Attacks on journalists were widespread. Human rights defenders continued to suffer harassment. Prison conditions provoked hunger strikes in facilities across the country. Some significant steps were taken to implement the 2007 law on violence against women but there was a lack of commitment from many of the authorities responsible. Lack of arms control contributed to high levels of violence and public insecurity.
On 31 July the enabling law that empowered President Hugo Chávez Frías to pass legislation by decree on a wide range of issues including public security and institutional reform came to an end with legislative power returning in its entirety to the National Assembly. During the 18 months the law was in force, President Chávez issued a total of 66 decrees covering a wide range of issues.
A law on national intelligence and security passed by presidential decree in May was withdrawn the following month following protests against several aspects of the law, including a provision that would have obliged people to inform on each other or face prosecution.
There were reports of physical attacks on journalists, by both security forces and by civilians. Public insecurity remained an issue, with high numbers of small arms in circulation, including within the prison system.
"...human rights activists supporting the Yukpa Indigenous community were harassed and detained..."
Local elections for mayors and governors took place in November. Implementation of anti-corruption orders against a number of public officials effectively prevented them from standing for election. The Supreme Court of Justice upheld the constitutionality of these orders in August.
In December, the Supreme Court ruled that a decision by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights that three judges should be reinstated and compensated for their removal from their posts, was “unforceable”. The judges had been dismissed in 2003. There was concern that the Supreme Court decision could undermine provisions in the Constitution guaranteeing the implementation of rulings by international bodies.
Violence against women and girls
Some advances, including the training of public prosecutors and the setting up of specialized tribunals, were reported during the year. However, some authorities with duties and responsibilities under the 2007 Law for the Right of Women to Live a Life Free from Violence – such as the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Interior and Justice and regional authorities – failed to fulfil their obligations. At the end of the year there were still no shelters in most of the country and insufficient training had been put in place to enable police officers to implement the law effectively. In addition, perpetrators in cases preceding the 2007 law continued to enjoy impunity for their crimes.
- Alexandra Hidalgo was kidnapped and subjected to a seven-hour ordeal during which she was raped and tortured by a group of men in May 2004. Only two of her attackers had been brought to trial by the end of 2008. She was not provided with adequate protection despite receiving anonymous threats and the fear of reprisals from her former husband, whom she accused of being among her attackers. Although an arrest warrant had been issued for her husband, he remained at liberty at the end of the year.
Human rights defenders
Government officials attempted to undermine legitimate human rights work by making unfounded accusations against human rights organizations.
Local human rights activists supporting the Yukpa Indigenous community who were involved in a dispute with local landowners over land rights in Machiques in the State of Zulia were harassed and detained in August. An official investigation was initiated following the death in July of the elderly father of Sabino Romero Izarra, one of the community leaders; he was allegedly beaten to death by armed men.
In September, two senior officials of the international NGO Human Rights Watch were expelled from the country following the launch of a report criticizing the government’s human rights record.
- Human rights defender José Luis Urbano was repeatedly threatened because of his work as President of the Foundation for the Defence of the Right to Education (Fundación Pro-Defensa del Derecho a la Educación). In May, the director of a school where he had exposed irregularities threatened him and called for him to be attacked. Also in May he received anonymous death threats by telephone. In September, state police tried to break into his sister’s home, shouting threats against her brother. It is believed this was in reprisal for José Luis Urbano having reported harassment from a member of the same police force. Although the threats were reported to the authorities, it was not known if any investigations had been initiated by the end of the year.
In February, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ordered the authorities to implement measures to protect prisoners in Rodeo prison in the State of Miranda. Conditions in prisons led to a series of hunger strikes and other protests in jails throughout the country during 2008.
Police and security forces
In April, President Chávez approved a new Police Law which had been drafted by a National Police Reform Commission. Among the issues highlighted by the Commission were the need to control police use of guns and to devise and implement a code of police conduct.
The Attorney General’s Office announced that it would create a designated investigation team in 2009 to look into more than 6,000 reported cases of extrajudicial executions in which people were killed in confrontations with police between 2000 and 2007.