On Tuesday, June 10, 2014, nine human rights organizationsi presented the report «Venezuela 2014: Protests and Human Rights”, documenting the main patterns of violations that occurred between February and May 2014. This systematization seeks to reveal the government´s undemocratic treatment of social unrest, expressed in the streets in multiple forms, and to provide a comprehensive overview of the human rights violations that have occurred, so that the Venezuelan people may demand a thorough investigation and sanctions for those responsible.
The report is divided into six chapters: Violations of the right to peaceful demonstration; Excessive use of force and violations of personal security; Arbitrary detentions and violations of the right to due process; Violations of freedom of expression and attacks against journalists; Attacks against civilians in residential areas; and Violations of the right to life.
Violations of the right to peaceful demonstration. The report claims that statements made by senior officials of the Executive, violating due process, regarding who was to blame for the first three victims, killed on 2/12/14 in Caracas, made the conflict escalate dangerously. During the months of February and March 2014, it was estimated that at least 20 different forms of protests were deployed in 16 states, attended by 800,000 people. According to a sample taken in 7 states (Capital District, Lara, Táchira, Bolivar, Mérida, Carabobo and Zulia) between February and April 2014, 93.35% of the demonstrations were peaceful and 34.05 % were repressed. This figure contrasts with the highest number of those repressed by the government of the late President Chavez: 7% for 2009. Thus, President Nicolás Maduro´s Government is responsible for a 485% increase in the repression of protests when compared to his predecessor. The National Guard is the agency responsible for the majority of repressive conducts, while the states of Zulia and Lara had proportionately the higher numbers of such conducts recorded: in those states, one out every two protests was repressed.
Excessive use of force and violations of the right to personal security. In all of the cases documented, none of the police and military officials acted according to criteria of proportionality in the use of force and attention to minimizing the potential damage that their actions could generate. This report has documented and individualized 854 cases of persons injured or wounded in the context of the protests, between February and April 2014. Of the total, 138 were gunshot wounds while 330 were pellet wounds. The cases documented by the organizations indicate a 270% increase in the number of persons injured or wounded in relation to the 12 months of 2013, when 316 cases during demonstrations were reported. Also, the number of wounded and injured is the highest recorded in the last 10 years in the context of protests. Officials of the National Guard were responsible for 333 of the cases documented.
By the time this report was released, there had been 157 cases documented of torture and cruel, degrading and inhuman treatment. Allegations of torture and ill-treatment occurred in various detention centers; many detainees were victims of abuse in more than one detention center and during transfers. The more frequent types of physical abuse were blows and kicks, the latter frequently inflicted with military boots. Blows were also inflicted with the handle of handguns or with rifle butts, sometimes repeatedly. The report details individual cases, such as Marco Coello´s: at the headquarters of the Criminal Investigation Police (CICPC), officials wrapped his body with foam rubber and then beat him with bats and other blunt objects. Other cases are documented, such as the threats of sexual abuse against 6 female detainees.
Arbitrary arrests and violations of the right to due process. 3,127 arbitrary arrests have been recorded between February and May, in the context of peaceful protests. Of these, 2,463 were conditionally released and ordered to present themselves regularly before the courts at different intervals. This number is in addition to the cases of 2,400 people ordered to present themselves before the courts in past years, bringing the total to 4,863 on conditional release for having participated in protests. Indiscriminate and selective arrests are also among the registered patterns for arbitrary deprivation of liberty. As well, the report documents cases of protesters detained by civilians, the forging of incriminating evidence and the stealing of belongings of detainees.
Violations to freedom of expression and attacks against journalists. During the first quarter of 2014, 174 cases were registered, covering 325 types of violations of freedom of expression. This number represents an increase of 240% in regards to the same period of 2013. Complaints received include 37 arbitrary detentions, 67 assaults, 31 burglaries or thefts of property and a gunshot wound. As well, the death of engineer José Alejandro Márquez, severely beaten by members of the National Guard on the night of 02/19/14, while he was recording a demonstration taking place in La Candelaria neighborhood, Caracas.
Attacks against civilians in residential areas. From February to May, criminalization, repression and violation of human rights in the context of protests took a new dimension: widespread and systematic attacks on residential areas against civilians exercising their right to protest. These attacks occurred in 14 states and were documented in 4 states for this report (Bolivar, Zulia, Táchira and Lara), finding a total of 204 attacks on 105 residences or neighborhoods. 81% of these attacks involved the GNB, 17% State Police forces, the Army in 12% and the Bolivarian National Police in 8%. Also, 26% of the attacks involved gangs which, in 61% of these cases, acted in coordination or under the aegis of military and police officials. In Bolivar state, this joint action occurred in 100% of the attacks, and in 86% in Lara state. In addition, property was severely damaged in 36% of the attacks, and in 34% there were illegal searches of homes allegedly to detain protesters.
Violations of the right to life. The report identifies 41 victims, 27 of whom were killed by firearms. It is the Justice System´s responsibility to investigate and determine which of the victims died as a result of shots fired by law-enforcement officers and which by individuals who shot at protesters or against police and military officers. No case should go unpunished. The prosecution must investigate the other 14 deaths that occurred in different circumstances in the context of protests and establish responsibilities; as well, it must clarify the cases where the cause of death was accidental.
The group of organizations claims the right to peaceful assembly, rejects the criminalization of protests and condemns all forms of violence, whether perpetrated by the state through excessive use of force or practiced by individuals. The group demands an investigation of all violations of human rights and the punishment of those responsible, as well in regards to crimes committed by individuals who caused a large number of victims and property damage. The group also condemns attacks on journalists and rejects various forms of violations of freedom of expression.
Finally, the group calls on the Venezuelan State, mainly the National Executive, to channel social protest in a democratic manner, and to respect the right to demand rights, the right to dissent, and the constitutional provisions that guarantee the right to peaceful assembly and demonstration.
Full report HERE