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Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights considers report of Venezuela

3 June 2015

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights today concluded its consideration of the third periodic report of Venezuela on the implementation of the provisions of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Ricardo Menéndez, Vice President for Planning and Knowledge and Minister of Planning and Knowledge of Venezuela, introducing the report, said that since the Revolution in 1998, Venezuela had increased social spending from 36 per cent of the total income of the country, to 61.9 per cent in the 1999-2014 period, and had adopted enabling laws which guaranteed the full rights of workers, a communal economy, the social protection of adults, women and children, and access to land, as well as laws on the protection of family, on maternity and paternity, on breastfeeding and on maternity leave. The Law on the Rights of Women to a Life Free of Violence was enacted in 2007 and amended in 2014 to define 21 forms of violence against women, while specialized courts and special prosecutors to deal with violence against women had been put in place. More than 4.6 million jobs were created since 1998, and systemic efforts were being made to ensure the enjoyment of just and favourable conditions of work. Structural poverty had reached its historical low of 5.4 per cent, child malnutrition had fallen from 7.66 per cent in 1990 to 2.9 per cent today, and public health coverage had increased by 82 per cent.

Committee Experts commended Venezuela for putting economic, social and cultural rights at the forefront of all efforts and for the impressive socio-economic progress it had achieved, and expressed concern about the recent recommendation by the International Coordinating Committee of National Human Rights Institutions to downgrade the status of the Office of the Ombudsmen to B because of the lack of independence. The achievements in poverty reduction over the past 10 years had been impressive, but the poverty rate had increased under the current difficult economic circumstances; what was being done to reverse the trend and to ensure that the progress was not rolled back? Despite the progress in health, maternal mortality rates were persistently high, as was the rate of teenage pregnancies; abortion was heavily penalized which hampered the empowerment of women. Several Experts raised their concern about corruption and inquired about the effectiveness of the Law against Corruption, the creation of the Anti-Corruption Commission, the protection of whistle-blowers and others who denounced corruption, and the immunity of the police. Experts recognized the 1999 Constitution of Venezuela as one of the most progressive in Latin America as it dedicated a whole chapter to indigenous peoples and fully recognized their rights, and asked about the process of the recognition of the rights, particularly in the demarcation of ancestral land, and the application of the principle of prior consultation. The Committee Chairperson asked about the reasons behind the high crime rates and how the diving oil prices had impeded the efforts to improve economic, social and cultural rights in the country.

In response, the delegation said that the eradication and prevention of violence against women was the cornerstone of public policies, and that the protection network for women included: shelters for victims of violence, free 24/7 help lines, specialized courts and prosecutors to deal with violence against women and the Office of the Ombudsmen for Women. Gender sensitivity of the judicial system remained a challenge and activities had been taken to train and raise awareness of judges and law enforcement officials. Venezuela had a strong stance on corruption. The President had provided special powers for the enactment of the legislation to fight corruption, while the Office of the Auditor and the Office of the Prosecutor could undertake concrete measures to combat this phenomenon. The fight against corruption was ongoing on a daily basis and currently 920 investigations of alleged cases of corruption were active. The Law on Indigenous Peoples translated into practice of the rights guaranteed in the Constitution, including the right to ancestral land; as of 2014, the Commission for Delimitation of the Land and the Office of the Inspector General had delivered 93 communal title deeds to 454 communities with 20,000 families, while an additional 43 applications were being considered. All workers enjoyed equal rights and protection in both formal and informal sectors; universal social security was a constitutional right including for those who could not contribute such as agriculture and fishery workers, and stay at home women. The Law on Employment specifically prohibited child labour under the age of 14 except at harvest time.

Mikel Mancisidor, Committee Expert acting as Country Rapporteur for the report of Venezuela, stressed that the Committee approached this dialogue with utmost respect. The comments made about the country fell within the mandate of the Committee and did not represent in any way an attack on the State’s sovereignty and its right to self-determination.

In concluding remarks, Mr. Menéndez said that Venezuela was not governed by corporations, but by its people and the desire to live better, and that the question of the economic war must be fully borne in mind. It must be remembered that, despite the 60 per cent decline in income as a result of a drop in oil prices, human development indicators remained steady over the years, largely because of Venezuela’s different approach.

Waleed Sadi, Committee Chairperson, said that the situation of Venezuela was an interesting one and that was why Experts asked many penetrating questions. There was no system in the world which held a monopoly on the good implementation of the Covenant.

The delegation of Venezuela consisted of the representatives of the Vice-Presidency, Ministry of Planning, Ministry of Women and Gender Equality, Court of Cassation, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Housing and Habitat, Ministry of Nutrition, Ministry of Labour and Social Protection, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, National Council for Human Rights, Supreme Court of Justice, and the Permanent Mission of Venezuela to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will release its formal, written concluding observations and recommendations on the report of Venezuela towards the end of its three-week session, which will conclude on 19 June 2015.

The next public meeting of the Committee will be at 3 p.m. this afternoon when it will start its consideration of the fourth periodic report of Mongolia (E/C.12/MNG/4).

Report

The third periodic report of Venezuela can be read here: (E/C.12/VEN/3).

Presentation of the Report

RICARDO MENÉNDEZ, Vice President for Planning and Knowledge and Minister of Planning and Knowledge of Venezuela, said Venezuela had presented its last report to the Committee in 1998, when it had been in deep crisis because of the neo-liberal models of development which excluded many people. In 1998, the people had chosen Hugo Chavez as President and today Venezuela continued along his revolutionary path. The Constitution and the emerging State had invested in human beings using a comprehensive approach, had ensured that democracy must be full and affect all aspects, and had developed a broad concept of nationality and citizenship. Civil rights were not understood just as political rights, and the Constitution incorporated social rights of families, economic rights, rights of indigenous peoples and environmental rights. The natural resources of Venezuela were given back to the people: during the period 1984-1998, 36 per cent of the income of the country had been spent on social expenses, and in 1999-2014 it had grown to 61.9 per cent. Venezuela had enacted enabling laws which guaranteed the full rights of workers, a communal economy, the social protection of adults, women and children, and access to land, as well as laws on the protection of the family, on maternity and paternity, on breastfeeding and on maternity leave. To address violence against women, Venezuela had enacted the organic Law on the Rights of Women to a Life Free of Violence in 2007 and amended it in 2014 to define 21 forms of violence against women, and had also created specialized courts and special prosecutors to deal with violence against women.

Over the last 16 years, Venezuela had created more than 4.6 million jobs, and the number of workers had been increased from one million in 2001 to 2.8 million today. Systemic efforts had been made to abide with article 7 concerning the enjoyment of just and favourable conditions of work: the amendment of the law on social security had resulted in the inclusion of the right to pension for self-employed persons.
Structural poverty had reached its historical low of 5.4 per cent, even with the economic war against Venezuela, which was a sign of the strength of the socialist model in the social protection of the population. Even under the difficult circumstances of economic war, sabotage in the oil fields and coup d'état, the Revolution had marked a turning point in the relationship between inflation and wage growth: since 1999, the legal minimum income was steadily higher than the normative food basket. The Mission Madres del Barrio had been created to boost economic inclusion and empowerment of women in poverty, from which 91,000 women had benefitted, while the programme Great Sons and Daughters of Venezuela provided cash transfers to 325,000 single mothers living in extreme poverty. Child malnutrition had fallen from 7.66 per cent in 1990 to 2.9 per cent, and more than four million children had a school meal. Public health coverage had increased by 82 per cent, life expectancy had risen from 72 years in 1998 to 75 years in 2014, and infant mortality rates had been reduced from 32 deaths per 1,000 live births to 16.8 deaths per 1,000 live births. The people of Venezuela were fully aware of the difficulties and were challenged every day to face them and to solve them. Venezuela firmly believed in the right enshrined in the first article of the International Covenant - the right to self-determination; it was in a battle and struggle for human rights to exist in the streets, in reality, for children, women and the elderly.

Questions from Experts

MIKEL MANCISIDOR, Committee Expert acting as Country Rapporteur, commended Venezuela for putting economic, social and cultural rights at the forefront of all efforts and for the impressive socio-economic progress it had achieved. It was clear that the social progress had occurred in a context of social and other conflicts which jeopardized the full enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights and other human rights, including civil and political. The Country Rapporteur urged Venezuela to ratify the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant and asked about gender-disaggregated data so that the Committee could understand how the socio-economic development had benefitted both genders. The institution of the Ombudsmen currently enjoyed status A, but the International Coordinating Committee of National Human Rights Institutions had recently recommended that the institution be downgraded to status B because of the lack of independence. Corruption was a problem that affected many countries and peoples, and Venezuela was not an exception; what efforts were being undertaken to fight corruption?

With regard to the institutional sphere, a Committee Expert admired the rule set out in the Constitution which gave preference to the most progressive human rights legislation. However, accession to human rights treaties also meant accession to jurisprudence and case law of the bodies such as this Committee, or the Inter-American Court for Human Rights. Could the delegation explain the application of the jurisprudence of international human rights bodies, and provide examples of the application of jurisprudence of this Committee in national law? The social policy in Venezuela was impressive, and because it was human rights based, it should incorporate crosscutting principles of accountability and transparency. This meant that information was publicly available and accessible without restrictions. Venezuela had an organic law in the country on the principle of prior consultation with indigenous peoples, but there were complaints that some mining projects were put in place without consultation with indigenous communities. Could the delegation provide concrete examples of the implementation of this law and the application of the principle of prior consultation? Was there a comprehensive anti-discrimination law in the country?

Concerning the rights of women, a Committee Expert asked about the mechanisms in place through which women could claim their rights and file complaints, including though the Defensoria del Pueblo and the National Commission for Gender Justice. The delegation was asked whether gender impact assessment of laws and policies was being conducted, and about gender-sensitive budgeting, the budget allocated to the Ministry of Women, and the budget other ministries spent on women and women empowerment.

Another Committee Expert recognized the 1999 Constitution of Venezuela as one of the most progressive in Latin America as it dedicated a whole chapter to indigenous peoples and fully recognized their rights. What was the process of the recognition of the rights, the mechanisms that the Commission on Indigenous Land used to identify and mark out that land, and when would this process be completed? How many projects had been designed and implemented since the creation in 2007 of the Ministry for Indigenous Peoples? The Law against Corruption was in place, and the Committee Expert inquired about its effectiveness and about the size of corruption in the country and its impact?

Continuing with the issue of corruption and efforts to fight it, an Expert asked about the creation of the Anti-Corruption Commission, measures to protect those who denounced corruption such as whistle-blowers, journalists and human rights defenders, immunity of the police officers in this regard, and what other measures were being considered in the fight against corruption, such as what was being done in India, where a web page I Paid a Bribe had been created, relying on crowd sourced reports and experiences, in an effort to create a culture of rejecting corruption.

There were still one million unemployed people in the country, most of whom were youth: what measures were being taken to promote job creation in the private sector? What measures were in place to ensure labour and social protection of the informal sector employees who represented 40 per cent of the workforce in 2012, and most of whom were women? The minimum age was not sufficient to guarantee subsistence of a family of three, noted Experts and asked about measures to protect wages against inflation. What measures were being undertaken to investigate the murders of trade union leaders, and to protect other trade union members?

Response by the Delegation

Indigenous peoples were included in national statistics, census and in elections; the Presidential Council for Indigenous Peoples had been recently created, and issues of indigenous peoples were mainstreamed across state policies. The right of indigenous communities to their ancestral land had been recognized in the 1999 Constitution and the procedure to translate it into practice was included in the organic Law on Indigenous Peoples. The process of identifying ancestral land involved several bodies: the Regional Commission for Delimitation of the Land, the National Commission for Delimitation of the Land, and the Office of the Inspector General, which submitted the title deed to indigenous communities. Up to 2014, 93 communal title deeds covering 3,000,000 hectares had been delivered to 454 communities, from which more than 20,000 families had benefitted. An additional 43 applications were currently being considered by the Commission. Consultations with indigenous peoples were an ongoing practice, and prior consultations had been conducted on the housing projects, financing and the promotion of socio-productive activities. Indigenous children enjoyed bilingual education, and their culture and history were respected in the curriculum.

Since 2003, the National Commission for Refugees had processed applications and had decided on nearly 10,000 refugee requests, granting refugee status to 4,733 persons; more than 90 per cent of the applications were from Colombians fleeing the armed conflict in their country. With regard to human rights indicators, the delegation mentioned a project titled Design and Implementation of the National Follow up System for International Human Rights Instruments ratified by Venezuela. It would allow clear overview of actors and stakeholders in the human rights system in the country, training of human rights actors and awareness of human rights among the population.

The Ministry for Women’s Affairs and Gender Equality had a number of bodies through which it implemented its policies: the National Institute for Women’s Affairs, Madres de Barrios, and Development Bank for Women. In addition, there were 50 dedicated courts and 108 prosecutors to try cases of violence against women, and committees of women for gender equality had been established throughout the country to fight against violence against women. The Council of State for Gender equality had been established last year to ensure that gender policy was cross-cutting and that it affected all State policies. The Plan for Equality and Gender Equality was in place, while the national Office of the Ombudsperson for Women had a task to empower women; all women could claim their rights through courts, specialized courts for violence against women and the Office of the Ombudsman. The Sub-Committee for Gender Statistics ensured gender-disaggregated data and statistics.

Questions from Experts

An Expert said that while the achievements in the reduction of poverty and inequality over the past 10 years had been impressive, the rate had slowed down in the currently difficult economic circumstances: what measures were in place to ensure that the progress was not rolled back? Despite the progress in health, maternal mortality rates were persistently high, as was the rate of teenage pregnancies; abortion was heavily penalized which hampered the empowerment of women and could be the underlying cause of high maternal mortality rates.

Reports indicated that the public health care system in Venezuela was not working: there was a lack of doctors, nurses, medical supplies and equipment. Venezuela had invested significant efforts in the protection of the family, including in protecting women from violence, but the implementation of the laws on violence against women was very weak. The organic Health Care Law that met the requirements of the Constitution and of the medical profession had not yet been enacted.

The rate of poverty and extreme poverty had increased in 2012 and 2013 – what measures were in place to reverse this trend and were they effective? What corrective measures were in place to deal with the persistent housing shortage? Would Venezuela develop a transparent system for the allocation of social housing, and ensure security of tenure?

The situation of malnutrition had been significantly improved over the years, but additional clarifications were needed on some issues. Did programmes which aimed to ensure access to food, such as Mercal and school feeding programmes, source the food from local farmers and boost local production, and did they promote sustainable local agricultural development and food production? What was the impact of the agrarian reform and was the 3.6 million hectares of land which had been expropriated put into agrarian use?

A Committee Expert welcomed the significant measures to address the issue of children in street situations, and asked the delegation to provide more information on this and on child labour. What programmes were in place to increase access to the Internet for disadvantaged groups, such as poor, indigenous and rural populations, and to ensure freedom of expression and freedom of the press?

WALEED SADI, Committee Chairperson, asked about the reasons behind high crime rates and how the diving oil prices had impeded the efforts to improve economic, social and cultural rights in the country.

Response by the Delegation

There was no doubt that the economy in Venezuela was closely linked to oil prices, but the question that should be asked was how Venezuela managed to maintain its high social investment despite the drop in oil prices: it maintained salaries, pensions, extended the programme of distributing free laptops to university programmes, and others. Regardless of the situation of oil revenues, Venezuela would abide by its commitment to protect the social situation of the people. In 1995 and 1996, poverty was at 75 per cent; now it was income based, not structural, and stood at 5.4 per cent.

Venezuela had a strong stance on corruption. The President had provided special powers for the enactment of legislation to fight corruption, while the Office of the Auditor and the Office of the Prosecutor could undertake concrete measures to combat this phenomenon. The fight against corruption was ongoing on a daily basis and currently 920 investigations of alleged cases of corruption were active.

The Supreme Court of Justice had gradually sought to ensure that justice was enforced and that the rights of all citizens of Venezuela were protected. It had competitive exams for the recruitment of judicial officials, and had in place an assessment process of performance of judges. The rights enshrined in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights were evocable in the national law, and had been invoked in 39 judicial decisions.

The budget for women’s affairs was $ 523 million for 2015, and Venezuela had also set up the National Council for Gender Equality. This Council coordinated the women empowerment activities of all Ministries, which had committed to mainstreaming gender into all public policies. The Mission for Households of the Homeland enabled coordination of policies in various areas and territories, particularly those most afflicted by poverty, which aimed to undertake door-to-door surveys of 500,000 poor households in 2015, which would enable Venezuela to better understand the causes of poverty and identify all aspects that touched on women’s rights.

The eradication and prevention of violence against women was the cornerstone of public policies. The organic Law on the Rights of Women to a Life Free of Violence had been enacted in 2007 and partially reformed in 2014, when femicide was criminalized, and the Office of the Ombudsmen for Women had been set up. The protection network for women included: shelters for victims of violence, free 24/7 help lines, and 108 specialized courts and 50 public prosecutors for violence against women. Gender sensitivity of the judicial system remained a challenge and activities had been taken to train and raise awareness of judges and law enforcement officials.

Venezuela recognized the problem of early pregnancies. The National Institute for Statistics had established a Subcommittee to provide quality and appropriate information on early pregnancy to enable the executive to develop appropriate policies. The main causes of early pregnancy were the quest for self, myths and wrong beliefs on the appropriate use of contraceptives, and the desire to be a mother. A number of programmes were being put in place to prevent early pregnancy, including the revision of school curriculum to include prevention of pregnancy and development of identity, and sexual and reproductive health, outreach work, training of teachers in sexual and reproductive health, and the Safe and Happy Maternity Programme which guaranteed family planning services to women.

Civil society organizations and social movements fully participated in Venezuela in a democratic manner, enjoyed freedom of movement and of expression, and could freely publicize their opinions, which were widely respected.

Since the Revolution in 1998, the value of the food basket was below the minimum wage, and this represented a great success which might not be visible to the world. Salaries and wages were constantly increased to make sure they kept pace with the cost of the food basket, while the concept of the minimum legal income, which was different from minimum wage, had been introduced in the law.

All workers in Venezuela enjoyed equal rights in both formal and informal sectors, including the protection of employment. The Constitution guaranteed the right to association and the right to strike, while collective agreements covered more than two million workers in several industries and sectors. The organic Law on Employment limited the right to strike of some sectors which would have a very adverse impact on the population. Last year, 19 legal strikes had been held in the country, and there had been no prosecution of any member of trade unions. The State was obliged to provide minimum wage which was revised every year. Universal social security was a constitutional right including for those who could not contribute such as agriculture and fishery workers, and stay at home women. The Law on Employment specifically prohibited child labour under the age of 14 except during harvest time.

The right to health was guaranteed and a public health network had been established throughout the country, and on three levels: community, regional and national. In 2003, the Great Mission for Neighbourhoods had been created to prevent exclusion from access to health of the population in remote and inaccessible areas, and of the poor. Leading causes of death for women in Venezuela in 2011 were heart disease, cancer, cardiovascular, diabetes, urinary tract infections, while the main cause of maternal mortality in 2014 was heart related.

The right to food was recognized as a human right. The legal status of agricultural land that had been grabbed had been changed and allocated to peasants for their food production. In Venezuela, food was a matter of security and a social good, and the stability of food prices was guaranteed. The food policy was humane and humanitarian in nature, and the National Food Security Plan was in place. In 2004, a social programme called Food Houses provided nutritionally balanced food to over 900,000 persons on a daily basis, and food subsidies Mercal Communal House by House were provided to those living in extreme poverty. Between one and three meals were being provided to over four million school children.

Questions from Experts

A Committee Expert acknowledged the responses the delegation provided about corruption and noted that, based on international rankings, Venezuela still had a long way to go, in which an independent anti-corruption body could play an important role. The degree of independence of the Office of the Public Prosecutor was not entirely clear and the information on the protection of whistle-blowers was still lacking. Connected to this were the independence of the judiciary and the lack of security of tenure for the judges.

In further questions and comments, it was noted that international human rights bodies were not satisfied with the behaviour of Venezuela, which had either withdrawn from those bodies, as was the case with the Inter-American Court for Human Rights, or deviated from their recommendations. The delegation had provided much information about maternal mortality, but concern remained that the figures on this indicator were unclear and baffling, while criminalization of abortion should be looked into. Venezuela should put the emphasis of its revolutionary policies on the fight against the corruption, inefficiency, maternal mortality, and examine how the food policies impacted the access of the population to food.

The delegation was asked about effective guarantees for the right to access to information, measures that should be taken to address the shortage of medical materials and drugs, the meaning of the concept “economic war”, and the independence of the Office of the Ombudsperson.

Response from the Delegation

There were nine maternity hospitals in the country which had an obligation to report all maternal deaths. Causes of maternal mortality were hypertension during pregnancy and unsafe abortion. Child Jesus Mission had been established to provide better prenatal and postnatal care and health of children until the age of five.

Venezuela had always been firm in moving towards holding competitive exams for its officials and did not recognize the methods used by Transparency International to measure corruption.

The head of the delegation said that when Committee Experts passed value judgements, they took positions, and this was a very sensitive situation. Statements such as instead of fighting economic war Venezuela should fight corruption and inefficiency, were value judgements. The economic war against Venezuela included all the attacks that the country had suffered, which was manifested in the flight of capital, trafficking and contraband, and destruction of property. Despite the attacks to undermine the country and reduce the purchasing power, the minimum wage had been increased, and the supply network was being maintained.

Concluding Remarks

MIKEL MANCISIDOR, Committee Expert acting as Country Rapporteur, thanked the delegation for the quality of the dialogue and the comprehensive and relevant answers it had provided. The dialogue was approached with utmost respect for the State party and comments made about the country fell within the mandate of the Committee and did not represent in any way an attack on the State’s sovereignty and its right to self-determination.

RICARDO MENÉNDEZ, Vice President for Planning and Knowledge and Minister of Planning and Knowledge of Venezuela, said that human rights were a fundamental pillar of the Constitution and were planted and transposed in the plan for the homeland and were a daily action of the Government. Venezuela was not governed by corporations, but by its people and the desire to live better. The question of economic war must be fully borne in mind, and it must be remembered that despite the 60 per cent decline in income as a result of a drop in oil prices, human development indicators had remained steady over the years, and this was because of a different approach that the country employed.

WALEED SADI, Committee Chairperson, said that the situation of Venezuela was an interesting one, Venezuela had a unique perspective and that was why many penetrating questions had been asked. There was no system in the world which could hold a monopoly on what was good in the implementation of the Covenant.

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For use of the information media; not an official record