GENEVA (18 December 2020) – UN human rights experts* today urged Venezuela to end its crackdown on civil society organisations.
“Since November 2020 Venezuela has systematically stigmatized and persecuted civil society organisations, dissenting voices and human rights defenders, and this must stop” the experts said.
“Given the worrying socio-economic situation the country has been in, worsened during the pandemic, national and international civil society organisations are more than ever essential in ensuring human rights compliant access to basic needs and services,” they said. “Their role in protecting human rights and assisting vulnerable populations must be protected, not undermined.”
They called on members of the new National Assembly elected last week to pass legislation to protect NGOs and human rights defenders in line with international human rights obligations that Venezuela has assumed.
They also encouraged the new National Assembly, scheduled to take office on 5 January 2021, to abolish current restrictive legislation, particularly the 2017 “Law Against Hate” that the experts said has been used to silence human rights defenders and critical voices.
“Freedom of association and freedom of expression are essential pillars of a democratic society,” the experts said. “Venezuela must stop trying to control civil society organisations and stop publicly stigmatizing their leaders and criminalising the work of civil society and human rights defenders.”
It appears that the new National Assembly will prioritise adoption of a law that would significantly restrict access to foreign funding for non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
This comes after many controls have been placed on civil society in recent months, such as enhanced oversight of NGO’s funding and financial operations ordered by the office of the bank sector’s superintendent, known as SUDEBAN.
“These measures have had paralyzing effects on NGOs that provide humanitarian support for vulnerable populations, leading to aggravated violations of economic and social rights of those people these NGOs intend to serve” the experts said.
The experts have previously shared their concerns that laws such as the “Law against Organised Crime and Financing of Terrorism” can be used to limit the activities of civil society organisations.
“Civil society plays a key role in promoting and protecting human rights,” the experts said. “Now more than ever, the human rights and humanitarian situation in Venezuela calls for civil society, including human rights defenders, to be supported and protected”.
* The Experts: Clément Voule, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights Defenders and Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism.
Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
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