Venezuela
Head of state and government
Hugo Chávez Frías
Death penalty
abolitionist for all crimes
Population
29.4 million
Life expectancy
74.4 years
Under-5 mortality
17.5 per 1,000
Adult literacy
95.2 per cent

Human rights defenders were threatened and politically motivated charges continued to be used against government critics. Accountability mechanisms to ensure justice or to act as an effective deterrent against police abuses remained weak. There were serious episodes of violence in the grossly overcrowded prison system leading to a number of deaths.

Background

Criminal and police violence remained a serious problem in Venezuela’s cities. In May, the government created the Presidential Commission for the Control of Arms, Munitions and Disarmament to tackle the proliferation of small arms fuelling the violence. In November President Chávez ordered National Guard troops onto the streets to tackle widespread violent crime.

There were ongoing social protests. The Venezuelan Social Conflict Observatory registered 497 protests in September alone on a range of issues including labour rights and public security.

In October, Venezuela’s human rights record was assessed under the UN’s Universal Periodic Review. States raised concerns about a number of issues including the independence of the judiciary, threats to and harassment of human rights defenders, prison conditions, freedom of expression and impunity.

In October, the Supreme Court breached legally binding international obligations by disregarding a ruling by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights that the ban be lifted on opposition politician Leopoldo López running for office.

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Human rights defenders

Human rights defenders were threatened and subjected to unfounded accusations by government officials and the state media. Human rights organizations were concerned that the lack of definition of “political rights” in the Law for the Defence of Political Sovereignty and National Self Determination, passed by the National Assembly in December 2010, could impede their work. The Law bans organizations considered to work for the defence of political rights from receiving international funding.

  • In June, Humberto Prado Sifontes, Director of the Venezuelan Observatory of Prisons, was subjected to a campaign of intimidation and death threats after he called on the government to peacefully address a riot at El Rodeo Prison. Following accusations by government ministers and official media against him, a blog published his contact details with a note that said: “Family information to come soon… so that the people can try him. Capital punishment.” His wife received an anonymous call stating that he “would be the next one to fall”.
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Police and security forces

There were continuing reports of human rights violations by the police, including unlawful killings and torture. Most of these abuses were not properly investigated and little, if any, judicial action was taken.

  • In May, Juan José Barrios was assassinated by two hooded men in Guanayén, Aragua state. He was the seventh member of the Barrios family to be killed in circumstances that suggested members of the Aragua State Police were involved. In January, Néstor Caudi Barrios, who had witnessed the extrajudicial execution of Narciso Barrios in 2003, was left with permanent injuries after being shot by two men on motorbikes. No progress had been reported in the investigations into these attacks by the end of the year.
  • In January, Daniel Antonio Núñez and his 16-year-old daughter Francis Daniela Núñez Martínez were beaten and threatened by police officers from the Caracas Investigative Police in an apparent attempt to intimidate them into testifying as witnesses to a shooting near their home.
  • In February, the former wife and young daughters of police officer Jonny Montoya received death threats. Jonny Montoya had complained about rising corruption under the former Chief Superintendent of the Municipal Police of Caracas.
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Repression of dissent

Politically motivated charges continued to be used against government critics.

  • In February Rubén González, Secretary General of the Orinoco Iron Miners’ Union, was convicted of crimes including incitement and conspiracy for organizing a strike in 2009 and was sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment. Three days later, the Supreme Court ordered his conditional release.
  • In July, Oswaldo Álvarez Paz, member of an opposition party and a former governor of Zulia state, was convicted by a criminal court in Caracas of disseminating “false information” following his criticism of the government which was broadcast on Globovisión in March 2010. He was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment; the judge subsequently allowed him to serve his sentence on conditional release.
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Independence of the judiciary

There were continuing concerns about the independence and impartiality of the judiciary.

  • In February, Judge María Lourdes Afiuni, arbitrarily detained in December 2009 after granting conditional release to banker Eligio Cedeño, was put under house arrest. She had been held in prison for more than a year where she was threatened and denied adequate medical attention. Judge Afiuni refused to enter the court house in protest against violations of due process. Her house arrest was extended by two more years in December.
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Prison conditions

Violence remained endemic in the chronically overcrowded prisons. In June, clashes between rival gangs in El Rodeo prison led to the deaths of some 27 prisoners.

In July, the Minister of Prison Services announced plans to release 40 per cent of the prison population to ease overcrowding. In November, she publicly threatened to dismiss judges who blocked her plans to speed up the trials of prisoners charged with minor offences. The Venezuelan Observatory of Prisons reported that in 2010 only a quarter of the prison population had been sentenced; the rest were on trial, awaiting a preliminary hearing or under investigation.

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Freedom of expression

There were further restrictions on freedom of expression. In October, the National Telecommunications Commission, the state media regulator, imposed a large fine on Globovisión for violating the Law on Social Accountability in Radio, Television and Electronic Media. The television station was accused of “justifying crime” and promoting “hatred for political reasons” for its coverage of the prison riot at El Rodeo. Globovisión, whose journalists have previously been threatened and attacked and which faced other administrative investigations, appealed against this latest action in November. The appeal was pending at the end of the year.

  • Leocenis García, editor of the weekly publication Sexto Poder, was arrested in August on charges of insulting public officials and offences based on gender in connection with the publication in August of a satirical article containing a photomontage of senior female government officials. He was conditionally released in November.
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Violence against women and girls

Violence against women remained pervasive. In spite of measures taken in recent years, the authorities had yet to issue an action plan to address violence against women or regulations on implementing the 2007 Organic law on the right of women to a life free of violence.

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