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Civic space is suffocated by institutions at the service of the regime

On Monday, September 25, the fourth report of the Independent International Fact-finding Mission to establish facts about Venezuela (FFM) was presented to the United Nations Human Rights Council.

This report updates the human rights situation under the mandate of the FFM, which includes arbitrary arrests, disappearances, torture and executions as mechanisms of selective repression against opposition members or those perceived as such as of January 2020. Although the report gives account of a quantitative decrease in human rights violations under its mandate, it remembers that this period was marked by the COVID-19 pandemic, so the population was demobilized and the repression was less. But it warns that nothing has been done to investigate and punish crimes against humanity identified in the past, since the government’s attitude has not changed.

On this occasion, the report focused its attention on the state apparatus, its mechanisms of repression and the restrictions on civic and democratic space and identified the existence of a phenomenon of repression that combines the “hard line” with other “softer” tactics to subdue to those who dissent. The report is accompanied by an annex on the Directorate of Strategic and Tactical Actions (DAET) of the Bolivarian National Police Corps and its relationship with the former Special Actions Forces (FAES), which confirms that the DAET is just a mutation of the FAES, several of whose directors remain the same, even those accused of the alleged commission of international crimes.

An element that particularly draws attention in this fourth report is chapter VII, referring to the institutions involved. It details the actions of the Ombudsman’s Office, the National Electoral Council, the Comptroller General of the Republic and the National Telecommunications Commission, in addition to the security forces, which reflects the existence of an entire institutional framework that goes beyond the justice and security apparatus, aimed at reducing and controlling civic space with regard to rights such as political participation, peaceful protest and freedom of expression, among others.

It is worth highlighting the references to the Ombudsman’s Office, an institution that, in the opinion of the FFM, has been used in a “partisan and selective” way by “routinely and deliberately” omitting to take action in the face of manifest violations of human rights, whether ex officio or in response to complaints received.

As always, the democratic states valued the work of the FFM and asked Venezuela to abide by its recommendations and those of other bodies of the UN human rights system, while Maduro’s allies questioned the selective and interfering nature of mechanisms such as the FFM and called for the lifting of sanctions against the country, echoing Venezuela’s alleged cooperation with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), going so far as to suggest that one mechanism is enough and that the FFM reduces resources from the presence of the OHCHR in Venezuela.

Two worrying positions stand out. Firstly, that of Spain, stating that “a cycle of the Mission is concluding”, which could be understood as a call for the end of the mechanism, and called for strengthening the OHCHR on the ground, as if these were exclusive options. Secondly, the silence of Colombia, a neighboring, democratic country that receives the largest number of people from Venezuela. It is worrying that this silence has to do with the role that President Petro expects Venezuela to play in his proposal for total peace, as if the human rights violations in Venezuela did not require the attention of an escalating conflict.

For its part, Venezuela did not spare disqualifying adjectives against the FFM during the session, and immediately afterwards published a statement calling the FFM experts “paid mercenaries.”

It is necessary that the international community continue to support the work of the FFM, whose findings, conclusions and recommendations have proven to be a valuable input in the fight against impunity in Venezuela and in the recognition of the truth of the victims.