President Hugo Chávez Frías took office for a third term in January and Congress granted him powers to pass legislation by decree for 18 months on a wide range of issues including public security and institutional reform. In December, Venezuelans rejected controversial constitutional changes in a referendum. Concerns had been expressed, including by the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Human Rights Defenders and the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, that some of the constitutional changes proposed would have curtailed fundamental human rights.
Violence against women
A new law on the right of women to live free from violence came into force in March. Although women victims of violence are guaranteed greater protection under the new legislation, a fully resourced plan of action to implement the law had not yet been developed by the end of the year.
The authorities did not take effective action to stop an escalation of violence in the context of demonstrations by supporters and opponents of government policies. There were reports of violent clashes between civilians, and between civilians and police officers throughout the year which resulted in scores of injuries and at least two deaths.
Scores of demonstrators, mainly students, including several who were under 18 were injured or arrested in the context of protests over the authorities’ decision not to renew the licence of Radio Caracas Televisión (RCTV) in May. Several police officers were also injured in the clashes.
Confrontations between both law enforcement officials and demonstrators, and between demonstrators and armed civilians, also took place in the context of tensions over the proposed constitutional reforms.
Human rights defenders
Human rights defenders continued to face intimidation and attack.
- José Luis Urbano, human rights defender and president of the Organization for the Defence of the Right to Education (Pro-Defensa del Derecho a la Educación) was shot and wounded in February, in his home town of Barcelona, in the northern state of Anzoátegui. The attack appeared to have been linked to his public criticism of the quality of education available to poor children in the state and his allegations of corruption. José Luis Urbano received protection until April. However, by the end of the year no one had been brought to justice for the attack.
Police and security services
According to the Attorney General, between 2000 and 2007 more than 6,000 complaints were filed at his office for alleged extrajudicial executions by the police. Of the 2,000 officers reportedly involved, less than 400 had been provisionally detained by the end of the year.
None of the recommendations made by the National Commission for Police Reform had been implemented by the end of the year. Among the recommendations of the Commission were measures to improve the accountability of the police, training on human rights and the use of force, the regulation and control of arms used by the security forces, and legislation to integrate the different police bodies.
The use of firearms in killings and other violent crimes remained high, including in prisons. The Scientific, Penal and Criminal Investigations Unit, which carries out criminal investigations under the supervision of the Attorney General’s Office, registered 9,568 homicides from January to September 2007, 852 more than during the same period in 2006. Despite the fact that firearms were involved in most of these killings, no steps were taken to implement the recommendations of the National Plan to Control Arms which came into force in 2006.
Amnesty International visit
- An Amnesty International delegation visited Venezuela in July to research violations against women.