics clamping down on the expression of dissent and the right to freedom of assembly, including through arbitrary arrests of political opponents and critics, and the weakening of the safeguards against torture. Security forces have used excessive force to disperse anti-government demonstrations, and have participated in nationwide security operations since July 2015 that led to widespread allegations of abuses against low-income and immigrant communities, including extrajudicial executions, massive arbitrary detentions, evictions without due process, destructions of homes, and arbitrary deportations.

The decree does not meet international standards to restrict rights during states of emergency, the groups said. Under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, governments do have the power to “derogate,” or temporarily suspend, some of their human rights obligations by declaring a state of emergency – but only in the face of a public emergency that “threatens the life of the nation.” Even then, governments may only derogate from human rights obligations to the extent “strictly required by the exigencies of the situation.” Instead, President Maduro’s broad decree could enable the government to further undermine basic rights that are already under sustained assault in Venezuela, including the rights to freedom of association, assembly, and expression.

The emergency decree also instructs the Foreign Affairs Ministry to suspend all international cooperation agreements that provide funding to individuals or organizations when “it is presumed” that such agreements “are used with political purposes or to destabilize the Republic.” In a country where authorities have routinely accused civil society representatives, including human rights defenders, of destabilizing Venezuelan democracy, this order could effectively force key Venezuelan independent organizations, which rely on foreign funding to work independently, to shut down or dramatically scale back their work.

In addition, the emergency decree allows the president to block the National Assembly from using its constitutional powers to sanction government officials. The Venezuelan Constitution grants the National Assembly oversight powers over the executive branch, including the power to summon officials to be questioned about their policies and practices by legislative committees and – in the case of the vice president and cabinet ministers – to remove them from office through a no-confidence vote. The May 13 decree allows the president to impose a “temporary suspension” of accountability mechanisms of this kind if he deems they could “undermine national security” or could “obstruct the continuity of the implementation of economic measures for the urgent reactivation of the national economy [or] the provision of essential goods and services to the Venezuelan people.”

The Venezuelan Constitution requires National Assembly approval of decrees declaring states of emergency. The National Assembly rejected the new emergency decree on May 17. However, the Supreme Court ruled in February 2016 that National Assembly rejection of decrees declaring states of emergency does not “affect the[ir] legitimacy, validity, and juridical efficacy.”

Since the government’s political takeover of the Supreme Court in 2004, the judiciary has ceased to function as an independent branch of government, and has routinely validated the government’s policies and practices that fail to meet international human rights standards. The National Assembly, which was controlled by government supporters for most of the past decade, repeatedly enacted “enabling laws” granting the president broad powers to legislate. It repacked the Supreme Court, most recently in December 2015, to ensure that a loyal court remained in place. Since the new opposition-controlled National Assembly took office on January 5th, 2016, the Supreme Court has adopted a series of rulings that severely undermine its ability to legislate.

The June session of the UN Human Rights Council provides a timely and necessary opportunity to press Venezuela to revoke this unnecessary and arbitrary decree.

SIGNATORIES
 

International Organizations

APT, Association for the Prevention of Torture

Article 19

CCPR, Centre for Civil and Political Rights

CIVICUS, World Alliance for Citizen Participation

DPLF, Due Process Law Foundation

HRW, Human Rights Watch

ICJ, International Commission of Jurists

ISHR, International Service for Human Rights

OMCT, World Organization Against Torture

PIDHDD, Plataforma Interamericana de Derechos Humanos, Democracia y Desarrollo

CPD, Cooperation for Peace and Development (Afganistán)

ADC, Asociación por los Derechos Civiles (Argentina)

CELS, Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (Argentina)

Rainbow Warriors Core Foundation (Aruba)

University of New South Wales (Australia)

Aid Organization (Bangladesh)

UDDYOG Foundation (Bangladesh)

Asociación Nacional de la Prensa de Bolivia (Bolivia)

Fundación Construir (Bolivia)

LACCASO, Latin American Council of Aids Service Organizations (Brasil)

Movimento Ficha Verde (Brasil)

Cambodian Development and Research Institute (Cambodia)

FAPEFE, Fondation des femmes actives pour la promotion de l´education de la femme et de l´enfant (Cameroon)

Voice of Grace Foundation (Cameroon)

Gigascope (Canada)

University of Ottawa (Canada)

Corporación Humanas (Chile)

Observatorio Ciudadano (Chile)

Comisión Colombiana de Juristas (Colombia)

Dejusticia (Colombia)

IPLEX, Instituto de prensa y libertad de expresión (Costa Rica)

Action et Humanisme (Ivory Coast)

Climate Reality Project Cote d´Ivoire (Ivory Coast)

Revolution Congolaise (Democratic Republic of Congo)

CSMM, Centro de Documentación en Derechos Humanos "Segundo Montes Mozo S.J." (Ecuador)

INREDH, Fundación Regional de Asesoría en Derechos Humanos (Ecuador)

Kepa (Finland)

Action for Solidarity (United States)

WOLA, Washington Office on Latin America (United States)

Mekelle University (Ethiopia)

International Institute for Child Protection (Gambia)

Tamale International Folk High School (Ghana)

SEDEM, Seguridad en Democracia (Guatemala)

Association for Promotion Sustainable Development (India)

Humanity Welfare Forum (India)

India Media Centre (India)

Tata Cummins (India)

Nchekoua Business Consulting Club (Italy)

Women Empowerment Group (Kenya)

SHIBL Movement (Libya)

Abogadas y Abogados para la Justicia y los Derechos Humanos (Mexico)

Centro de Derechos Humanos Miguel Ángel Agustín Pro Juárez, A.C. (Mexico)

Ciudadanos en Apoyo a los Derechos Humanos, A. C. (Mexico)

Comisión Mexicana de Defensa y Promoción de los Derechos Humanos, A.C. (Mexico)

JOINT, Liga de ONG de Mozambique (Mozambique)

YPDSN, Young Professional Development Society Nepal (Nepal)

Centro Nicaragüense de Derechos Humanos (Nicaragua)

ARIJ, Applied Research Institute – Jerusalem (Palestine)

Consumo Ético (Panama)

Ágora Espacio Civil Paraguay (Paraguay)

Asociación Pro Derechos Humanos (Peru)

Comisión de Justicia Social de la Diócesis de Chimbote (Peru)

Instituto Peruano de Educación en Derechos Humanos y la Paz (Peru)

Instituto de Defensa Legal (Peru)

IPYS (Peru)

Movimiento Manuela Ramos (Peru)

Observatorio Latinoamericano para la Libertad de Expresión (Peru)

Paz y Esperanza (Peru)

SAHDCG, Social and Humanitarian Development Consultative Group (Sudan)

ALEJO Community Support Project (Zambia)

 

Venezuelan Organizations

Acceso a la Justicia

Acción Solidaria en VIH/sida

ACCSI, Acción Ciudadana Contra el SIDA

Amigos Trasplantados de Venezuela

Asociación Civil Movimiento Vinotinto

AVESA, Asociación Venezolana para una Educación Sexual Alternativa

CECODAP

Centro de Derechos Humanos de la Universidad Católica Andrés Bello

Centro de Derechos Humanos de la Universidad Metropolitana

Centro para la Paz y los DDHH - UCV

CEPAZ, Centro Justicia y Paz

CISFEM, Centro de Investigación Social Formación y Estudios de la Mujer

CIVILIS Derechos Humanos

CODEVIDA, Coalición de organizaciones por los derechos a la salud y la vida

COFAVIC, Comité de Familiares de las Víctimas de los Sucesos de febrero-marzo de 1989

Colegio Nacional de Periodistas

Comisión De Justicia y Paz

Comisión Nacional de DDHH de la Federación de Colegios de Abogados de Venezuela

CONVITE

Espacio Público

EXCUBITUS A.C.

Expresión Libre

Federación Nacional de Sociedades de Padres y Representantes (FENASOPADRES)

FEPAP, Fundación Ensayos para el Aprendizaje Permanente

Funcamama

Fundación Aguaclara

Fundación Ecodiversa

FUNPAZ, Asociación Civil Fuerza, Unión, Justicia, Solidaridad y Paz

ININCO, Instituto de Investigaciones de la Comunicación de la Universidad Central de Venezuela

INVESP, Instituto Venezolano de Estudios Sociales y Políticos

IPYS Venezuela

Justicia y Paz Los Teques

Laboratorio de Paz

María Estrella de la Mañana

Observatorio de Derechos Humanos de La Universidad de Los Andes

Observatorio Venezolano de los Derechos Humanos de las Mujeres

Observatorio Venezolano de Prisiones

Oficina de Derechos Humanos del Vicariato de Puerto Ayacucho

Postgrado en Comunicación Social de la Universidad Católica Andrés Bello

ProIuris

PROVEA, Programa Venezolano de Educación Acción en Derechos Humanos

Red ARA

Red Rosa

REDAC, Red de Activistas Ciudadanos por los Derechos Humanos

REDSOC, Red Venezolana de Organizaciones para el Desarrollo Social

Revista SIC

RTSP, Comité por una Radiotelevisión de Servicio Público

Ser, Comunicación e Investigación

Sinergia, Asociación Venezolana de Organizaciones de Sociedad Civil

SNTP, Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Prensa

SOHI, Sociedad Hominis Iura

Transparencia Venezuela

Un Mundo Sin Mordaza

Unión Vecinal para la Participación Ciudadana

Venezuela Diversa Asociación Civil