I am pleased to present my report which provides an overview of the latest human rights developments in Venezuela and an assessment of the implementation of previous recommendations as mandated by resolution 45/20.
It has been three years since my visit to Caracas. I want to acknowledge some progress since then towards the implementation of previous recommendations made by my Office, for instance the reforms initiated by the Government, in particular as related to justice, police and detention. I want to encourage the authorities to take further steps to promote long-term structural changes in the country.
I recall that legislative initiatives, from the onset, should be accompanied by genuine and inclusive consultations with civil society.
I take note of the dissolution of the Special Action Forces (FAES) of the Bolivarian National Police, in line with my previous recommendations. This restructuring is an opportunity to introduce additional and lasting changes, such as strengthening the civilian nature of security forces and vetting at all levels. My Office documented fewer deaths in the context of security operations than in previous years.
Still, as we always say, one death is one too many.
I also take note of the convictions of members of defence and security forces in seven cases of deaths in protests which occurred in 2017 monitored by my Office, and I want to encourage more to be done.
In the case of the death of former councilman Fernando Albán while deprived of liberty, two SEBIN agents were convicted of culpable homicide, and their sentence was later reduced to two years and 8 months of detention. During the process, the victim’s relatives have denounced that the investigation would have overlooked possible signs of torture or ill-treatment, and superior responsibility. I take note of these events, and call on the authorities to continue their investigation in this regard.
I continue to call for independent, comprehensive and timely investigations with due process guarantees that lead to accountability of all perpetrators,, and full reparations for the victims and their families.
I am moved by the perseverance of victims and their relatives in their search for justice; and call on the authorities to ensure their meaningful participation throughout the judicial process.
The Attorney General has been sharing information with my Office on some cases under investigation. In the spirit of current cooperation, I trust that we will soon be granted access to judicial hearings and will continue to exchange on more cases.
I also note that the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has announced an agreement with the Venezuelan Government to establish an office in Caracas. My Office stands ready to support to national efforts to promote accountability for human rights violations.
Regarding the reform of the Supreme Court of Justice, I take note of concerns raised regarding the reappointment of some magistrates which would contradict constitutional limitations on a unique 12-year period of tenure, as well as the links between some of the magistrates and political parties.
It is very important to strengthen judicial independence and separation of powers in Venezuela. In line with my previous recommendations, I call on the authorities to increase the appointment of a larger proportion of tenured judges through a public and transparent process.
Between May 2021 and April of this year, my team visited 21 detention centres, and conducted 259 confidential interviews of detainees, including 46 women.
I want to recognize efforts to improve conditions of detention, including by reducing overcrowding and I encourage the authorities to use this initial progress as an opportunity to ensure more sustainable structural changes.
My team also continued to engage with authorities on individual cases of concern in relation to detainees, including on allegations of ill-treatment and other human rights violations. This work has contributed to the release of 68 detainees, including 14 women, about half of whom were released conditionally.
I remain concerned about the conditions of detention in centres of detention previously administered by intelligence services (Helicoide and Boleita). These centres are not adequate for detention, given the risks of ill-treatment and incommunicado detention, among others. I regret that access to these two centres, as well as access to military detention centres, is no longer granted to my team.
I continue to call for all those arbitrarily detained to regain full liberty. In particular, those whose detention was deemed arbitrary by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, and those who have served their sentence or have been granted a release order. All detainees must be guaranteed the right to legal counsel of their own choosing, and those in need of medical care must also receive timely and adequate attention.
The legal amendments adopted to reduce judicial delays and to limit pre-trial detention must be implemented without delay.
I remain concerned about the restrictions to civic and democratic space in Venezuela. Between May 2021 and April of this year, my team documented 166 undue restrictions on democratic and civic space, including the stigmatization, criminalization and threats against dissenting voices. They continued to be discredited over institutional media channels.
Regarding freedom of expression, my Office documented 34 cases of harassment, censorship and confiscation of media equipment, as well as cases of blocking of web portals.
The use of anti-terrorism and organized crime legislation against the work of human rights defenders and media workers continues to be of concern
These practices must stop.
I take note of yesterday’s dismissal of the criminal case against the five staff members of the NGO Azul Positivo who had been accused of money laundering, illicit association and others in January 2021, in connection with their humanitarian work.
I also take note of the Government’s voluntary commitment made in the context of the third UPR cycle, to strengthen the full exercise of the rights to freedoms of opinion and expression and to guarantee the rights of association, assembly, and peaceful demonstration.
This commitment requires strong guarantees for civil society organizations and trade unions to conduct their activities without undue interference, for journalists to work without fear of reprisals and for all political opinions to be freely expressed.
In the context of peaceful protests – mostly linked to economic and social rights – my Office documented no deaths and, in comparison with previous years, documented fewer arbitrary arrests.
Following the recent detention in June of some peaceful demonstrators, who were later conditionally released, I recall that any limits on fundamental freedoms shall strictly comply with international human rights law.
Dissenting voices should be considered a sign of a healthy civic and democratic space.
To this effect, I want to welcome the recent creation of spaces for dialogue with civil society, including high-level meetings between the authorities and Foro Civico, a group of civil society organizations, as well as the Social Dialogue Forum held under the auspices of the International Labour Organization (ILO). These spaces are critical to achieve genuine and effective agreements and should be protected.
I also reiterate my support for a Venezuelan-led dialogue between the Government and the opposition and encourage its prompt resumption in an inclusive and genuine manner. Women’s participation should be prioritised, and the dialogue should be grounded in human rights and the rule of law, to ensure it addresses the needs of all, in particular the most vulnerable.
Challenges persist for the full realization of economic, social and cultural rights in the country. Redoubled action is needed to ensure that no one is left behind. The next UN Sustainable Cooperation Framework, which is currently under discussion with the authorities, would be a valuable contribution to such efforts, provided it is anchored in human rights.
In relation with the projections of economic recovery in Venezuela, growth must contribute to reducing existing inequality gaps in the country and translate into concrete improvement of the standard of living and access to basic services of all the population. As of now, the minimum wage, although raised in March, covers about 8 percent of the cost of the food basket according to civil society. Lifting sectorial sanctions could contribute to addressing pre-existing challenges.
I also urge that all available resources be oriented, to the maximum extent possible, to address gaps in critical services and infrastructure, such as health centres. Resource allocation should be done in a transparent manner, all the while ensuring access to information of public interest. It is also essential to ensure transparency on official data.
Recently, the government agreed to expand the field presence to 16 colleagues of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Venezuela. As this is my last interactive dialogue on Venezuela to this Council, allow me to acknowledge the cooperation we have built over the last 3 years, owed to the trust of victims, civil society and authorities alike.
Through stronger cooperation and commitment, I am convinced that we can continue improving the human rights situation of all Venezuelans.