47th session of the Human Rights Council
Michelle Bachelet, High Commissioner
Geneva, 5 July 2021
On this Independence Day in Venezuela, I reiterate my commitment, along with that of my Office, to continue extending our support towards the full realization of human rights in the country. I trust that soon we will progress towards the establishment of an OHCHR country office in Venezuela.
My latest report, published last week, provides an overview of the latest developments on the rule of law and democratic space, as well as an assessment of the implementation of my previous recommendations. I will present a follow-up report in September.
I welcome the new initiatives announced by the Government, including the police and justice reforms. The work of the newly established Commissions will guide the way forward, which we hope will lead to meaningful and effective results in accordance with human rights standards. My Office stands ready to accompany these efforts.
In my report, I note the downward trend of alleged deaths in the context of protests and security operations. Yet every death is one too many. Police reform offers the opportunity to make a significant and sustainable shift towards stronger protection of human rights, and prevention of human rights violations. It is also an opportunity to reinforce oversight and accountability mechanisms and strengthen the professionalization and training of members of the security forces.
However, social protests continued as access to basic services remains challenging. Indeed, pre-existing socio-economic inequalities were further compounded by the impact of unilateral sectoral sanctions and the COVID-19 pandemic. In line with recent announcements, I encourage continuing efforts to explore lifting these sanctions and contribute to relieving the situation for the country’s population.
Healthcare workers have repeatedly demonstrated for adequate and safe work conditions and access to vaccinations, citing insufficient personal protective equipment, unpaid salaries, and unsanitary conditions. According to estimates, one fifth of the people killed by COVID-19 in the country were healthcare workers. Vaccines must be accessible to all.
In line with the spirit of the announced reforms, it is urgent to continue advancing with accountability mechanisms for killings in the context of protests in recent years. In this sense,
I welcome the progress made in the fight against impunity, including the recent conviction of a police officer for the killing of Cesar Pereira during a protest in 2017. Systematic judicial proceedings in similar cases, including considering command responsibility, would reflect a genuine willingness to bring perpetrators to justice. My Office is working to support these efforts. The Attorney General has agreed that my Office will have access to the files of cases of human rights violations, and I trust that my team will soon have access to judicial hearings.
Conditions of detention continue to raise concerns, even more in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Access to adequate food, water, sanitation and healthcare must be guaranteed to all, in accordance with the Mandela rules. President Maduro’s recent statement recognizing existing challenges related to detention, and his commitment to take action to improve the situation, is encouraging.
I welcome the imminent closing of all detention facilities run by intelligence services as announced by the President. I encourage the prompt transfer of all detainees to centres that have better conditions. I urge the authorities to maintain transparent and proactive communication with detainees’ relatives and legal counsels throughout this process.
To date, my team has visited eight states, and continue to visit detention centres, 26 so far, including a visit last week to the detention centre managed by the SEBIN where my team conducted individual and confidential interviews with detainees. The plan to reduce the number of prisoners in pre-trial detention centres is another initiative to be welcomed.
In the framework of the dialogue between my Office and the authorities, I welcome the release of 40 individuals and the humanitarian measures granted in cases documented by my Office since my last update in March. I continue to call for the release of all those arbitrarily detained and those who have served their sentence. I also call for alternative measures to reduce overcrowding to be considered, as well as humanitarian measures for detainees with serious health conditions.
In my report, I also note continuing concerns over due process. The rights to a fair trial without undue delay, including unrestricted access to a legal defence of one's own choosing, the presumption of innocence, and an independent, impartial and transparent tribunal must be guaranteed. The systematic application of such guarantees is the way to build confidence in the judicial system.
The recent appointment of the National Electoral Council will pave the way for the upcoming regional and local electoral processes scheduled for November. I support initiatives to establish a direct dialogue between authorities and civil society as needed confidence building measures.
However, restrictions on civic space still raise concerns. I highlight, in particular, the stigmatization, criminalization and threats against dissenting voices, particularly towards civil society, media and members of the opposition.
From June 2020 to May this year, my Office documented 97 such incidents related to human rights defenders, the vast majority charged with criminal offences for taking part in legitimate forms of civic engagement. These are further signs of shrinking civic space and deepening polarization. The arrest of three representatives of the NGO Fundaredes three days ago is a worrying example. I take the opportunity to request that they be guaranteed urgent access to an attorney of their choosing.
Any legislative or regulatory development should seek to strengthen confidence-building measures and inclusive decision-making. I encourage authorities to continue revising the legal framework in concrete ways on certain issues such as the imposition of disproportionate oversight on civil society, and conflating humanitarian and human rights activities with terrorism.
I welcome the recent efforts made to address some of my previous recommendations, and call for these efforts to continue. I equally welcome the authorities’ commitment to collaborate with my Office, and I continue to extend my hand so that I and my Office can accompany the genuine implementation of the announced reforms to achieve concrete improvement for human rights in Venezuela.