COFAVIC: A history againts impunity and violence

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COMMITTEE OF RELATIVES OF VICTIMS OF THE FEBRUARY/MARCH 1989 EVENTS (SPANISH ACRONYM COFAVIC) non governmental organization for the protection and promotion of human rights

• COFAVIC carries out a high impact effort focused on strengthening the Venezuelan justice system • It is an NGO founded and managed by relatives of victims of human rights violations, who today are defenders

A HISTORY AGAINST

IMPUNITY AND VIOLENCE

of human rights • Has the broadest experience in litigating Venezuelan cases before the Inter American System for the Protection of Human Rights and other international protection institutions • Co-founder of the most important human rights coalition in Venezuela: Foro por la Vida (Forum for Life) which groups 18 organizations and the coalition of Latin American NGO’s appearing before the Inter American System


VISION To contribute to the formation of a more democratic society, where impunity is the exception and not the rule, and in which human rights violations are not tolerated by the State or by society. To maximize people’s empowerment so that they may strengthen the defense of their rights.

MISSION To counsel and support in an integral manner, the victims of violations of the rights to life, personal integrity and freedom as well as due process. It is understood that victims are not only those subject to the violations, but also their relatives. To offer human rights education to public officials in charge of enforcing the law and of preserving public order. To monitor and document the human rights situation in Venezuela, with special emphasis on civil and political rights. To develop the respect of HR and create awareness among Venezuelan society.

A SUSTAINED FIGHT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS The Committee of Relatives of Victims of the February/March 1989 Events is a nongovernmental organization devoted to the protection and promotion of human rights, regardless of political or religious affiliation. It is a nonprofit civil association.

BRIEF HISTORICAL REFERENCE

COFAVIC

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COFAVIC’s birth is linked to Venezuelan history. In 1989, after the government announced a series of economic austerity measures, groups of people in Caracas and its satellite towns took to the streets to protest; protests which involved looting and brought about social instability. The government decreed a state of emergency which entailed one of the fiercest repressions the citizens of Caracas have suffered during the democratic period. The official death toll during this protest was 600 people, although this is not a definitive figure. Once the state of emergency ceased and constitutional rights were restored, the victims’ relatives found themselves at the Bello Monte morgue in Caracas, where they discovered that their cases were not isolated, on the contrary, there were hundreds of mothers, wives, sons and daughters claiming the bodies of their relatives, many of whom had gone missing. Forty

two (42) of these relatives and 3 victims got together to form COFAVIC, with the aim of establishing the truth of what had happened and obtain punishment for those responsible. But these relatives did not stop their fight with the events of 1989, known collectively as El Caracazo. Since 1992, COFAVIC has been counseling and supporting victims of human rights violations in Venezuela. Other landmark cases of gross human rights violations in Venezuela which were documented and litigated by our organization are the massacre of the Catia jail in Caracas (1992), the forced disappearance of people in the State security operations during the landslides in Vargas state (1999) and cases of extrajudicial executions in Aragua state (1998-2011) and Falcón state (2000).


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COMBATING IMPUNITY IN CASES OF HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS

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CREATING SPACES OF INFLUENCE AND PARTICIPATION

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CONSTRUCTION OF DEMOCRACY AND HUMAN RIGHTS EDUCATION

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STRENGTHENING CIVIL SOCIETY

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SUPPORTING HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS

COFAVIC IS PRESENT IN OVER HALF OF VENEZUELA’S TERRITORY With 23 years of uninterrupted work, COFAVIC is a landmark reference at the national and international level on the situation of human rights in Venezuela. It is present in 13 of Venezuela’s 23 states; its activities cover more than 50% of the country. COFAVIC focuses on protecting and promoting civil and political rights such as the right to life, to personal integrity, to personal freedom and to due process. In addition, the cross-cutting themes of gender, impunity and citizen security are incorporated into our services: • Comprehensive assistance to victims of human rights violations

• Continuous training on principles of human rights set forth in national laws and international instruments of protection of human rights signed and ratified by Venezuela • Litigation of cases before international organizations (OAS, UN) • Continuous interaction with national and international networks • Protection and promotion of human rights through awareness-raising and communication activities

A HISTORY AGAINST IMPUNITY AND VIOLENCE

2009-2013 STRATEGIC PLAN FOCUS AREAS

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RESULTS THAT VALIDATE THE FIGHT AGAINST VIOLENCE AND IMPUNITY COFAVIC HAS ACHIEVED SIGNIFICANT RESULTS FROM ITS FIGHT IN FAVOR OF THE VICTIMS OF HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS. IT HAS AMASSED SUBSTANTIAL WORK EXPERTISE WHICH IT PUTS TO THE SERVICE OF PEOPLE AND ORGANIZATIONS WHO WISH TO JOIN THE FIGHT AGAINST IMPUNITY AND VIOLENCE.

COFAVIC

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Integral attention to victims

Human rights education

Since its foundation in 1989, COFAVIC has documented more than 700 cases of human rights violations in Venezuela. It averages 60 cases per year using the approach of psycho-juridical litigation, promoting the active participation of victims in the exercise of their rights through actions of permanent interaction with government human rights officials such as the Attorney General, the Ombudsperson and the court system. Since 2003, COFAVIC has specialized in the area of psycho-social attention to victims of violence, one of the few organizations in Venezuela to do so. This area has offered individual psychological support to more than 200 people while developing group activities to support victims’ relatives. It follows up cases under litigation before the Inter American system, particularly with respect to fulfillment of reparation measures ordered by the Inter American Court of Human Rights.

COFAVIC has a rich educational agenda in the areas of human rights, international protection systems, tools for psychojuridical litigation, psychological first aid for human rights violations, and a combined human rights and citizen security program; it also offers programs aimed at promoting peaceful resolution of conflicts as well as promoting and protecting women’s rights. COFAVIC has a virtual classroom on its web site, through which it has taught eight courses to different population groups at a distance. COFAVIC has the only on-line training program on human rights offered to police officers.


COFAVIC is considered a highly credible resource of information in Venezuela. It maintains excellent relationships with the media. It publishes a weekly educational column entitled “Irrevocable rights: a step against impunity” in seven Venezuelan newspapers, which discusses key topics related to human rights. COFAVIC has produced two testimonial video programs on the fight of Venezuelan women who have been victims of human rights violations and one video program related to the role of human rights defenders on the strengthening of democracy. It has also produced four short educational programs broadcast through the nation-wide radio network “Fe y Alegría” and through social networks.

Research and influence COFAVIC has done three reports related to extrajudicial executions in Venezuela (2005; 2009; 2011) and two related to the situation of work guarantees of defenders of human rights in Venezuela (2009; 2011). It wrote a guide containing the basic standards emanating from the jurisprudence of the Inter American System and from the practice of the United Nations related to women’s rights, a valuable tool offered to judges, prosecutors, law professionals, defenders of human rights and victims. In 2012, COFAVIC will present the Agenda against Impunity and Violence as a contribution to the strengthening of the national

justice system and public policies regarding citizen security and attention to victims of violence.

Institutional strengthening of civil society A highlight of COVAFIC’s activity is its promotion and support of the creation of eight Committees of Victims of Violations of Human Rights in the states of Anzoátegui, Aragua, Barinas, Falcón, Lara, Yaracuy, Capital District and Miranda. It has published two national directories, one of NGO’s, foundations and civil associations in Venezuela and the other of the main human rights protection institutions in Venezuela. Since 2010 it has developed an important awareness campaign about the role of civil society in Venezuela. At present, it is consulting NGO’s across the country about the guiding principles of non-governmental organizations, with the aim of producing a Conduct Code for Human Rights NGO’s in Venezuela that will promote transparency and accountability.

Publications COFAVIC has produced eight publications targeted to different population groups. In November 2011 it produced the book Faces and Voices of Impunity, which contains 15 testimonials of women who are relatives of victims of human rights violations. This book has already been translated to English for international dissemination.

A HISTORY AGAINST IMPUNITY AND VIOLENCE

Public opinion and communication

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A NATIONAL CONTEXT THAT REQUIRES PERMANENT MONITORING COFAVIC’s performance takes place in a country-context that forces the focus on certain issues and an emphasis on permanent monitoring: • Institutionality: access to justice, judicial guarantees and human rights • Emerging regressive legislation regarding human rights, including the 2008 constitutional reform, fast track laws, intelligence and counterintelligence laws, international cooperation bill, among others • Plans for citizen security and control of public order • Increase of socio-economic indicators regarding poverty and social exclusion and their relation to crime and violence rates • Citizen security as the main problem in the country, as reported by Venezuelans. According to the National Statistics Institute, 19,133 homicides were recorded in 2009

• Increase of extrajudicial executions by Death squads in Venezuela. In its 2007 Annual Report, the Attorney General’s Office informed that, between January 2000 and November 2007, it received 6405 complaints of cases of “executions or fights” involving 7243 victims. 20% of the total number of crimes in 2009 was perpetrated by police officers • Infringement of victims’ rights to truth, justice and compensation. According to the Attorney General’s Office, during 2009, only 3.28% of all cases were presented before the corresponding instances of the justice system; in 2010, this percentage decreased to 2.9%, a 97% rate of impunity • Threats to, and decrease of, job guarantees for defenders of human rights COFAVIC is very concerned about the lengthy judicial process in Venezuela; it has followed up cases with more than 15 years in the investigative stage.

SUCCESS STORIES: INTERNATIONAL INFLUENCE

COFAVIC

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COFAVIC also has an important role in the follow up of cases linked to the right to life and to personal integrity. It is the Venezuelan NGO with the largest number of cases presented before the Inter American System for the Protection of Human Rights of the Organization of American States (OAS): • 5 cases before the Inter American Court on Human Rights • 1 case under the process of friendly solution before the Inter American Commission on Human Rights

• 1 case admitted by the Inter American Commission on Human Rights. COFAVIC has been a petitioner of injunctions/ temporary measures in 7 cases related to defenders of human rights at risk in Venezuela Moreover, since 1992, COVAFIC has maintained a permanent presence in the various ordinary sessions of the Inter American Commission on Human Rights and since 1999 it has litigated cases before the Inter American Court on Human Rights.


WOMEN AS THE MAIN PROMOTERS OF PEACE AND JUSTICE IT IS ESTIMATED THAT FOR EACH MURDERED MAN THERE ARE THREE VICTIMIZED WOMEN COFAVIC notes with concern the increasing rates of impunity in cases involving women. 76% of the population benefiting from our work is constituted by women users of the justice system. In a country in which men represent 81% of murder victims and women 19%, it is estimated that for every man that is murdered, there are three victimized women. Thus, our organization has developed programs to provide integrated attention aimed at assisting

women and girls to cope with the individual and collective damages left by social and political violence. The rationale for these programs is the strategic role that women have in the prevention of violence and in the construction of peace. COFAVIC has carried out important activities aimed at promoting women’s participation in public affairs and seeking equality.

CASE STUDY Extrajudicial executions and Death squads in Venezuela Since 1989, COFAVIC has investigated cases of human rights violations in which it has been evident that the State has resorted to excessive use of force by public forces and that there is no coherent citizen security policy that allows for violence prevention. Since 2003, it has offered support to more than 400 persons linked to cases of extrajudicial executions, forced disappearances, arbitrary detentions, torture, threats to victims, witnesses and human rights activists, and the most re-victimizing

of all: impunity. Despite the fact that these cases are known by the authorities, they never reach the trial stage. COFAVIC, through procedural monitoring, has detected that, after several years, 97% of cases are in the initial investigation states without having been presented before a judge. With its work, COFAVIC contributes to maintaining the focus on landmark situations of impunity that should not occur again, and which represent a call to society and to authorities to reject indifference and promote work that links with the organized civil society.

Cases of human rights violations a figure that reveals impunity 3% 51%

7% 39%

IN 97% OF CASES, VICTIMS OR THEIR RELATIVES DO NOT GET TO SEE A JUDGE

3% 49% 48%

(information from the Attorney General’s Office)

1. TOTAL CASES: 9610 RECORDED ACTIONS ON HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS

2. TOTAL CASES: 9131 RECORDED ACTIONS ON HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS

4899 dismissed without prejudice (51%) 3711 requests for stay (39%) 685 dismissals (7%) 315 presented accusations (3%)

4502 (49%) granted stays 4363 (48%) dismissed without prejudice 266 (3%) presented accusations

Source: Annual Report of the Attorney General’s Office – 2009

Source: Annual Report of the Attorney General’s Office – 2010

A HISTORY AGAINST IMPUNITY AND VIOLENCE

VIOLENCE: A PUBLIC HEALTH PROBLEM

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COFAVIC MONITORS THREATS Since 2006, COFAVIC has had a unit that specializes in the Attention to Defenders of Human Rights at Risk. It has provided support to more than 80 defenders of human rights at risk nationwide and it has documented and monitored more than 160 aggressions including murders, attacks, threats and smear campaigns which are ignored or promoted by State agents. In these, 38% of the victims are women, defenders of human rights, who become the target of attacks and criminal actions. COFAVIC follows very closely legislation and jurisprudence that limit the right to free association, the criminalization of activists, and especially, the situation of impunity

in regards to the majority of the attacks and threats on human rights defenders. COFAVIC has undertaken a great responsibility in the promotion of actions that alert the Venezuelan population to the vulnerability of those who wish to promote and protect human rights individually and collectively. COFAVIC’s recommendations to Venezuelan authorities center on demanding that the Venezuelan State guarantees the conditions that allow defenders of human rights to go about their activities freely, with the state refraining from any actions that limit or hinder their work.

NO MORE INDIFFERENCE

COFAVIC

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COFAVIC is increasingly dedicated to promoting the importance of human rights defenders in the revitalization of democracy, the fight against impunity and the reduction of poverty and exclusion. Indeed, during the last 23 years, this NGO has contributed significantly to highlighting these values of the Venezuelan civil society. Active presence in social networks

Address:

twitter: twitter @cofavic/4312 followers @LilianaOrtegaM (founder of COFAVIC and institutional spokesperson)/8000 followers Facebook (institutional account): COFAVIC

Avenida Urdaneta, Esquina Candilito, Edificio El Candil, piso 1, Ofic. 1-A, La Candelaria, Caracas, Venezuela. Telephone numbers: (58212) 572-9912/572-9631 Fax: (58212) 572-9908 Web page: http://www.cofavic.org e-mail: cofavic@cofavic.org Fiscal Registry Number: J-30372234-2