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Riot police clash with anti-government demonstrators in the neighborhood of Los Mecedores, in Caracas, on January 21, 2019. © 2019 FEDERICO PARRA/AFP/Getty Images
(Washington, D.C.) – The Venezuelan National Assembly should amend its proposed amnesty law to comply with international human rights standards, Human Rights Watch said today.

On January 22, 2019, the National Assembly proposed an amnesty law that would apply to people subject to politically motivated prosecutions, as well as to civilian and military officials who “collaborate with restoring constitutional order in Venezuela.” The assembly proposed the law to provide incentives to military and civilian officials to support Juan Guaidó, the National Assembly president who declared himself head of state and asked the Venezuelan people to mobilize behind him.

“The vague and open-ended provisions in the bill could effectively grant blanket impunity to officials responsible for serious human rights abuses,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “Any amnesty that guarantees impunity by absolving government and military officials responsible for the most serious human rights violations is incompatible with Venezuela’s international obligations.”

On January 23, Guaidó said that he was taking power as interim president of Venezuela and would call free and fair elections. He has received widespread support from governments that reject the legitimacy of Nicolás Maduro’s victory in the May 2018 presidential elections.

The proposed amnesty law is broadly framed and does not specify which crimes would be subject to amnesties, nor does it explain the process through which it will be implemented. It only states that it will be applied by Venezuelan judges, who would be sanctioned if they do not comply.

One of the draft law’s articles on providing amnesties to political prisoners mentions article 29 of the Venezuelan constitution, which forbids amnesties for crimes against humanity, grave human rights crimes, and war crimes. This language does not appear to apply to the other provisions in the law that refer to amnesties for current civilian and military officials who stop supporting Maduro, and the law should be amended to make clear that the same constitutional rules apply also in these cases, Human Rights Watch said.

Amnesty provisions that grant impunity to those who bear the greatest responsibility for serious human rights crimes contradict states’ obligation to ensure accountability for such violations.

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