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The Human Rights Committee considers the report of Venezuela, discusses methods of work

Human Rights Committee

30 June 2015

The Human Rights Committee yesterday and today considered the fourth periodic report of Venezuela on its implementation of the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Committee also discussed methods of work.
The report was presented by the Attorney General of Venezuela, Ms. Luisa Ortega Diaz, who stressed that the right to life in Venezuela was sacred, and the Constitution prohibited the death penalty.  Public policy programmes had been designed to ensure peaceful coexistence and the elimination of violence.  The right to freedom of peaceful assembly was enshrined in the Constitution. Public demonstrations took place on a daily basis, and were a proof of political pluralism.  Freedom of expression was a full right in Venezuela, as was the right to elect representatives through an electoral system considered as one of the best in the world.  The Venezuelan Government had ensured that those deprived of liberty enjoyed all human rights, including the right to education. 

In the interactive dialogue, Committee Experts noted that Venezuela had undertaken major efforts by way of training law enforcement and legal officers in the area of human rights.  Major steps had also been taken in terms of combatting violence against women, namely with the adoption of the Law on the Right to Life of Women, as well as the establishment of 23 specialized courts on violence against and the National Commission on Gender and Justice. Experts were concerned about the Government’s crackdown of over 3,000 citizens who had been involved in peaceful protest at the beginning of 2014, over two thirds of whom had been arrested.  Questions were also raised on the independence of the judiciary, the Prosecutor’s Office and the Ombudsman, political prisoners, censorship of the media, low-age limit for marriage, the rights of lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and trans-sexual individuals, and the gender pay gap.

In concluding remarks, Ms. Ortega Diaz invited non-governmental organisations to engage in a constructive dialogue in order to improve public policies on human rights.  The proceedings against Leopoldo Lopez were being debated in a public trial.  The Public Prosecutor’s office had ensured the upholding of his rights and decent prison conditions;   all detainees were ensured medical services.  Ms. Ortega Diaz reiterated the interest of Venezuela in maintaining a constructive dialogue with the Human Rights Committee.   Thanks to the opportunity provided, Venezuela was able to tell the story of many achievements it has made.

Victor Manuel Rodriguez-Rescia, Chairperson of the Committee, in his concluding remarks, stressed that that the aim of Committee was to be constructive and help State officials counter various human rights issues.  The Committee was not there to judge the State, but to supervise the way in which the commitments made by the State complied with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.  The interventions of all colleagues meant to give the State an opportunity to respond, not as in a trial, but in an interactive dialogue. The achievements made were noted, but naturally, the Committee focused on the shortcomings and how those could be tackled. 

The Venezuelan delegation included representatives from  the General Attorney’s Office, Presidential Commission for Peace and Life, Supreme Court of Justice, National Electoral Council, National Commission on Telecommunications, Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Indigenous Peoples, Ministry of Internal Relations, Justice and Peace, National Commission on Human Rights, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Penitentiary Services, and the Permanent Mission of Venezuela in Geneva.

Following the interactive dialogue with Venezuela, the Committee discussed methods of work and the marking of the 50th anniversary of the Covenant in 2016.  The overall theme of the anniversary would be “freedom”.  The Committee was also briefed about the 27th annual meeting of Chairpersons of human rights treaty bodies, which had taken place in San Jose, Costa Rica, the previous week.

The Committee will next meet in public tomorrow, 1 July at 3 p.m. to start its review of the seventh periodic report of the United Kingdom (CCPR/C/GBR/7).

The fourth periodic report of the Venezuela is available here: CCPR/C/VEN/4
Presentation of the Report

LUISA ORTEGA DIAZ, Attorney General of Venezuela, presenting the report, said that the right to life in Venezuela was sacred, and that the Constitution prohibited the death penalty.  Public policy programmes had been designed to ensure peaceful coexistence and the elimination of violence.  A special emphasis was made on strengthening peace and life in the community, and controlling and curbing crime.  Significant progress had also been achieved by way of technical and vocational training; National Experimental University for Security had been created several year earlier, for example.  As part of the policy to control weapons and dismantle armed groups, Venezuela had undertaken mass campaigns for voluntary decommissioning, thanks to which 26,580 firearms had been decommissioned. In terms of the prohibition of torture and personal integrity,  a number of laws had been enacted, such as the Victims and Protection Act.  Those had led to 80 cases of torture and over 1,000 cases of cruel and degrading treatment being heard since 2014.  A laboratory of experts in criminal investigation independent from all other bodies had been established and dealt with 15,929 cases.  

Having in mind the cruel past of Venezuela, in which thousands of citizens had been repressed between 1958 and 1998, Venezuela was moving from a previously authoritarian regime to a democratic one.  One of the most brutal acts during that period had occurred in February 1989, and not a single person had been punished; that was being done only now.  The Act to Punish Crime, Disappearances and Torture had been enacted, and had led the way to creating the Commission of Truth and Justice, which would punish perpetrators and compensate victims.  A total of 108 criminal acts had been identified thus far, and 16 victims had been compensated.  Ms. Diaz underlined the important role played by the Ombudsman’s Office and the Prosecutor, especially with regards to their meetings with victims and those who were currently on trial.  The Venezuelan Government had ensured that those deprived of liberty enjoyed all human rights, including the right to education.  In order to speed up criminal proceedings, special criminal courts had been created.  An amendment had been passed on the law on the right of women to live free from violence, thus combating femicide.  Trafficking, slavery and forced labour were also forbidden.  Freedom of expression was a full right in Venezuela, as was the right to elect representatives through an electoral system considered as one of the best in the world. 

The right to freedom of peaceful assembly was enshrined in the Constitution. Public demonstrations took place on a daily basis, and were a proof of political pluralism. Demonstrations had to be within the law and rights or freedoms could not be exercised at the expense of security.  In the beginning of 2014, there had been  an offensive that tried to depose the democratically elected government.  The demonstrators had blocked roads using barricades, damaged private and public property and done other acts which endangered the public safety.  That had led to 878 injuries, of whom 278 had been members of the state security services.  Over 40 individuals had lost their lives, including police members and public prosecutors.  It was strange that some media and even some human rights defenders had called those perpetrators of violence “peaceful demonstrators.” The perpetrators had been brought to trial with all due process guarantees.   Since 2008, a law had been enacted regulating police service, which provided that the level of force used had to be proportional to the level of resistance. 

Questions by the Experts

Opening the interactive dialogue, a Committee Expert asked for examples of rulings to show how the judges apply the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as a domestic law.  In that respect, the delegation was asked to clarify the Supreme Court ruling that denounced the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruling

Referring to the independence of judicial powers from executive and legislative, the Expert asked the delegation to provide a list of laws which had criminalized acts outside the legislative power and to comment on the principle of good faith to honour Conventions.

The delegation was also asked to comment the fact that the Ombudsman’s Office had been assessed to be non-compliant with the Paris Principles, due to the lack of independence.  The State had been given one year to show its interest in reforming the process.  What had the State done to ensure that the Ombudsman would be elected on the basis of the Constitutional standards which Venezuela had? 

An Expert asked about prison conditions, which the Inter-American Court of Human Rights had qualified as among the most violent in the world.  There was evidence of disappearances, assassinations, the lack of HIV treatment, overcrowding, hunger strikes, and violence.  What measures had been taken to improve the situation? 

What did the State do to ensure that the police were well informed about their rules of engagement?  

The delegation was asked to give a breakdown of the figures regarding people in pre-trial detention.

The independence and impartiality of judges was raised. 

The average number of people deprived from liberty had risen from 50.4 to 170 per 100,000 inhabitants, another Expert noted.  What measures were taken to ensure that those persons could have medical facilities that were up to the standards?  There was evidence of invasive searches of their relatives, and rifles in prisons that fostered clashes between different groups.  Were detainees given military training? 

The delegation was also asked to give an approximate date on when the reforms on the bill and national plan on people trafficking would come into force.

An Expert stated that he appreciated some of the legislative measures taken, notably the law on the right of women to a life free from violence.  The text referred to femicide as a crime, which was a positive development.  Another Expert noted that the implementation of the law in practice was quite slow and the allocated resources had not been used effectively.  What was the function of the work of the National Commission on Gender and Justice in that regard? 

The Expert also commended the HIV act, which aimed to protect individuals who were HIV-positive.  

What were the prosecutorial authorities doing in the area of enforcing laws against discrimination on the basis of gender or sexual orientation?  What other measures had the State taken to create a climate of tolerance in the society?

Clarifications were also sought regarding the National Crime Prevention Programme and the budget of the Ombudsman.

Experts were pleased with the amendments pertaining to the marriage age, however they asked for more information on the provisions on adultery.

Were there any measures in place to address the gender pay gap

The delegation was asked to comment on forced pregnancy, which was also to be one of the crimes that had to be enumerated in the law.  One of the replies had said that the absence of a specialized court made it difficult to prove cases prior to 2011.  Could that be clarified?

On torture and use of force by law enforcement officials, an Expert said that only 3.1 percent of the over 3,000 complaints had been investigated.  Could more statistics be provided?  Only 12 officials had been punished for torture.  More information was needed.

An independent medical expert report had confirmed cases of torture and rape during detention; however the persecutors had not been prosecuted.  The delegation was asked to comment.

Another Expert asked about setting up a mechanism for regular checks on the health of detainees, including pre-trial detainees. 

Regarding the violent demonstrations in the first half of 2014, the Committee had received allegations that over 3,000 people had been arrested, the majority of whom had not been informed of reasons for their arrest.  They could not speak to a lawyer, and some were moved to detention centers before their relatives were informed.  Experts inquired about the case of Jerardo Guerrero, who had repeatedly requested to be attended by a physician and had not been granted one.  The practice of incommunicado detention was raised.  Protective measures were not respected by law enforcement officials, especially when the perpetrators were pro-government gang groups.

A Committee Expert also asked about the criminalization of abortion. What steps had been taken to comply with the Committee’s recommendations?

Responses by the Delegation

Responding to the questions, Ms. Luisa Ortega Diaz, head of the delegation, said that 70 minutes had been spent putting questions to the delegation and voicing their views, while only 28 minutes were dedicated to concrete questions.  The remaining 43 minutes had been interpretations and voicing of views of the Committee Experts.  The delegation felt as if the Committee Experts were prosecution lawyers, whereas the forum was intended for discussing and debating human rights. 

Regarding the Committee Expert’s comment on a judge who had been allegedly raped or tortured, the delegation stated that it was not true, similar to many accusations been made during the meeting.  It was also untrue that an accused person had been given a military medical evaluation; the person in question had been examined by the medical unit of the Prosecutor’s Office.   All arrested persons were given medical attention, and the Public Prosecutor’s Office had created its own medical unit in order to ensure that, and in order to ensure that evidence collected in the investigation was independent.  The laboratory was unique in the world and existed only to investigate human rights violations, when a detainee showed signs of ill-treatment or abuse.  All judicial proceedings were transparent. 

When a woman was  ill-treated, she would go to special units, called CONAPRA, standing for “National Protection for Victims and Other Party Proceedings”, used for protecting victims.  The coordination role was provided by the Prosecutor’s Office.  If a woman victim or witness was in fear of her life, her identity could be changed, and all costs incurred were covered by the State. Thus, the State was particularly meticulous when it came to protecting female victims.   In the context of violence against women, the delegation could provide precise statistics, thanks to a data system in the Prosecutor’s Office.

In reference to the so-called “peaceful demonstrations”, the delegation explained that 43 people had lost their lives and 178 had been injured in its course.  The police had to follow rules when arresting individuals and there were 14 members of the police in detention.  The information of the case of Jerardo Guerrero would soon be conveyed to the Committee. 

With reference to the mismatch between number of cases brought to courts and the number of prosecutions,  that was due to the fact that not all cases were criminal in nature.  Out of the  3,351 detained during the protests, 1,700 had been released immediately because there was no compromising evidence.  The appropriate proceedings were followed.   Venezuela had an adversarial system, as opposed to the inquisitorial system, which punished people without due process. 

The delegation said that there were very important rulings on collective and general rights by the Supreme Court of Justice to ensure that there medicine for the HIV-positive individuals was provided by the social security system free of charge.  Other rulings provided for the cancellation of index-related mortgages; recalculated  interest rates of credit cards; prohibition of breast implants not authorized by the State; and the accountability of doctors and clinics to remove bad implants, and pay compensation to the victims. 

International human rights treaties had constitutional value, and along with the Constitution they formed the so-called “Constitutional block.”  All rulings had to be examined by the Constitutional Chamber, which meant that acts or emissions by other powers were examined and the Constitutional Court could provide transitional rulings or could explain how unconstitutional acts could be remedied. 

In response to the 2008 Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruling, the delegation said that the applicability of the decision had been considered impossible because it was interfering with the sovereignty of the judiciary of Venezuela.

On the question of the separation of powers, the Constitution noted that the President was assigned the power to legislate through decree laws, with prior authorization of the National Assembly.  Legislative power could thus be shared by the national executive when enabling legislation was in place.  

Regarding the concerns on how the Venezuelan state and the courts had tackled the problem of violence against women,  the delegation explained that Venezuela had established a specialized court and 23 courts for such offences.  The Law for Women’s Rights to a life Free of Violence criminalized femicide, and was the first of thatkind in Latin America.  There were 76 judges who dealt with cases of violence in the country, and over 41,900 decisions had been handed down by them. 

Regarding the appointment process of the Ombudsman, and the accusation that constitutional procedures had not been respected, the delegation stated that the Constitution set down the procedure to be followed, and gave a body, namely the Moral Republican Power, the power to put together a committee to look at the applications.  In the case the body did not appoint an Ombusman, then the National Assembly would do so.

With regard to the Commission of Inquiry on the people who had disappeared  from 1958 to 1999, it was explained that the figures given earlier were correct.  The number excluded the Caracas victims, because many had been buried in mass graves and were difficult to identify.

Regarding the discriminatory provisions referred to as obsolete or old, the Constitutional Chamber had tried to remedy such provisions or tone them down.  For example, the 2013 act ,preventing women from marrying again after their marriage, had been revoked by the Constitutional Chamber. 

In response to the alleged disparity of figures on violence against women provided by courts and the Office of the Prosecutor, the delegation explained that the Office of the Prosecutor looked at the beginning of the investigations, while the provided figures did not chronologically match the beginning of the trial.

Follow-Up Questions by the Experts
A Committee Expert asked for a clarification on the age of marriage, and whether it was meant for both boys and girls.  

Another Expert also asked a clarification on the statistics on extrajudicial killings.  How many people had been prosecuted and convicted for those?

The delegation was also asked to comment on arbitrary detentions and the right to life.

Trafficking issues were raised by an Expert, who asked for more details.

More information was required on conditions in the Prison La Tumba (The Tomb), as well as on enforced disappearances.  Was there a specific plan to search the disappeared?  There were 10 cases in the files that had still not been addressed by the Government, and some updated information on those would be welcome.

The delegation was asked to clarify actions undertaken with respect to violence against women, and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual individuals. 

Several Committee Experts responded to the concern raised by the delegation regarding the “unfriendly” ambiance of the Committee.  They clarified that they did not act as judges, but tried to gather more information, in a constructive manner.  They stated that they hoped that the dialogue would help the delegation find the answers.

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation, in response to the additional questions by the Committee Experts, referring to the demonstrations between February and June 2014 and the excessive use of force, explained that 36 law enforcement officers had been charged with improper use of force and firearms, and ill-treatment of citizens.  There were 1,659 arrested protesters whose cases had been dismissed, and, of those, 1,558 had been fully released. 

The murder rate figures provided by the Committee had been overstated, the delegation noted.  In 2014, there were 62 murders for every 100,000 inhabitants.  The State was constantly monitoring the phenomenon of murder and violence, which underpinned the State policy to fight crime.  The Public Prosecutor’s Office was involved in an anti-murder campaign.  A total of 26,518 firearms had been decommissioned in 2014, as part of the law enforcement agency plan to dismantle armed groups in an effort to bring down the violence. 

Concerning armed security, Article 322 of the Constitution stated that public security bodies were civilian in nature, which was why a new civilian police model was being brought up and was currently in a transitional phase. 

In response to the question on the minimum age for marriage, a delegation member explained that 16 was the minimum age of marriage for all citizens.   The Chamber had also suggested to raise the age to 18, and had put that idea forward to the National Assembly.  

Regarding the question on enabling legislation that could encroach Constitutional powers, the delegation said that the Constitutional Chamber had interpreted the violation of the independence of powers with the ruling 203 of 26 March 2014.  The ruling found that the Constitution provided the President with broad competencies to adopt decrees which had legal force and which could take the form of an ordinary or organic law.

On the crime of femicide, the National Assembly had approved the partial reform of the Act on the Right of Women to a Life Free from Violence of 2007, in which femicide was criminalized.  The State strengthened efforts to attack that social phenomenon, undertaking 52 investigations which had led to 19 accusations.  A total of 63,181 complaints had been received since 2014, and 16,000 complaints in 2015.

The delegation informed that there were three female heads of public institutions, a female Minister of Foreign Affairs, and a female Minister of Defence.  The laws provided for affirmative action, and in regional elections 2008 a resolution had been adopted to incorporate 40-60 percent of women in the electoral lists.  In local and regional nominations, there had been an increase from 19 percent in 2004 to 51 percent of women on the lists in 2008.  Legislation had been adopted, making it mandatory that all electoral lists have 50 percent women on the lists.

Regarding the question on why the unit for forensic legal service had been created under the Prosecutor’s Office and not Ministry of Health, the delegation stated that it had been done in order to ensure independence from police involvement in investigations related to the excessive use of force by law enforcement officers. 

Follow-up Questions by the Experts
An Expert noted that the Inter-American Court of Human Rights had provided a safeguard to protect the independence of judges and their appointment.  The temporary appointment of judges was an old problem in Venezuela.  The Expert wanted to know what the current number of permanent judges was, and what the current procedures in place to appoint and dismiss judges were.  The Inter-American Commission had stated that in 2009 a number of judges had been dismissed due to political reasons.  Could the delegation comment on the details of the preliminary hearings in the case of the judge María Lourdes Afiuni, where there was no tangible evidence of bribe?

Experts were also concerned about the independence of prosecutors in the Prosecutor’s Office, where decisions on appointment and dismissal were made on discretionary basis and without proper procedures.  There were many prosecutors who held temporary positions, and only 5 percent of the prosecutors had been appointed through public decision.
On the independence of lawyers, and specifically regarding a lawyer who refused to take part in a hearing because he questioned the independence of the procedure, the delegation was asked to clarify the reasons for his arrest, other than his refusal to participate in the case. 

Regarding conscientious objectors from the military service, an Expert was pleased to see that those were not obliged to serve in the military.  However, he expressed concern about their legal protection, and asked the delegation to clarify the scope of the legal protection, especially having in mind that the 2009 Law on Military Inscription sanctioned failure to enlist in the military. 

On the issue of pre-military training in the education system, which was a compulsory high school subject, had the State observed the recommendations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child?

An Expert expressed concern on the freedom of the media.  Provisions regarding public interest exceeded the scope of restrictions enumerated in Articles 19 and 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights because they were either too vague or too broad.  The Expert asked the delegation to comment what were the grounds for restricting private media.  The delegation was asked to comment on Global Vision, which had broadcast the prison riots in 2011, and had thereafter been subjected to fines and on the Columbian Television Channel NTN, 24 which had been blocked following the 2014 protests.  

Experts were concerned that the report of Conatel, the National Telecommunications Commission, showed that it was monitoring tens of thousands of broadcast hours, and this led to fear and possible self-censorship.  The delegation was asked to comment on the reason why such excessive review was necessary.  A couple of Experts were concerned by the non-transparent nature of the National Telecommunications Commission and wanted to know how the commissioners of Conatel were being appointed and to what extent the President was involved.

On the issue of the law on defamation, the delegation was asked to comment on why its provisions had been expanded and why was defamation criminalized.   They were also asked to comment on the travel bans of several journalists. 

With regard to human rights defenders, rhe delegation was asked to explain several specific cases, namely the murder of the human rights defender Mijail Martínez in 2009 and the threats against his father, Víctor Martínez in June 2010 and January 2012; the threats against Humberto Prado Sifontes, Director of the Venezuelan Prison Observatory, in June 2011 and May 2012; and the abduction of the husband of Marianela Sánchez Ortiz, an activist for the Observatory, in May 2012 and the threats against her in April 2013.  A Committee Expert was concerned that the death threats against Mr. Prado might have been induced by public climate of fear and asked the delegation to address that point.

An Expert took positive note of the State’s devotion regarding the demarcation of ancestral lands for indigenous populations, but requested an explanation on the causes of delay in the process.  What procedures were in place to ensure that indigenous populations were involved in consultations pertaining to their land? 

On the misuse of the military, an Expert asked for a clarification on whether civilians worked as part of the military.  Why did trade unionists have to be brought before military courts, and why were ordinary courts not able to deal with those issues? 

A number of Experts shared concern on the need to ensure compliance with integrity and security of human rights defenders, upon their return to Venezuela.   The delegation was asked to offer a guarantee that the security and integrity of human rights defenders would be totally respected. 

Additional information was requested on methods used for the participation of civil society in the preparation of the report, and the extent to which the civil society was involved in a non-discriminatory way. 

An Expert praised the Ninos and Ninas El Barrio Programme for protection children from sexual exploitation for commercial purposes, and asked for specific numbers of children involved.  He was concerned, however, about whether this Programme involved constraints against the freedom of street children.

In a related question, another Expert wished to know whether the provisions on the minimum age of 12 for sexual consent for girls had also been amended, in a similar fashion to those on the minimum age of marriage.

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation stated the Venezuelan State regretted the way in which some Committee Experts had led the meeting, which should have been in the spirit of constructive dialogue.  The delegation regretted that the Committee Experts had used the forum to express their non-objective views, and turned the Committee into a court hearing rather than a dialogue.  Venezuela demanded respect as it was currently a target of an international campaign.

In reference to Judge Maria Lourdes Afiuni, the delegation stressed that her case did not involve torture or rape, but rather ill-treatment. The delegation had a signed statement from Judge Afiuni, which would be provided to the Committee.  The rumors about the rape had started because of a book that had been published referring to the Judge.  Judge Afiuni had the same rights as any other citizen to initiate proceedings.  Venezuela ensured that human rights were remedied, and punished any civil servant who might have violated any citizen’s human rights.

Responding to the questions on the National Telecommunications Commission, the delegation stated that those were based on lies and misinterpretations of the Venezuelan reality.  There were two basic legal instruments which governed communications and telecommunications:  the Telecommunications Organic Act reformed of 2010 and the Organic Law on Telecommunications and Electronic Communications and Social Responsibility of 2004, subsequently amended.  Radio and telecommunications services were a public good and had to be managed in the public interest, with a view to national development, democratization, and political participation, and to ensure development of the telecommunications market. 

Regarding the 2004 Law, it was explained that censorship was forbidden in Venezuela.  Those who used radiofrequencies had responsibilities, as the frequencies belonged to all citizens.  Venezuela had 876 radio stations on FM and 192 radio stations on AM, as well as 117 open channel television stations. 68 percent of all FM operators were private and 89 percent of all AM operators were private entities, while 54 percent of open channel TV stations were private entities. 

The spirit of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights was respected in the Constitution and in the laws.  Only 26 investigations had been done in the previous eleven years, affecting only 16 radio and TV broadcasters, of which one  had been fined, namely Global Vision.  Only two channels had been closed, one of which had been public.  Those had been taken over by armed groups in a coup d’etat to overthrow President Chavez.  The ending of the operations of the Caracas Television was because its concession had simply terminated. 
Delegate explained that the Venezuelan State had never tried to block the internet or Twitter’s operations.  There were over one billion pages freely accessible in Venezuela.  There were certain websites, however, that had been blocked on a request by judges, and those involved pornography and the sale of fauna and flora of Venezuela.  The State had blocked over 1,000 such links, and 124 of these were from one provider.  Three websites had been blocked because they were taking money to support the protests in Venezuela.  Ad-hoc measures were being taken to protect the police and electoral databases, which had been hacked on several occasions.

With regard to care facilities for children and adolescents, the Children in Neighborhoods Programme had been drafted in order to take children off the streets, protect them and reduce violence.  Social and psychological workers worked with children up to the age of 12, as did mothers from the community who were trained by inter-disciplinary teams.  Child and Adolescent Protection Council guaranteed that there were no beatings, tying down, or forced treatment.

On the human rights of the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and trans-sexual community, the delegation said that a programme had been enacted.  On 8 March, the President and the Ombudsman had called upon the society to discuss the problem of homophobia in a national debate.  That followed a bill that the National Assembly had received promoting a law on same-sex marriage. 

Regarding violence in prisons, a delegate stated that in 1996, 25 detainees had been burned alive because of the action of the prison facility guards and those kinds of actions had been repeated.  That was why a specialized Ministry to deal with a new penitentiary regime had been created, providing a space for work, study, and social transformation of detainees.  Weapons in prison facilities had been almost completely eliminated, through a control system using body scanners, digital recordings, metal detectors and permanent checks.  Since the creation of the Ministry, there had been a dramatic reduction in deaths of detainees.

On the decriminalization of abortion, the delegation stated that judges did not investigate or prosecute the practice of abortion.  There were no criminal proceedings against such cases, but there were plans to overhaul the criminal law.  The President had called for a debate on abortion, which was still a very sensitive subject. 

In April 2014, the President had created the National Council of Human Rights, which was a collegiate body at the highest level, responsible for coordinating the Venezuelan policy on human rights.  During the first session, the Members had drawn a plan to respond to the still existing challenges in the area of human rights. 

Responding to the questions on the independence of judges, the delegations stated that since 2005, numbers of judges had increased because there were new courts on violence against women as well as criminal municipal courts.  The Supreme Court was aware of the need to regularize the appointment of judges, and was working on a law that would regulate the income and tenure of judges pursuant to a competition.  Oral, written, practical, psychiatric and medical exams were needed to evaluate the integrity of a judge, which was a complex procedure.  Over the previous four year there had been three competitions for judges.

Referring to questions on the monitoring of judges, 123 cases had been resolved by an Inspectorate tasked with monitoring the activities of judges.  The Judicial Disciplinary Tribunal referred to tenured judges, while the Commission looked at non-permanent judges.  Both permanent and non-permanent judges had stable employment.  The National School for Magistrates was constantly training judges, and until today, all judges in the country had been trained. 

On the case of the lawyer sentenced to six months in prison, the delegation explained that that had been done because he had interrupted the judge on various occasions, thus hindering the provision of justice.

The delegation, in response to questions on the rights of indigenous peoples, stated that consultations with indigenous peoples were ensured by the Organic Law for Indigenous Peoples.  A ruling was being drafted to ensure that those consultations took place in practice, as well as to ensure compensation for damage caused by lack of consultations.  Over 1,500 parliamentary assemblies of indigenous peoples had been consulted thus far.  Regarding land demarcation, until today, 93 new land titles had been handed over, covering 66.6 percent of all applications for demarcation.

In relation to the military decree in the Guajira Region, where illegal mining was particularly affecting the region, a decision had been made to appoint a special commission to address the needs of the indigenous peoples.
On the issue of the denunciation of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, a delegation member noted that it was the State’s right to ratify or denounce an international treaty.  In a debate in 2001, Venezuela had tried to contribute to reform of the biased and selective Inter-American system, but to no avail.  Up until 1998, that Commission had not dealt with the situation in Venezuela in spite of gross and systematic human rights violations.  In comparison, after 1998, there had been over 100 cases related to Venezuela, which showed the selectivity of the Commission.  

Concerning the persecution of non-governmental organisations, the delegation explained that all associations were free to establish themselves and exercise their activities freely.  Associations funded from abroad were not neutral, and by taking part in the political debate, they were politically contested.  There was no harassment or persecution against them.  Judgmental comments by Committee Experts were rejected.

Follow-up Questions

The Committee Chair stated that a great deal of valuable information had been provided, and reiterated that the Committee was not politically motivated.  The State party was respected, and it was vital that the State party also respect the Committee.  He noted that all State parties were treated in the same way.

An Expert asked for clarification on the paragraph regarding Conatel, which had identified 8,071 violations on television, and 6,740 violations on radio.

With respect to human rights defenders, the delegation was asked to respond to the recommendations of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in August 2014, especially regarding the situation of Mr. Lopez, Mr. Ceballos, and Mr. Ledezma,  in the aftermath of the 2014 events.

Another Expert regretted the way the dialogue had evolved due to the arguments on statistics, and reminded the delegation that access to information should not be restrained.  He asked the delegation to ensure that, when other reports were being prepared for the United Nations, access to information be granted.

An Expert regretted that a conspiracy theory had been put forward regarding the Committee’s work.  He asked for more information on the detainees, in particular Mr. Marcelo Crovato, who was detained as a lawyer, under very precarious conditions.  What proceedings had been brought against Mr. Alfredo Romero?  The Expert was pleased to hear clarifications regarding minors and street children.

Another Expert, referring to situations under which a judge could be dismissed, namely if he made a judicial error, asked for clarification on the type of error.   He also wanted a clarification on the request for dismissal.  Another Expert wanted to know the reason for distinction between the dismissals of judges who were permanent and those who were temporary.

An Expert noted that the reason for so many questions was the lack of information in the first place.

Concluding Remarks

Luisa Ortega Diaz, Public Prosecutor and Head of the Delegation, stated that detailed answers would be provided in writing, but wished to respond to the question on the measures for the protection for Umberto Prado, Director of the Venezuelan Prisons Observatory.  The measures had ensured presence of a police officer by his home.  Regarding the participation of human rights entities, Ms. Ortega Diaz pointed out that there were non-governmental organisations present, and she invited them to engage in a constructive dialogue in order to improve public policies on human rights.  The proceedings against Leopoldo Lopez were being debated in a public trial.  The Public Prosecutor’s office had ensured the upholding of his rights and decent prison conditions.  All detainees were ensured medical and forensic services.  Ms. Ortega Diaz reiterated the interest of Venezuela in maintaining a constructive dialogue with the Human Rights Committee.   Thanks to the time provided, Venezuela had been able to tell the story of many achievements in Venezuela.  Unfortunately, they had not had the time to finish.  The Venezuelan State was an absolute guarantor of human rights and promoted a society of peace and justice.      

Victor Manuel Rodriguez-Rescia, Chair of the Human Rights Committee, in concluding remarks, said that that was an important dialogue which improved over time.  The Committee was not there to judge the State, but to supervise the way in which the commitments made by the State complied with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.  The interventions of all colleagues meant to give the State an opportunity to respond, not as in a trial, but in an interactive dialogue. He hoped that another 15 years would not pass before the Committee would again see the delegation.  The achievements made were noted, but naturally, the Committee focused on the shortcomings and how those could be tackled.  In particular, the situation of Judge Afiuni would be closely followed.  The Chairperson thanked the delegation for the additional information provided, and explained that they were not obliged to answer all questions now, but could send their answers within 48 hours

Following the discussion on the fourth report of Venezuela, the Human Rights Committee discussed methods of work for the upcoming period and identified main issues to be addressed in the context of the preparations for the marking of the 50th anniversary of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, to be held in 2016.  In that context, the Rapporteur of the Working Group on the Preparations for the 50th anniversary, Simon Walker, explained some of the proposals that had been made.  Nigel Rodley was elected as a focal point for the Human Rights Committee.  The High Commissioner had agreed that the launch of the anniversary of the two Covenants be in December, and that “freedom” would be the overarching theme of the anniversary.  Members discussed how the anniversary could be used to raise the profile of the Committee and the Covenants.
Committee also discussed the meeting with States parties that would be held during the current session of the Committee.  The items suggested for the meeting with State parties were the latest General Comment on Article 9 and an update on Working Methods in light of the treaty body strengthening process, including the simplified procedure for list of issues prior to reporting.  Experts suggested discussing the follow-up procedure to views and concluding observations, and the anniversary of the Covenant.   They also asked for a clarification on the San Jose Declaration, adopted only a week earlier at the 27th annual meeting of Chairpersons of human rights treaty bodies, as well as whether the issue of reprisals would be covered with States parties.  An Expert suggested to put the appointment of a new Special Rapporteur on Reprisals as an item on the agenda. 
The meeting was closed with a discussion on the Draft agenda and the speakers’ list for the half-day discussion on the General Comment 36 on Article 6 on 14 July, and a briefing by the Committee Chair on the 27th annual meeting of Chairpersons of human rights treaty bodies.  The San Jos meeting had adopted a Joint Declaration related to human rights and the post-2015 Development Agenda.


For use of the information media; not an official record

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