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The following statement was issued today by United Nations human rights experts, whose names appear below:

Geneva, 30 November 2007: - -“We are concerned about some provisions of the constitutional reform that was approved by the National Assembly of Venezuela on 3 November 2007 and that will be subject to a referendum on 2 December 2007, in a context where the security of journalists and participants to public demonstrations against the reform is seriously undermined.

We believe that the new provisions concerning states of emergency hinder the full enjoyment of civil liberties by Venezuelan citizens. The elimination of the Supreme Court’s authority to oversee and approve state of emergency declarations and the abolition of time limits for such states are inconsistent with the commitments taken by Venezuela under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

We express our preoccupation that provisions of the constitutional reform will curtail a set of fundamental rights that should be enjoyed at all times, including during states of emergencies, such as the right to freedom of expression and the right of access to information, stepping stones of all democratic societies that are not expressly guarantied under the modification of articles 337, 338 and 339 of the Constitution.

We are also concerned about the situation of human rights defenders as the proposed reform establishes that associations with a political aim can only access funding at the national level. We fear that this definition might be selectively applied to human rights organizations to prevent them from accessing international funding. We are also concerned by the general situation of human rights defenders and journalists, who have been subject to threats and attacks that not only affect their personal security, but generate a widespread atmosphere of intimidation that discourages them from engaging in their activities and from taking public stands for the defence of human rights.

Furthermore, the constitutional reform might harm the independence of the judiciary, since it is proposed that the dismissal of the Supreme Court’s judges would be decided by a simple majority vote of the National Assembly, instead of the two third majority as currently stated in the Constitution.

We call upon the Venezuelan government to firmly commit to the protection of the full set of human rights, safeguarding the institutional guarantees that ensure that democracy and the rule of law will be upheld at all times.”

Ambeyi Ligabo, Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression;
Hina Jilani, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Human Rights Defenders;
Leandro Despouy, Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers.