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UPR of Venezuela: concerns over human rights defenders and freedom of expression
Thursday, 13 October 2011 10:24

 

The Working Group on the UPR met on 7 October 2011 to review the human rights situation in Venezuela.  The Venezuelan delegation was relatively large, comprising 11 members (three women) and including the Minister for Internal Relations, the Minister for Indigenous Peoples, the President of the Supreme Court, the Attorney General, various vice ministers, and the head of the delegation Mr Nicolas Maduro Moros, the Minister of Foreign Affairs.  The delegation began its report somewhat aggressively, speaking of the ‘historical struggle’ against repression under the previous colonial regime and referring to a ‘colonialist genocide’.  The discrimination and inequality under this regime were used to contrast with the current Government’s policies which focus on reducing these inequalities.  Mr Moros stated the current Government’s view that human rights are ‘universal and indivisible’, and that the country’s Constitution set the foundation for participatory democracy and the rule of law.

 

The delegation stated that its report was the result of wide and open consultation with community groups and NGOs, involving 75 consultation meetings and the creation of a webpage. It set out Venezuela’s achievements in the field of human rights, including a significant reduction in extreme poverty in the country, the creation of a health plan providing access to free public health centres for 80% of the population, accession to the UN Convention Against Torture, the Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers, and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the introduction of policies to safeguard the rights of indigenous peoples.

 

There were a large number of States scheduled to speak, however due to time constraints only 50 were able to do so.  The main comments, questions and recommendations offered by States were as follows:

  • Recommendations to accede to the Convention on Enforced Disappearances, the Convention on the Rights of Disabled Persons, the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture, and to ratify the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons.
  • Concern over executive interference with the independence and impartiality of the judiciary; recommendations to investigate and some specific recommendations for the release of Judge María Lourdes Afiuni.[1]
  • Recommendations to improve protection of human rights defenders, who are often subjected to threats and aggression; to develop a national human rights plan and to include NGOs and civil society in the follow-up to the review.
  • Concerns regarding the deterioration of freedom of speech (as reported by UNESCO), specifically ‘social responsibility’ laws applied to the media and the criminalisation of dissent; recommendations to provide for plurality and diversity in the media by bringing laws on media freedom into line with international human rights standards.
  • Recommendations to extend a standing invitation to all UN Special Procedures.
  • Concern about conditions in Venezuelan prisons, particularly the high incidence of extreme violence; recommendations to ensure the country’s prisons comply with international rules on the treatment of prisoners.
  • Recommendations to address the issue of aggression and torture by security forces and the so-called ‘culture of impunity’ by prosecuting and punishing those involved, and providing human rights training to all those working in law enforcement and the justice system.
  • Recommendations to reform the prosecution system as a high level of violent crime goes unprosecuted, and to take further measures to combat human trafficking and illegal firearms
  • Recognition of progress in the areas of drugs, food security, access to education and reduction of racism.
  • Praise for public health efforts including the provision of free medical care to all HIV sufferers.
  • Recommendations to continue efforts to improve women’s rights and women’s participation in public life and eliminate violence against women; commendation of the establishment of a Ministry for Women’s Equality.
  • Recommendations to continue progress with policies for the protection of indigenous rights.
  • Praise for the successful reduction of extreme poverty in such a short space of time and the attainment of the MDG on eradication of poverty and hunger; recommendation to continue efforts in this area and further efforts towards reaching the MDGs on universal primary education and reduction of infant mortality.

Venezuela responded four times during the interactive dialogue; with statements from several high office holders in the delegation.  Although responses were structured and prepared, they were often not particularly detailed, only citing a few specific examples of measures taken to promote human rights.  The delegation disputed the ‘defamatory claims’ by States that freedom of expression is restricted in Venezuela; and explained the selection process for judges in response to claims of executive influence in the judiciary.   Examples of measures to improve human rights in prisons were provided, including the submission of a draft code on prison reform to Parliament and the provision of training for prison wardens.  The delegation also highlighted its high matriculation rate in higher education, and its status as the State with the lowest index of inequality in Latin America.  At the end of the dialogue, the Minister for Indigenous Peoples, a member of one of Venezuela’s indigenous communities, made a short statement about the previous repression of indigenous people, and current measures to return some indigenous lands and translate official texts into indigenous languages.

 

Of 148 recommendations, Venezuela accepted 95 (75 of which were said to be already implemented), postponed a decision on 15 until the 19th session of the Human Rights Council in March 2012, and rejected 38.  In its closing comments the delegation attacked the recommendations of some States as insults to Venezuela made by colonial powers who finance terrorism; and reiterated its commitment to human rights.



[1] Judge Afiuni has been arbitrarily detained since 2009 (first in a violent women’s prison and now under house arrest) after ruling on the release of a prisoner deemed to be arbitrarily detained, in line with a recommendation from the Working Group on arbitrary detention.  President Hugo Chavez has called for a 30-year sentence on charges of corruption, and she is set to be tried before a judge who is an open supporter of the President.  This has led to particular concern about the issue of reprisals against human rights defenders cooperating with the UN human rights mechanisms: http://archived2013.ishr.ch/archive-council/1022-reprisals-a-key-issue-during-interactive-dialogue-on-arbitrary-detention-idps-and-disappeances

 
Last Updated on Thursday, 13 October 2011 10:24
 
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