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UN Human Rights Committee confirms structural failures to protect rights in Venezuela

Photo: courtesy Examen ddhh Venezuela

On November 3, the Final Observations (Spanish only) on the fifth periodic report of Venezuela to the UN Human Rights Committee (hereinafter, the Committee) were published, with respect to the obligations derived from the International Covenant on civil and political rights (hereinafter, the Covenant).

It is worth remembering that, before detailing the commitments regarding specific rights that States acquire by becoming part of the Covenant, reference is made to a series of general obligations that States must comply with in order to guarantee an adequate institutional framework for the realization of civil and political rights. These obligations are included in articles 2 to 5 of the Covenant.

In its examination of Venezuela, the Committee observed non-compliance with articles 2 to 5, which manifests itself in different ways. Regarding the incorporation of the Covenant into the domestic legal system, the Committee observed that its provisions and recommendations on individual cases in which the violation of rights has been determined, and the State has been asked to rectify it, this has not been done alleging a decision of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice that denies the binding nature of the jurisprudence issued by the human rights treaty bodies. In the implementation of the Covenant and its Optional Protocol, the Committee observed the delay that exists in the approval of the second national human rights plan, which has not been subjected to broad consultation.

The Committee questions the independence of the Ombudsman’s Office by confirming that its activities are not carried out in a “balanced, impartial and objective” manner and questions the lack of access to public information in the framework of the fight against corruption. This opacity was also confirmed by the Committee during the prolonged application of the State of Exception between January 2016 and April 2021, since the decrees were not approved by the National Assembly (NA), which led to public resources being managed without the approval of the AN. The successive decrees and their motivation were also not reported to the UN Secretary General, as established in Article 4 of the Covenant.

The failures in these structural issues are summarized in two recurring phenomena in the conduct of the State, such as opacity and impunity. As long as this persists, the human rights recognized by the Covenant will continue without adequate protection in Venezuela, as shown in the rest of the Committee’s report when it refers to specific rights.

In its alternative report before the Committee, AlertaVenezuela not only referred to these structural failures, but also addressed the effects on the right to life – including forced disappearances -, personal integrity and the right to peaceful assembly by armed groups that act with the consent and complicity of the government. The Committee requested the State to investigate and punish the actions of these armed parastatal actors.

The Committee’s report presents a total of 23 recommendations, some of which are broken down into between 4 and 8 more recommendations for each right, with the aim of preventing, adapting the legal framework, investigating, punishing those responsible and compensating the victims, as well as references to the protection of a specific sector of the population. This body of recommendations constitutes an agenda to be followed by civil society and should be the framework of reference for the overdue national human rights plan regarding civil and political rights.

On the other hand, the international community should promote the integration of these recommendations, especially those of a structural nature, into the negotiating agenda, with the understanding that democracy cannot be built on the basis of impunity and opacity.