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End of interim government, what does it mean for human rights?

On December 30, the 109 opposition deputies that made up the majority of the National Assembly (NA) elected in 2015 for the period 2016-2021, met to decide the future of the transitional government. By a large majority – 72 votes in favor, 29 against and 9 abstentions – the deputies of the NA 2016-2021 decided to end the interim period headed by Juan Guaidó. The decision has repercussions in the political, legal and financial spheres, among others, but we want to focus on the impact in the field of human rights.

As a starting point, it should be noted that, over the years, Chavismo has done everything in its power to hinder the work of opposition members favored by the popular vote for positions of national and regional deputies, governors and mayors. Among the resources used are disqualifications, elimination of powers, budget reduction, appointment of parallel governments under the figure of “protectorates”, trials mounted without due process, persecution of deputies in violation of parliamentary immunity and even a declaration of nullity of all acts of the NA based on an alleged contempt declared by the Supreme Court of Justice controlled by the government. In these circumstances, any attempt to exercise power legitimately obtained through the popular vote is extremely difficult.

The situation of the interim was no different, since it was a government supported by article 233 of the Constitution, with more political than legal bases, whose sustainability over time did not seem easy to sustain. In fact, the mere reference to an election that had to be held “within thirty consecutive days” of the start of the interim, already ran into an insurmountable obstacle: the impossibility of calling an election when both the responsible body (National Electoral Council) like the logistical deployment (in charge of the Armed Forces), they were subordinated to whoever exercised real power, who was and continues to be Nicolás Maduro.

Thus, any attempt to affect the course of the human rights situation in Venezuela by the interim government was destined to make insignificant progress, as indeed happened. A brief balance of the performance of the interim government in this field is presented below.

At the national level, Guaidó appointed a Presidential Commissioner for Human Rights and Attention to Victims, “with the mission of following up on cases of human rights violations, taking cases to international instances and compensating the victims.” However, the absence of real power limited his action to preparing reports and holding events with no capacity for national advocacy, although with a certain international impact.

At the initiative of the Presidential Commissioner for Human Rights and Attention to Victims, a visit by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to the country was agreed, which was to take place in February 2020. Once again, de facto power in the hands of Maduro prevented the entry of the IACHR mission.

Although the representation of the interim government achieved the necessary recognition to occupy the seat of the State in the sessions of the IACHR, the truth is that the victims and human rights defenders did not obtain an effective response, beyond expressions of solidarity and empathy for part of the interim representatives. And it could not be otherwise, due to the absence of real power to enforce the demands of petitioners. Perhaps the biggest gap in this area was the absence of a follow-up strategy for the execution of some aspects of the sentences handed down by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

An exception is the entry into force of the San Salvador Protocol on economic, social and cultural rights, which had been approved by the NA in March 2015 and was even published in the Official Gazette during the government of Hugo Chávez, but whose instrument of ratification was never filed with the OAS Secretariat. In this way, the interim government incorporated Venezuela in the list of countries that acquire obligations in these rights before the Inter-American system.

In the absence of real power, little could be expected from the interim government in the area of human rights. Therefore, the end of the interim period does not add or subtract much from the dynamics of work in favor of the protection of human rights in Venezuela. Consequently, the future challenge for civil society and the international community consists in accepting that, regardless of political recognition or legitimacy of origin and performance, there is a real power before which it corresponds to continue demanding respect for the rights of the people who inhabit Venezuela, to the extent that it exercises control over population and territory and maintains international responsibility in the matter. To ignore this space would be to deny the victims their right to the truth, justice, reparation and the guarantees of non-repetition.