Report on the Status of Human Rights in Venezuela in the post-electoral context of April 2013
Caracas, June 17 2013.
Contexto COFAVIC documented a total of seventy-two (72) cases of alleged violations of human rights that occurred in the post-electoral context of April 15 and April 16th, 2013 in the Venezuelan states of Lara (36 cases), Carabobo (20 cases), and Barinas (16 cases).
Methodology In order to gather facts for this report, visits were made in situ to the Lara, Carabobo, and Barinas states, focusing on the activity in the cities of Barquisimeto, Valencia, and Barinas, respectively. These locations were chosen because they correspond to the cities in which the greatest number of cases and complaints regarding the alleged violations of human rights were publicly known. Additionally, these locations were chosen because COFAVIC had greater possibilities of interaction with human rights organizations in these places. That said, it is important to note that in the states of Zulia, Tachira, and Merida, situations similar to those described in this report were presented in the national media as well, but could not, due to operating limitations, be directly corroborated. Every visit in situ took place over two full days in the destination, and during the entire fact-finding process, direct meetings were made with ninety-seven (97) people, including twenty (20) families of victims, sixty-one (61) victims, seven (7) lawyers, three (3) local human rights organizations, five (5) university authorities, two (2) journalists and photojournalists. The evidence reviewed was supplemented by other sources, such as warrant records issued by the courts, videos and photography taken by witnesses and family members, press releases, private medical examinations, and general forensic data reports provided by the victims. Local political leaders of the opposition were also interviewed and also, information was requested from the Vice Presidentof the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), with the purpose of documenting all cases of alleged violations of human rights, from an independent and pluralistic perspective, in order to obtain accurate information regarding human rights crimes that occurred during the period in question. Unfortunately, after completing this report and 50 days after sending this report to the ruling PSUV party, no response was given, nor direct access to the information regarding cases in which the party is involved, regarding the facts compiled in this report. In addition, COFAVIC emphasizes that, in this report, because of the limitations of its founding mandate and objectives, only cases which are related to violations of the right to life, personal liberty, personal integrity, and due process were documented.
COFAVIC had knowledge at the time of the visits that, of the seventy-two (72) cases reviewed, twelve (12) had been reported to the national authorities and sixty (60) of the victims expressed fear of future retaliation or expressed no trust in the domestic courts and therefore had not made formal complaints, at the time this information was gathered. Also, it is important to note that in some of the interviews with victims' families, friends and witnesses asked that their names not be publicly disclosed. In these cases, the information received was only used to see whether there was a pattern and validate the rest of the stories that were received and might have been associated with their stories. In this regard, we can corroborate that, although the people do not know each other, the stories were very similar, or almost identical, regarding the grievances that they suffered. In the 72 cases, we can clearly deduce the alleged direct involvement of Venezuelan government officials and in the cases reported as allegedly injured, the victims reported a delay in receiving medical care, since in none of the cases were the victims, upon being to the courts, ordered a forensic examination ex officio, which would have facilitated and encouraged the alleged victims to report the facts. III. General Analysis from the Perspective of Respecting and Guaranteeing Human Rights As we noted in the previous section, many efforts were made, with the capabilities of the organization to access cases in a pluralistic manner, because these were developed in an environment of clear violence and political polarization. As reported by official sources, nine people were killed, allegedly identified as José Luis Ponce Ordoñez, Rosiris Reyes, Hender José BastardoÁgreda, Jhony Alberto Pacheco, Henry Rangel La Rosa, Keler Enrique Guevara Garizabal, Luis García Polanco, and two minors. As this report was being compiled, COFAVIC could not have direct and individual contact with the families of these victims.1 However, we urge the Venezuelan State to conduct a thorough, impartial and conclusive investigation of these important facts.2 In Venezuela, human rights crimes, such as extrajudicial killings and torture, have shown a significant and sustained increase that can be seen through the figures of nongovernmental organizations. Since 2009, institutional transparency has worsened, 1
COFAVIC, by methodology and founding mandate, only documents cases in which there is direct contact with the alleged victims or with their families 2
Public Ministry. The Public Ministry charged eight men of deaths that occurred after the presidential election of the th previous April 14 .Published on June 14, 2013. See link:http://www.ministeriopublico.gob.ve/web/guest/buscador//journal_content/56/10136/2575661
preventing effective access to public information of key bodies, such as the General Attorney, the Ombudsman and the Body of Scientific, Penal and Criminal Investigations (CICPC), which is why no official figures are available on the occurrence of these crimes in recent years. According to the report of the Public Ministry, in 2011 the rate of impunity in cases involving human rights violations was 97% whereas the corresponding report in 2012 estimated that, based on the information provided in the Annual Report, the rate of impunity reached 96.8%. In Venezuela there is a clear increase in political violence, which is notably evident in the substantial increase in the criminalization of public protest.3A key cross-cutting tool that helps to analyze the extent of violence in general, and specifically in the field of human rights, is the correlation between impunity and institutional deficit.impunity associated with institutional deficit. After the facts for this report were gathered, and with the worsening of public safety and increasing public outcry, the national government decided, on May 13, 20134, to use the National Bolivarian Armed Forces (FANB) to provide public safety in the metropolitan area of Caracas, announcing that this mechanism will be gradually implemented in the rest of the country with a focus on the most densely populated states, such as Lara, Carabobo and Zulia. This disregardswhat is enshrined in the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, which in Article 332 establishes that ... "Organs of civilian security organs are of civil nature andshall respect human dignity and human rights, without discrimination of any kind."5 This form of direct action by a component of the FANB to maintain public order, such as with the National Bolivarian Guard, was used in the states when the events occurred during the time in which this report was compiled.
According to the Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict, during 2012 at least 15 protests were recorded each day, making up a total of 5,483 protests during the year. According to the Annual Report from PROVEA, there were 3,986 demonstrations in 2012. So far in 2013, the Observatory has recorded at least 1036 nationwide protests. 4
Correodel Orinoco. President Nicolas Maduro Launches â&#x20AC;&#x153;Secure Homelandâ&#x20AC;? (Patria Segura) Plan. Published on May 13, 2013. Retrieved on the link http://www.correodelorinoco.gob.ve/nacionales/presidente-nicolas-maduro-lanza-planpatria-segura/ 5
Article 332 of the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Official Gazette No. 5908 of February 19, 2009, with Amendment Number 1 adopted by constitutional referendum within 15 days of February 2009.
After the study of the cases in this report, we can identify a pattern in human rights violations, supported by the stories of victims, witnesses, civil society organizations, journalists, university officials and lawyers. This identification of the action pattern reveals that these are not isolated incidents, and that there was a consistency in the actions of the security forces that was observed in the three states visited. It was determined that there was an institutionalized practice of countering public disorder and exercising public safety functions. The Victims General Characteristics The level of disturbance can be determined by the different variables including sex, age, profession, and the type of violation documented. In this sense, men account for 79% of cases, with 57 victims, while woman were affected in 21% of the cases with fifteen (15) victims. The average age of both men and women was 29 years. Looking at the rate differentiated by age group, the largest impactwas on those aged between 18 and 25 years, who represented 50% of the cases with 36 victims, as well as the 26-40 age group of 29%, and 21 victims, from 41-60 years representing 17% with 12 cases, 0-17 with 3%, or two (2) cases, and 61+ years at 1% with 1 victim documented. In two cases the profession or occupation of the victims could not be determined. Of the remaining 70 victims, it was determined that 30 victims were students, accounting for 42% of cases, while professionals in different areas accounted for 21%, or 15 documented cases. In addition, 11 people were engaged in farm work, making up 15% of cases, 8 victims reported in the commercial sector, accounting for 11%, while there was the case of three working laborers for 4%, the case of a Deputy Legislative Council and Youth Leadership at 3%, and the case of a taxi driver, at 1%. An analysis of the data shows that the victims of the events were mostly young male students, between 18 and 25 years old. This general profile is similar for the specific situation of arbitrary arrests, but varies according to the people injured, who were mostly men between 26 and 40 years old and professionals from different fields of knowledge. Most of these people (63 cases) were confirmed to be supporters of the Venezuelan opposition and who were participating in opposition protest near the regional National Electoral Council (CNE). Nine people indicated that they were not participating in opposition gatherings and happened to be the areas when they were arrested or injured. Incrimination of victims, and â&#x20AC;&#x153;erasingâ&#x20AC;? the facts In most of these cases, government spokespeople, openly disregarding the principle and obligation of the presumption of innocence, described people who were detained or in
the court room as “terrorists”6 “murderers”7 “fascists”8, “Anti-Chavez”9 and “destabilizing,”10 among other epithets. This increased vulnerability put detainees and their families in an even more vulnerable position, as they not only had to prove their innocence in the crimes in which they were charged, but they also had to expose the serious human rights violations they allegedly suffered. In Venezuela, the burden of proof of crimes against human rights almost always rests on the victims, and there is a lack of standard procedures during these investigations.11 In all the documented evidence, we can verify the peaceful nature of gatherings, although in some cases there were small pockets of violence. With regard to police action, the evidence and information gathered demonstrates a disproportionate use of force by troops of the National Bolivarian Guard and the Regional Police in the state of Barinas, who were responsible for maintaining public order in the areas covered by this report. Torture, Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment
National Assembly. Venezuelan right terrorist escalation leaves seven people dead. Posted on April 16, 2013. Retrieved on the link: http://www.antv.gob.ve/m8/noticiam8.asp?id=53248 7
Telesur.The dangerous game of Henrique Capriles and the Venezuelan opposition.Posted on April 23, 2013. Retrieved on the link: http://www.telesurtv.net/articulos/2013/04/23/el-juego-peligroso-de-henrique-capriles-y-la-oposicionvenezolana-301.html 8
United Socialist Party of Venezuela. Diosdado Cabello: "We will hold the fascists criminally accountable."Posted on April 16, 2013. Retrieved on the link:: http://www.psuv.org.ve/portada/diosdado-cabello-%E2%80%9Cactuaremospenalmente-contra-fascistas%E2%80%9D/#.UbAAINJFVvA Noticias 24.Diosdado Cabello condemns "violence in the country" and asks Capriles to accept electoral defeat. Posted on April 16, 2013. Retrieved on the link: http://www.noticias24.com/venezuela/noticia/163037/diosdado-actuaremospenalmente-contra-los-jefes/ 9
National Assembly. NA of Venezuela pays tribute to victims of violence on April 15 and 16 . Posted on May 15, 2013. Retrieved on link:http://www.antv.gob.ve/m8/noticiam8.asp?id=53484 10
El Universal. Jaua: Opposition returns to the stage of fascism and violence. Posted on April 16, 2013. Retrieved on link: http://rayma.eluniversal.com/nacional-y-politica/elecciones-2013/130416/jaua-oposicion-vuelve-al-escenario-delfascismo-y-la-violencia Noticias VIVE. We are investigating the violence created by part of the opposition. Posted on April 16, 2013. Retrieved on link: http://www.vive.gob.ve/actualidad/noticias/estamos-investigando-los-hechos-de-violencia-creados-por-sectorde-la-oposici%C3%B3n 11
Aporrea.Prosecutor Luisa Ortega: Some media would have you believe that the State is a perpetrator of human rights. Posted on April 24, 2013. Retrieved on link: http://www.aporrea.org/ddhh/n227568.html
Our findings show that there were forty (40) cases of alleged torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. During the repression of the gatherings, we observed the alleged indiscriminate use of shotguns loaded with lead and rubber bullets that were fired at close range or point blank in most cases, as well as the use of tear gas as a chemical agent, which was especially harmful to people with respiratory problems and the elderly. The tear gas forced protesters to retreat and shelter from the effects of these gases. In one of the reported cases, the victim, who suffered from chronic asthma attacks, was immobilized after inhaling the gas, and was afterward allegedly shot at close range with lead bullets in the leg by a group of members of the National Guard. When victims were detained, they reported being subjected to continuous physical and verbal abuse. Allegedly, they were dealt repeated blows by truncheons and bottles on their head, neck and back as well as threatenedto be taken to prisons nearbyto be sexually abused and threats like "this one cannot be saved", or, if "they try to escape, shoot them in the foot", or "youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re worthless" or donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t take off theirtricolor caps12 because "they have to die with their boots on." In at least eight (8) of the documented cases, detainees were allegedly forced to strip, and were threatened to be killed, sexually violated, or to have their genitals burned, this last one this happening more frequently in women. With those who were injured (of whom 21 were arrested),victims faced an unreasonable delay in receiving health care to treat injuries, includingdocumented buckshot wounds at close range. Victims were also reportedly still in private medical supervision pending the expulsion of lead bullets by natural means. Those injured by rubber pellets showed visible signs of infection, a risk inherent to this type of injury. In general, the tactics documented allegedly included beatings, the use of blunt objects such as truncheons and frozen water bottles to beat the detainees, and the obligation to chant slogans in favor of President-elect Nicolas Maduroas well asbeing stripped of the symbols of the political opposition, such as tricolor caps and bracelets, or accessories that contained quotes from the opposition candidateâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s campaign, including nail polish colors of the flag that some women used. In the special case of the state of Lara, victims reported that they allegedly spent long hours crouched with their heads down, before they were finally taken to the yard of the 12
The tricolor hat is a symbol of the clothing that the Venezuelan opposition uses in their public demonstrations.
47th Detachment of the National Guard. Several witnesses recounted their inability to sleep due to the alleged action of several military personnel who continually threatened them, preventing them from sleeping. These occurrences lasted until the change of guard late in the morning. In many of these cases, the victims expressed a great fear of further reprisals for reporting to the authorities what had happened to them and a lack of belief that the competent authorities would act independently and transparently. The main purpose of these tactics, according to the numerous accounts from the alleged victims, was to dissuade them from engaging in political protest and to stop them from showing their political preferences with symbolic clothing or objects of the opposition. Another major objective of this practice, according to testimony gathered, was so that the victim admitted responsibility for the commission of acts against security zones, public health bodies or electoral precincts. In general, torture was allegedly applied during the period from which the victims were allegedly arbitrarily detained until they were presented to prosecutors from the Public Ministry. This period lasted approximately 24 hours, during which the majority of victims were held without legal counsel, including taking away their mobile phones. Arbitrary Detentions: Alleged arbitrary detention was documented in forty-nine (49) cases reviewed in this report. An analysis of the evidence collected establishes that the majority of detainees were participating in gatherings near the National Electoral Council in each region under the protection of the National Guard and the Police State Authority. The testimonies also show that the aforementionedsecurity bodies used tear gas to disperse demonstrations and point to the alleged presence of members of the National Bolivarian Guard with weapons that are not allowed in public demonstrations, such as lethal automatic weapons. The pattern of arrests was marked by the alleged excessive use of force by the authorities acting at the time of the arrests, the use of vulgar and violent language against the protesters, alleged violations of due process and the criminalization of the protest itself. At least two members or officers of the security forces were involved in each arrest, while in the most severe cases of those injured during the arrest, up to six (6) officers or troops of the state security bodies participated.
In the case of people who came up to the security forces to ask for the cessation of violent action or for them to maintain their integrity, most of them were then taken by the security forces to so-called "safe areas" where they were asked to wait until the action had finished, but after a few minutes or even hours they were inexplicably transferred to the National Guard Commands as detainees. In thirty-three (33) cases, the detainees were taken to the military headquarters of the National Guard, which were identified as Regional Commands. In two (2) cases, detainees were temporarily and forcibly taken to places not recognized as legal detention facilities, such as the headquarters of the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN). The sixteen (16) remaining victims were held at the headquarters of the General Command of the State Police. In all documented cases, there was a lack of notification of the charges and the absence of immediate legal assistance, taking on average 54 hours13 before they were submitted to the courts, although the evidence is drawn from the visit of officials from the Justice Department and the Office of the Ombudsman in each case at least 24 hours after the arrest. In at least 18 cases, detainees reported the theft of their belongings at the time of their arrest, including wallets and cell phones. In one (1) case the person was released, after at least three (3) hours of detention and in the rest of the forty-eight (48) cases, the people were presented with criminal charges of alleged public intimidation offenses, damage to government property, public incitement, insulting officials, obstruction of public streets, resisting arrest, conspiracy, damage to public works, public disorder, between others, all enshrined in the Criminal Code. They also reported charges for possession of explosives, under the Law of Firearms and Explosives, the crime of association of the Organic Law against Organized Crime and Terrorist Financing, and the use of adolescents to commit crimes under the Organic Law of Protection of Children and Adolescents. In most cases, the victims reported having been transferred to different locations after the first two days of detention, as in the case of the state of Carabobo, where detainees were held for at least 48 hours in the facilities of CORE 2 but then were taken to the Police Headquarters and to the CICPC.
Flagrancy and procedure for submission of the arrested or apprehended under the Code of Criminal Procedure. * Article 373: The arresting officer, within twelve hours of the arrest, will make the apprehended person available to the Attorney General, who, within thirty-six hours, shall be presented to the Judge or Judge Control who will explain how the arrest occurred (...) "
In general the transfer mechanism after the arrest was varied. In Lara State some were transferred by walking, due to the proximity of the detachment, while others said they had been moved in armored cars to Detachment 47 of the National Bolivarian Guard, while in Carabobo State protesters were taken initially to the Comprehensive Diagnostic Center (CDI), where they remained in the custody of the National Guard, about four hours before being formally notified of their arrest. In Barinas, some people were taken directly to the headquarters of the State Police on motorcycles or in official police vehicles. In other cases, they reported being temporarily transferred to the Fort Tavare Army base and the headquarters of the Police Group GROE; in two of the cases COFAVIC was informed that the arrest took place at the headquarters of the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN) Institutional Deficit and Impunity: Of the seventy-two cases reviewed in this report, there are twelve (12) formal complaints by victims to the competent authorities for alleged acts of torture and injuries. From the information available it was possible to deduce that in none of the cases did the prosecution authorities apply the Istanbul Protocol to document the alleged torture, even though the Venezuelan State as a party to the United Nations Organization (UN) is committed to using these important standards. Despite the vast quantity of public information available on the commission of alleged torture in these cases, the authorities did not, ex officio, order forensic examinations to document wounds and injuries suffered by the victims, and in the few cases in which this did occur, these tests were performed after several days or even weeks after the events. Even some of the statements made by the alleged victims allegedly made under torture were included in trials without any objection by the prosecution or the jurisdictional agencies that were involved in the cases. Until the conclusion of this report, we did not learn that ex officio investigations were initiated by the alleged torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by the authorities. In general, the authorities almost automaticallydismissed these allegations, criminalizing NGOs and associations that supported the victims, calling them the "rearguard of fascism"14, or accusing them that the "media and NGOs have come together 14
Provea.Provea holds the Minister of Communication and Information, Ernesto Villegas, responsible for any violation to the life and safety of our staff. Posted on April 19, 2013. Retrieved on the link:http://www.derechos.org.ve/2013/04/19/provea-responsabiliza-a-ministro-de-comunicacion-e-informacionernesto-villegas-de-cualquier-violacion-a-la-vida-e-integridad-de-nuestro-equipo-de-trabajo/
to be complicit in the harassment of doctors and patients besieged by gunmen behind the wheel.”15The situation was also defined as a response to the "irresponsible calls made by some political actors"or "violent actions undertaken by fascist groups, encouraged by the leaders of the opposition." Taking stock of the facts, Attorney General of the Republic stressed that it was referring to attacks against the ruling party. "He said that the events respond to calls made by opposition sectors through social networks and public gatherings.16 In addition, the Attorney General stated that "several CDI were attacked and destroyed during these days. In Zulia state the centers of La Pastora, Cecilio Acosta, Villa Baralt, ValleFrío y El Amparo were affected.”17 The Attorney General also said on this occasion that: "In Venezuela we do not mistreat those deprived of liberties. They have been treated with the utmost respect that they deserve", and that "these allegations have been accompanied by a media blitz. The media headlines were false because here in Venezuela, we do not mistreat those deprived of liberties."18 The Public Ministry reported that it knows of only two complaints in Lara state, in which police officers are involved in alleged mistreatment of certain people who were arrested following the violent occurrences in the country after the presidential election on 14 April 14th.19 Also, the Public Ministry said it "received 35 reports of injuries in the state of Lara, where it was determined that a group of people dedicated themselves to encouraging others to send in complaints. Of these, it was found that only two correspond to alleged mistreatment.”20 Similarly, the prosecution said "if it is found that these two offenses
Bolivarian System of Communication and Information. Villegas Report: Provea acting as rearguard of fascism. Posted on April 19, 2013. Retrieved May 20, 2013 in the link:http://laradiodelsur.com/?p=166640 16
Op. Cit Attorney General of the Republic
Op. Cit Attorney General of the Republic
Op. Cit Attorney General of the Republic
Public Ministry. Attorney General of the Republic: Only two complaints of alleged mistreatment in Lara state will be handled. Posted on May 9, 2013. Retrieved on link: http://www.mp.gob.ve/web/guest/buscador//journal_content/56/10136/2373034 20
Op. Cit Attorney General of the Republic
actually occurred, prosecutors will request the appropriate sanctions because Venezuela is a state that guarantees and respects human rights."21 The National Assembly on April 16, 2013 approved an agreement, among others, "Congratulating the Bolivarian National Armed Forces for the Plan República, guaranteeing the smooth operation of all phases of the electoral process and constitutional order; Supporting and assisting the Public Ministry in its penal investigations to determine the responsibilities that place by the actions led by Henrique Capriles and a small group of the Venezuelan violent right."22 The National Assembly on April 24, 2013 created a Joint Committee appointed to investigate the violence that occurred on April 15th and 16th, which was formed with the deputies of the ruling party: Pedro Carreño, Elvis Amoroso, Nancy Ascencio, Oswaldo Vera William Fariñas, Claudio Farías, Elio Serrano, Tito Oviedo, HugbelRoa, Eduardo Piñate, Adel El Zabayar and Jose Morales, whose primary mission according to Deputy of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela Pedro Carreño is to investigate the "fascist aggression of the reactionary right against the Venezuelan people, led by (opposition leader) Henrique Capriles."23 The Ombudsman's Office announced on May 15, 2013, the presentation of a report containing "all the background of the electoral process and the violence that occurred in the country", which aims to "stop the lies and sow peace and justice”."24 Final Remarks We note that in Carabobo State, members of the board of the Bar brought to COFAVIC’s attention the fact that they were receiving illegal pressures and interference by alleged active members of the judiciary to desist from defending those arrested in these events, which, if verified, would set a very dire precedent for the exercise of human rights defense.
Op. Cit Attorney General of the Republic
National Assembly creates Joint Commission to investigate http://www.asambleanacional.gob.ve/noticia/show/id/1707 24
Ombudsman will report on violent events of April 15. http://www.avn.info.ve/contenido/defensor%C3%ADapresentar%C3%A1-informe-sobre-hechos-violentos-del-15-abril
Finally, it should be noted that COFAVIC cannot be held responsible if the detainees are guilty or not of the crimes charged, but it urges the observance and protection of human rights of these people. And it is unacceptable, from the perspective that COFAVIC has historically promoted in defending human rights, that the people whose stories are documented in this report have been subject to allegations of torture and have been victims of alleged arbitrary detention, as both crimes against humanity constitute very serious violations of international human rights law and the Constitution. It should be noted, that COFAVIC included in this report only those cases in which the victims' testimonies were corroborated by witnesses who witnessed the abuse or confirmed other aspects of what was said by them, as well as medical documentation, the minutes of court preliminary hearings, the identification of similar patterns in the stories of other people who had no connection with each other, or statements of journalists, lawyers and photojournalists who confirmed the substantive aspects of the statements of the victims.