Venezuelan FlagCivic Freedom Monitor: Venezuela

Introduction | At a Glance | Key Indicators | International Rankings
Legal Snapshot | Legal Analysis | Reports | News and Additional Resources

Last updated: 16 October 2016

Introduction

The current Constitution of Venezuela was approved in 1999, and provided a considerable boost to the protection of human rights and citizen participation.  The Preamble states that one of the main Constitutional objectives is to promote civil participation in order to achieve a participatory democracy.  More than 100 articles included in the Constitution seek to promote and protect human rights and citizens’ right to participate as the foundation of democratic coexistence and social peace.

Nonetheless, since 2002 the government of Hugo Chavez and his successor, Nicolas Maduro, extensively modified more than 60 national laws regarding the form and functioning of the State. The basis for this was their proposal to substantively reform the Constitution that was rejected in a referendum held in December 2007.  The reform implied the State would monopolize all forms of social organizations and combine them into a new branch of the State called "Organizations of People's Power"; the annulment of the separation of powers; and the militarization of State-society relationships under the concept of "Civil-Military Union". Even after the reform was rejected, Mr. Chávez expressed that nothing prevented him from carrying his reforms forward via legislation.

Under Chávez at least 100 articles of the Constitution were changed and instances of direct participant in public affairs by independent CSOs were eliminated, while other social organizations that were politically affiliated with the government replaced independent CSOs.  New regulations were also created to restrict and monitor the activities of independent CSOs, which excluded them from access to public institutions and democratic dialogue with various sectors of Venezuelan society. Independent CSOs also suffered discrimination, criminalization and restrictions on the exercise of freedoms of expression and association.

Among the laws that threaten the operations of CSOs is the "Law for the Defense of Political Sovereignty and National Self-Determination", which penalizes organizations working in defense of political rights and participation. The "Organic Law against Organized Crime and Financing of Terrorism" also ambiguously defines terrorism and organized crime so as to possibly prohibit various advocacy activities of organizations or deter their receipt of funding from foreign sources. In addition, the "Law on Registration and Enlistment for Integral Defense of the Nation" requires all associations with legal personality to register in military sub-divisions in order to participate in the "defense and security of the nation" and they must be subordinate to military authorities. Beginning in 2002, the Chavez administration and successor Maduro administration also used criminal charges to punish demonstrators and dissidents, stood by while human rights defenders were attacked and even killed, restricted the right to expression by closing media outlets and harassing journalists, and attempted to cut off financing of CSOs.

The 2009 report of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) "Democracy and Human Rights in Venezuela" chronicled the deteriorating climate for human rights and the rule of law in the country. Among other issues, the IAHCR cited a “troubling trend of punishments, intimidation, and attacks on individuals in reprisal for expressing their dissent with official policy”. Decision 1,939 of the Venezuelan Supreme Court (TSJ) of December 12, 2008, however, declared as "unenforceable" a sentence by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights of May 8, 2008, and requested the Executive to denounce the American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR) for "usurping functions" of the Venezuelan State.  After announcing in 2010 the start of preparations to withdraw from the "slanderous" IACHR, whose members were called a "mafia", Venezuela carried out a formal denunciation on September 6, 2012. This was written in a Note from the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry to Secretary General of the OAS and came into effect in September 2013. Since then, Venezuela has been outside the jurisdiction of the IACHR.

Even after the death of Hugo Chavez in 2013, the new Maduro administration continued many of the same tactics as his predecesor. For example, when there were widespread assemblies against government policies in 2013 and 2014, the government responded with mass arbitrary arrests and torture, according to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions in 2015. The Executive and Supreme Court also created new legal regulations to criminalize peaceful assemblies as "violent conduct".

Senior officials in the Maduro government have also used the media to stigmatize, discredit and intimidate human rights defenders and organizations that cooperate with international human rights organizations. The government often justifies its actions based on reports by anonymous informers who are called "cooperating patriots". The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in the third review of Venezuela in 2015 urged the government to guarantee that all human rights defenders can carry out their work free from any form of intimidation or threat. The unwillingness of the government to comply with these recommendations led to the joint statement "It is time to end televised reprisals against human rights defenders in Venezuela", signed by UN Special Rapporteurs Michel Forst, Maina Kiai and David Kaye, and Inter-American Rapporteurs Jose de Jesus Orozco and Edison Lanza. Despite this, violations against human rights defenders and their organizations by the government, military and security forces, as well as non-state actors, have intensified in various regions of the country.

Currently, Venezuela continues to witness the erosion of the rule of law and the deterioration of democracy, especially after consecutive decrees of State of Exception and Economic Emergency by President Maduro, which have expanded in coverage from Venezuelan border states to the entire national territory. They have, however, not been reported to the UN Member States through the Secretary General, as required by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The decrees were implemented after parliamentary elections of December 6, 2015, in which 74.25% of the electorate participated and the alliance of opposition parties won 112 of the 167 seats. 

The IACHR issued a statement in June 2016 warning that State of Exception and Economic Emergency decrees provide the President with broad powers that may compromise the respect for the rule of law and separation of powers and lead to unlawful restrictions on the freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly. On June 23, 2016, the Permanent Council of the OAS called for invoking Article 20 of the Inter-American Democratic Charter (IADC) as requested by the Secretary General of the OAS to start diplomatic actions to address the "serious disruption of the democratic constitutional order in Venezuela" and the "use of public powers to interrupt free association and activities of opposition groups and the media". Thus, there are increasing actions carried out both by domestic and regional actors to pressure the Venezuelan government to end its repressive measures against civil society.

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At a Glance

Organizational Forms Civil Associations and Foundations
Registration Body Subsidiary Registry Office, according to the Venezuelan Civil Code (Article 19).
Approximate Number

In Venezuela, the number of organizations currently in operation is unknown. However, in exploratory studies carried out by local organizations, a significant decrease has been observed in the number of CSOs that are active. Of approximately 960 organizations identified by Synergy in 2011, activities did not continue for nearly 60% of them by 2013 due to negative conditions in the legal and operational environment. Nonetheless, between 2013 and 2014, new organizations and networks were founded out of the demand for justice, rule of law and support to a population that suffers from the economic, social and institutional deterioration of the country.

Barriers to Entry Prior approval of a constitutive document is required, and it must be reviewed lawyers.

There are special legal regimes for the registration of unions, political parties and educational communities.

There are cases of severe delays for the registration of CSOs because of unwritten criteria in legal forms and restrictions on associative purposes, which are enforced by lawyers in registry offices who arbitrarily reject documents without proper justification.

Legislation creates Organisations of People's Power that carry out functions dictated and regulated by the State. (These are essentially Government-Organized NGOs, or GONGOs)

It is mandatory for CSOs to obtain Unique Registration of Fiscal Information and use it in the application and for tax materials, declarations, invoices and other documents.

It is mandatory for CSOs to register in military districts to participate in the security and defense of the nation.
Barriers to Activities CSOs may not carry out activities not explicitly included in their governing documents.

Except for "Organizations of People's Power", CSOs are excluded from the organization or participation in public affairs, which has paralyzed or shut down activities of cultural, educational, environmental and social organizations.

CSOs have been excluded provide legal assistance or representing victims against officials about human rights violations.

There are often public threats by State against CSOs and their members, especiallly CSOs that receive international funding or that have collaboration with international human rights organizations.

There is no guarantee of access to public information and there is a general shortage of supplies, equipment, consistent internet, and water and electricity throughout the country, which severely limits the activities of CSOs.
Barriers to Speech and/or Advocacy NPOs dedicated to the "defense of political rights" or other "political objectives" are subject to funding constraints that undermine their ability to pursue advocacy. They also are precluded from possessing assets, or receiving any income from foreign sources.

It is common for the State to engage in intimidation and retaliation against members of CSOs that defend human rights or exercise their civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.
Barriers to International Contact There have been increased threats, intimidation and direct retaliation by the government in the public media, legislation and litigation against CSOs and their members for their cooperation with regional and international organizations that work for the protection of human rights.
Barriers to Resources CSOs devoted to the defense of rights, political participation and social control of public management are subject to a ban on receiving international funding.

There are restrictions relating to the exchange rate with an accelerated inflation rate (officially 180.9% in 2015).

Any financial activity that might be deemed as suspicious must be reported, even if the source of the funds is legitimate.

Decress of a State of Exception and Economic Emergency allow the suspending of contracts with international cooperation agencies, as such contracts are considered as "foreign interference".

Only "Organizations of People's Power" have access to public funding.

Tax exemptions have been eliminated for not-for-profit associations, and educational, academic, sports and scientific institutions do not.
Barriers to Assembly Vague language in criminal laws allow the government to criminalize organizations that are critical of the government, thus chilling the freedom of assembly.

Anyone who disobeys or offends public authorities, obstruct roads, spreads false information that causes panic, helps or conspires with other countries and "terrorist groups or associations or paramilitary, insurgent or subversive groups" can be imprisoned.

Assemblies must be approved in advance by the local government or the Ministry of Defense when in security zones.

Assemblies are not allowed in security zones designated by law, border states under a State of Exception and Economic Emergency and all public spaces prohibited by state and municipal authorities.

All unauthorized assemblies are deemed to be "violent". Security forces and the military are ordered to disband and use methods and weapons of war in cases of "deadly violence" or "life-threatening" situations.

Conveners, organizers and participants of assemblies are subject to criminal penalties, including imprisonment, for violations of the law.

During Decress of a State of Exception and Economic Emergency assemblies may be restricted throughout the country.

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Key Indicators

Population 30,620,404 (2015 est.)
Capital Caracas
Type of Government Federal Republic
Life Expectancy at Birth

Total population: 74.1 years
Male: 70 years
Female: 78 years (2015 est.)

Literacy Rate Total population: 96.3%
Male: 96.4%
Female: 96.2% (2015 est.)
Religious Groups Nominally Roman Catholic 96%, Protestant 2%, other 2%
Ethnic Groups Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Arab, German, African, indigenous people
GDP per capita $14,843 (2015 est.)

Source: The World Factbook. Washington, DC: Central Intelligence Agency, 2015.

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International Rankings

Ranking Body Rank Ranking Scale 
(best – worst possible)
UN Human Development Index 71 (2015) 1 – 169
World Bank Rule of Law Index 0.1 (2015) 100 – 0
World Bank Voice & Accountability Index 18.7 (2015) 100 – 0
Transparency International 158 (2015) 1 – 168
World Justice Project Rule of Law Index 113 (2016) 1-113
Freedom House: Freedom in the World Status: Partly Free
Political Rights: 5
Civil Liberties: 5
(2016)
Free/Partly Free/Not Free
1 – 7
1 – 7
Foreign Policy: Failed States Index
63 (2016) 177-1

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Legal Snapshot

International and Regional Human Rights Agreements

Key International Agreements Ratification* Year
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Yes 1978
Optional Protocol to ICCPR (ICCPR-OP1) Yes 1978
International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) Yes 1978
Optional Protocol to ICCPR (ICESCR-OP) No --
Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize Convention Yes 1982
International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) Yes 1969
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Yes 1983
Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women Yes 1999
Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) Yes 1990
Optional Protocol to the CRC on involvement of children in armed conflict (CRC-OP-AC) Yes 2003
Optional Protocol to the CRC on sale, prostitution and child pornography (CRC-OP-SC) Yes 2002
Optional Protocol to the CRC on communications procedure (CRC-OP-IC) No --
International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (ICRMW) No  --
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) No  
Universal Declaration of Human Rights Yes 1948
Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide Yes 1960
International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid Yes 1982
Convention on the Political Rights of Women Yes 1983
Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment of Punishment Yes 1991
Optional Protocol to the CAT (CAT-OP) No  
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Yes  
Inquiry procedure under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD-OP) Yes  
Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (1951) No  
Protocol on the Status of Refugees (1967) No  
Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons (1954) No  
Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness (1961) No  
1967 Protocol on the Status of Refugees Yes 1986
First and Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty Yes 1992
Regional Treaties    
American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man Yes 1948
American Convention on Human Rights Denounced 2013
Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish Torture Yes 1985
Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment, and Eradication of Violence Against Women Yes 1994
Inter-American Convention on the Forced Disappearance of Persons Yes 1994
Inter-American Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities Yes 1999
Proposed American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Yes 1997
Protocol of San Salvador: Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights in the Area of Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights No --
Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights to Abolish the Death Penalty Yes 1990

* Category includes ratification, accession, or succession to the treaty

Constitutional Framework

The Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela was adopted in December 30, 1999 through Official Gazette No. 36,860. The Venezuelan Constitution dedicates a considerable number of articles to protecting and stating the importance of the protection of human rights. In relation to the right of freedom of association, the most relevant articles include: 

Article 2: Venezuela constitutes itself as a Democratic and Social State of Law and Justice, which holds as superior values of its legal order and actions those of life, liberty, justice, equality, solidarity, democracy, social responsibility and, in general, the preeminence of human rights, ethics and political pluralism.

Article 6: The government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and of the political organs comprising the same, is and shall always be democratic, participatory, elective, decentralized, alternative, responsible and pluralist, with revocable mandates.

Article 52: Everyone has the right to assemble for lawful purposes, in accordance with law. The State is obligated to facilitate the exercise of this right.

Article 53: Everyone has the right to meet publicly or privately, without obtaining permission in advance, for lawful purposes and without weapons. Meetings in public places may be regulated by law.

Article 57: Everyone has the right to express freely his or her thoughts, ideas or opinions orally, in writing or by any other form of expression, and to use for such purpose any means of communication and diffusion, and no censorship shall be established. Anyone making use of this right assumes full responsibility for everything expressed. Anonymity, war propaganda, discriminatory messages or those promoting religious intolerance are not permitted.

Censorship restricting the ability of public officials to report on matters for which they are responsible is prohibited.

Article 61: All persons have the right to freedom of conscience, and to express the same except those practices affecting personality or constituting criminal offense. Objections of conscience may not be invoked in order to evade compliance with law or prevent others from complying with law or exercising their rights.

Article 67: All citizens have the right of association for political purposes, through democratic methods of organization, operation and direction. Their governing organs and candidates for offices filled by popular vote shall be selected by internal elections with participation of their members. No financing of associations for political purposes with State funds shall be permitted.

Matters relating to the financing of and private contributions to associations for political purposes shall be regulated by law, as shall the oversight mechanisms to guarantee propriety as to the sources and handling of such funds. Law shall also regulate political and election campaigns, the duration thereof and spending limits with a view pursuing its democratization.

Citizens, on their own initiative, and associations for political purposes, shall be entitled to participate in the electoral process putting forward candidates. The financing of political advertising and election campaigns shall be regulated by law. The authorities of associations for political purposes shall not enter into contracts with organs in the public sector.

Article 68: Citizens have the right to demonstrate peacefully and without weapons, subject only to such requirements as may be established by law. The use of firearms and toxic substances to control peaceful demonstrations is prohibited. The activity of police and security corps in maintaining public order shall be regulated by law.

Article 70: Participation and involvement of people in the exercise of their sovereignty in political affairs can be manifested by: voting to fill public offices, referendum, consultation of public opinion, mandate revocation, legislative, constitutional and constituent initiative, open forums and meetings of citizens whose decisions shall be binding among others; and in social and economic affairs: citizen service organs, self-management, co-management, cooperatives in all forms, including those of a financial nature, savings funds, community enterprises, and other forms of association guided by the values of mutual cooperation and solidarity. The law shall establish conditions for the effective, functioning of the means of participation provided for under the present article.

Article 132: Everyone has a duty to fulfill his or her social responsibilities and participate together in the political, civic and community life of the country, promoting and protecting human rights as the foundation of democratic coexistence and social peace.

Article 133: Everyone has the duty to contribute toward public expenditures by paying such taxes, assessments and contributions as may be established by law.

Article 134: Everyone, in accordance with law, has the duty to perform such civilian or military service as may be necessary for the defense, preservation and development of the country, or to deal with situations involving a public calamity. No one shall be subjected to forcible recruitment. Everyone has the duty of rendering its services in the electoral functions assigned to them by law.

Article 135. The obligations incumbent upon the State in accordance with this Constitution and the law, in Fulfillment of the States commitments to the general welfare of society, do not preclude the obligations which, by virtue of solidarity, social responsibility and humanitarian assistance, are incumbent upon private individuals according to their abilities. Appropriate provisions shall be enacted by law to compel the Fulfillment of these obligations in those cases in which such compulsion is necessary. Those aspiring to practice any profession have a duty to perform community service for such period, in such place and on such terms as may be provided for by law.

Article 337. The President of the Republic, at a meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers, shall have the power to decree states of exception. Expressly defined as such are circumstances of a social, economic, political, natural or ecological nature which seriously affect the security of the Nation, institutions and citizens, in the face of which the powers available to cope with such events are insufficient. In such case, the guarantees contained in this Constitution may be temporarily restricted, with the exception of those relating to the right to life, prohibition of incommunicative detention or torture, the right to due process, the right to information and other intangible human rights. .

Article 338. A state of alarm may be declared when catastrophes, public calamities or other similar events occur, seriously endangering the security of the Nation or its citizens. Such state of exception shall last for up to 30 days, and may be extended for an additional 30 days. A state of economic emergency may be declared when extraordinary economic circumstances arise, such as to affect seriously the economic life of the Nation; the duration of this state of emergency shall be 60 days, with the possibility of extension for the same period. A state of internal or external commotion may be declared in the event of an internal or external conflict seriously endangering the security of the Nation, its citizens or its institutions. Such state of commotion shall last for up to 90 days, and may be extended for an additional 90 days. The National Assembly has the responsibility of the approval for the extension of the states of exemption. An organic law shall regulate states of exception and determine the measures that may be adopted based on them.

Article 339. The Decree declaring a state of exception, which shall provide for regulating the right whose guarantee is restricted, shall be submitted within eight days of promulgation for consideration and approval by the National Assembly, or Delegated Committee and for a ruling by the Constitutional Division of the Supreme Tribunal or Justice on its constitutionality. The Decree must be in compliance with the requirements, principles and guarantees established in the International Pact on Civil and Political flights and the American Convention on Human Rights. The President of the Republic shall have the power to request its extension for a similar period, and the Decree shall be revoked by the National Executive or by the National Assembly or the latter's Delegated Committee prior to the indicated date of expiration upon cessation of the conditions which produced them. The declaration of a state of exception does not interrupt the functioning of the organs of the Public Power.

National Laws and Regulations Affecting Sector

Pending NGO Legislative / Regulatory Initiatives

State of Exception and Economic Emergency / Executive Powers

Venezuela is currently governed by a decree of a State of Exception and Economic Emergency throughout the nation. Between August and October 2015, the Executive issued 20 decrees and resolutions associated with States of Emergency in 24 municipalities in four border states (Táchira, Apure, Zulia y Amazonas), which were approved by eight judgments of the Supreme Court. These measures ordered the total or partial closure of borders, the forced eviction and expulsion of families of Colombian origin and the suspension of guarantees to freedom of peaceful assembly. Although these decrees have expired, they continue in implementation.

Between January and September 2016, there were three consecutive decrees: Decree No. 2,184 of State of Exception and Economic Emergency (January 2016); Decree 2,323 of State of Exception and Economic Emergency (May 2016); and Decree 2,452 of State of Exception and Economic Emergency (September 2016), which was extended until January 2017. These decrees provide broad discretionary powers for the Executive to enact measures for social, economic, political and legal order and to restrict fundamental rights and freedoms. They also assign the military authorities the powers to control public order and counter alleged "actions and internal and external threats that are destabilizing the economy and social order in the country".

Specifically, Decree 2,323 of State of Exception and Economic Emergency (May 2016) establishes the possibility of ordering the audit, inspection and suspension of agreements signed by natural or legal persons, entities or foreign agencies for the execution of projects in the country when they threaten "political destabilization and end of the Republic” (Article 18). In addition, Community Councils, Local Committees of Supply and Distribution (CLAP) and other "Organizations of the People's Power" are granted law enforcement functions (Article 9). There are also measures for the implementation of "special plans" for public safety to prevent "destabilizing actions" seeking to harm the internal affairs or international relations of the country (Article 16).

Decree 2,452 of State of Exception and Economic Emergency (September 2016) states that there may be a restriction on guarantees of the exercise of rights enshrined in the Constitution, except those referred to in Article 337 and Article 7 of the Organic Law on States of Emergency.

The Executive may issue special measures and implement public safety plans to "ensure the maintenance of public order and prevent destabilizing actions against the economic order (...) that harm the internal life of the country or international relations" (Article 2:17) and take "'special measures' in the order of the foreign policy of the Republic to guarantee the full exercise of national sovereignty and prevent foreign interference in the internal affairs of the Venezuelan State"(Article 2:18).

Despite being disapproved by the National Assembly under Articles 337 and 338 of the Constitution, the Supreme Court disqualified the parliament from being able to legislate and exercise control over acts issued by the Executive through 25 judgments between January and October 2016.

  1. Sentencia N° 260 de Sala Electoral TSJ del 30.12.2015, suspende proclamación de 4 diputados (3 de la MUD y 1 del PSUV) por el CNE, elegidos el 6 de diciembre de 2015.
  2. Sentencia N° 01 de Sala Electoral TSJ del 11.01.2016, declara desacato de la Asamblea Nacional a Sentencia N° 260 del 30.12.2015.
  3. Sentencia N° 03 de Sala Constitucional TSJ del 14.01.2016, ratifica Sentencias N° 260 y N° 01 de la Sala Electoral de 30.12.2015 y 11.01.2016 respectivamente.
  4. Sentencia N° 04 de Sala Constitucional TSJ del 20.01.2016, declara constitucional Decreto N° 2.184 de Estado de Emergencia Económica en todo el territorio nacional, por 60 días.
  5. Sentencia N° 07 de Sala Constitucional TSJ del 11.02.2016, dicta vigencia del Decreto N° 2.184 de Estado de Emergencia Económica.
  6. Sentencia N° 09 de Sala Constitucional TSJ del 01.03.2016, desaplica artículos de la Constitución y otras disposiciones sobre comparecencia de funcionarios/as públicos ante la Asamblea Nacional.
  7. Sentencia N° 184 de Sala Constitucional TSJ del 17.03.2016, aprueba prórroga del Decreto N° 2.184 de Estado de Emergencia Económica por 60 días adicionales.
  8. Sentencia N° 225 de Sala Constitucional TSJ del 29.03.2016, declara inadmisible solicitud de nulidad de nombramiento de Magistrados del TSJ del 23.12.2015.
  9. Sentencia N° 259 de Sala Constitucional TSJ del 31.03.2016, declara inconstitucional Reforma de la Ley del Banco Central de Venezuela, sancionada por la Asamblea Nacional el 03.03.2016.
  10. Sentencia N° 264 de Sala Constitucional TSJ del 11.04.2016, declara inconstitucional Ley de Amnistía y Reconciliación Nacional, sancionada por la Asamblea Nacional el 29.03.2016.
  11. Sentencia N° 269 de Sala Constitucional TSJ del 21.04.2016, niega medida cautelar contra la Reforma del Reglamento Interior y de Debates de la Asamblea Nacional de diciembre de 2010.
  12. Sentencia N° 274 de Sala Constitucional TSJ del 21.04.2016, declara fraude constitucional si se utiliza la enmienda constitucional para acortar ejercicio del cargo del Presidente de la República.
  13. Sentencia N° 327 de Sala Constitucional TSJ del 28.04.2016, anula vigencia de Ley de Bono para Alimentos y Medicinas a Pensionados y Jubilados, sancionada por la Asamblea Nacional el 30.03.2016.
  14. Sentencia N° 341 de Sala Constitucional TSJ del 05.05.2016, declara inconstitucional Reforma a la Ley Orgánica del TSJ sancionada por la Asamblea Nacional el 07.04.2016.
  15. Sentencia N° 343 de Sala Constitucional TSJ del 06.05.2016, declara inconstitucional Reforma a la Ley de Otorgamiento de Títulos de Propiedad a Beneficiarios de la Gran Misión Vivienda Venezuela y otros Programas Habitacionales del Sector Público.
  16. Sentencia N° 411 de Sala Constitucional TSJ del 19.05.2016, declara constitucional Decreto N° 2.323 de Estado de Excepción y Emergencia Económica.
  17. Sentencia N° 460 de Sala Constitucional TSJ del 09.06.2016, declara inconstitucional Ley Especial para Atender la Crisis Nacional de Salud, sancionada por la Asamblea Nacional el 03.05.2016.
  18. Sentencia N° 478 de Sala Constitucional TSJ del 14.06.2016, admite amparo constitucional contra actuaciones, vías de hecho y amenazas de daño inminente del Presidente y mayoría de diputados de la Asamblea Nacional, con la finalidad de consumar un golpe de Estado con pretendidos y negados visos de legitimidad.
  19. Sentencia N° 614 de Sala Constitucional TSJ del 19.07.2016, declara nulidad de Informe de “Comisión Especial para el rescate de la institucionalidad del Tribunal Supremo de Justicia”, realizado por la Asamblea Nacional.
  20. Sentencia N° 615 de Sala Constitucional TSJ del 19.07.2016, declara constitucional Decreto N° 2.323 de Estado de Excepción y Emergencia Económica.
  21. Sentencia N° 108 de Sala Electoral TSJ del 01.08.2016, declara desacato de la Asamblea Nacional a la Sentencia N° 260 de Sala Electoral del 30.12.2015 y Sentencia N° 01 del 11.01.2016.
  22. Sentencia N° 797 de Sala Constitucional TSJ del 19.08.2016, declara nulidad de sesiones de la Asamblea Nacional los días 26 y 28 de abril y 03, 05, 10, 12 y 17 de mayo de 2016, en las que se aprobó voto de censura contra el Ministro del Poder Popular para la Alimentación.
  23. Sentencia N° 808 de Sala Constitucional TSJ del 02.09.2016, declara inconstitucional Reforma del Decreto N° 2.165 de Ley Orgánica que Reserva al Estado las Actividades de Exploración y Explotación de Oro sancionada por la Asamblea Nacional.
  24. Sentencia N° 810 de Sala Constitucional TSJ del 21.09.2016, declara constitucional Decreto N° 2.452 de Estado de Excepción y Emergencia Económica en todo el territorio nacional.
  25. Sentencia N° 814 de Sala Constitucional TSJ del 11.10.2016, acepta que el Ejecutivo decrete el Presupuesto de la República y Normativa Excepcional, sin aprobación de la Asamblea Nacional, por inconstitucional y absolutamente nulos y carentes de toda vigencia y eficacia jurídica, los actos emanados del parlamento, incluyendo leyes sancionadas, mientras se mantenga desacato a la Sala Electoral del TSJ.

The Registration and Enlistment Act for the Integral Defense of the Nation

The Registration and Enlistment Act for the Integral Defense of the Nation (2014) requires all organizations with legal personality, including CSOs, to register with a military body and to fulfill tasks in the defense of the nation’s security (Articles 40, 98, 101). Article 40 states that legal persons must register and update their data in the registry for the Integral Defense within 60 days from the date of the effectuation of the registration. Article 98 states that the penalties imposed by civil and military authorities for non-compliance, and Article 101 states that legal persons that do not meet the requirements to register for the Integral Defense shall be punished with a fine between 50 and 150 tax units. The deadline for setting up the Registry and complying with registration procedures was one year from the enactment of the law in June 2014, but it still has not been created. In 2016, several human rights organizations requested the Supreme Court to invalidate this law as a violation of the right to conscientious objection and to freedom of association, but they are still waiting for a response.

The International Cooperation Law

In 2006 the National Assembly introduced and passed on first reading a restrictive draft International Cooperation Law.  The legislature did not take further action, and the law has still not been enacted.

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Legal Analysis

Organizational Forms

Venezuelan law recognizes two primary forms of NPOs: civil associations and foundations. 

Civil associations are recognized by the Civil Code (CC) [CC, article 19], though they are not specifically defined. Venezuelan courts have defined “civil association” as an assembly of persons organized in a corporate form to realize a common purpose that is non-profit in character. 

Similarly, the Civil Code does not explicitly define foundations, but it establishes guidelines for their existence, recognizing that they may be formed only to conduct public benefit activities of an artistic, scientific, literary, charitable, or social nature. [Article 20] In Venezuelan jurisprudence, “foundation” has been defined as a collection of assets dedicated exclusively and permanently to the attainment of a specific objective.

However, for a decade NPOs have faced an environment of constant pressure on their autonomy and independence and to exercise rights related to expression and participation in activities. In Decision No. 656 of June 30, 2000, the Constitutional Court interpreted the concept of "civil society" based on Article 296 of the Constitution to be " associations, groups, and institutions (without external subsidy) that through their purpose, permanence, number of members or affiliates and continuous activity have been working from different angles of that society to achieve a better quality of life for its members, without being attached to the government or to political parties." Such rulings established a tone for discrediting NPOs early in the Chávez government, especially with the line about "without external subsidy" that stigmatized the receiving of funds from foreign sources as not a part of civil society. This would inevitably exclude NPOs that receive foreign funding, thereby preventing them from exercising the rights to political participation that other NPOs enjoy.

Judgment No. 1050 of August 23, 2000 determined that there was a "lack of standing for all persons, groups or entities that (...) claim to represent the citizens, the people, civil society and other institutions, who have not been elected by anyone (...) It is unknown what their interests are, since there is no statute or law that governs and no to what community or society are known to represent (...) The civil service would be chaotic, if any association or group of persons, assuming the representation of citizenship or civil society, intended to be consulted before taking any decision... ".

Since 2010, there has been an extensive reform of the legal system, with the Executive promoting laws for the creation of "Organizations of People's Power", based on a new form of "State Community" in which social organizations are part of the state structure. The Organic Law of People's Power defines "People's Power" as "the full exercise of sovereignty by the people through their diverse and dissimilar forms of organization, which build the Communal State" (Article 2). Through them, the power is exercised directly by the people (...) in socialist society ... (Article 8). Since these laws were enacted, the state supports Organizations ot the People's Power that are registered and regulated by the state in accordance with their respective laws, including Community Councils, Communes, Communal Cities, Communal Federations and Communal Confederations. At least 60 laws contemplate the actions of Organizations of the People's Power, which must meet objectives dictated by the state, and they are subject to devolution of governance and are regulated by the state's comptroller organs.

Public Benefit Status

Civil associations may dedicate themselves to any purpose not contrary to law or public order.  A foundation must, by definition, pursue public interest in one of these areas: art, science, literature, charity, or social activities. [CC Article 20].

There is no formal governmental process which designates a not-for-profit organization as a “public benefit organization”. Nevertheless, the Tax Administration implicitly recognizes that particular organizations engage in public benefit activities by granting them tax exemptions under the LISR Articles 14 (3) and (10) and the accompanying regulation. Under the regulation, two types of organizations qualify for income tax exemption: charitable institutions and social assistance institutions. These are not distinct types of legal entities, but rather special designations conferred on eligible associations and foundations. 

The Decree-Law of Income Tax Reform, passed in November 2014, eliminated paragraph 10 of Article 14, which provided for tax exemptions for not-for-profit foundations and associations, as well as educational institutes, academic institutions, and sports or scientific associations. This meant the exemption was only for charitable institutions and social assistance institutions, based on the determination of the tax administration.

Barriers to Entry

The Venezuelan Civil Code creates a generally enabling framework for the formation of NPOs.  In order to establish a civil association or foundation, the law requires that NPOs be registered with the Subsidiary Registry Office in the district in which the NPO will be based. Registration with the Subsidiary Registry Office is a constitutive formality which grants legal personality to the NPO. 

In practice, however, state implementation of registration procedures has made the process difficult and even impeded the registration of NPOs engaging in the defense and promotion of human rights. In 2014, the Ministry of the Interior, Justice and Peace issued Resolution 019, which attempted to simplify the procedures, counter corrupt practices and avoid "any requirement that is different or additional to that established by Law." The only requirements to register are supposed to be that the NPO applicant has a copy of the identity cards of the members and a charter document that is drafted and approved by a freely chosen lawyer.

In addition, according to the Ley Orgánica del Trabajo de los Trabajadores y las Trabajadoras (Organic Labor Law of (Male) Workers and (Women) Workers), syndicates must be registered with the Syndicates Register, which has great discretionary power to establish entry barriers for syndicates. (Article 374-387 LOTTT)

Barriers to Operational Activity

Associations are allowed to pursue a broad variety of activities, provided that the activities are enumerated in the organization’s governing documents. Foundations may only dedicate themselves to public interest activities in the areas of art, science, literature, charity, and social activities. 

Based on the concept of “People's Power”, the state has been narrowing possibilities for NPOs to participate in public policy unless they become part of the state or follow the state's guidelines. For most government agencies the right to participation is recognized only for "Organizations of People's Power”; NPOs may be recognized as such provided that they adhere to the values ​​and ideological practices of the state. As a result, most associations working in the cultural field were dismantled after the government systematically evicted them from public offices and expropriated their offices. Most environmental organizations were excluded from the national decision-making processes, where they had been carrying out an important role in the promotion and development of policies. More than 20,000 associations or societies of parents and guardians of children in public and private schools were also shut down, thus violating the right to participate in decisions regarding the education of their children. Finally, indigenous organizations and leaders of indigenous communities have been excluded from decisions concerning them on the basis of their not being part of "Organizations of People's Power".

Politics and loyalty to political-ideological government projects are at the root of a pattern of discrimination and exclusion against human rights defenders and independent human rights organizations, especially in thematic areas, such as culture, food, health, education, prisons, and the environment, as well as in areas related to women, children and adolescents, indigenous peoples, persons deprived of liberty, unions, and cooperatives. For example, the Reform of the Criminal Procedure Code, 2012 abolished the right of the accused to communicate with legal aid associations, limiting communications to family and lawyers, and excluded human rights organizations from participating in the substantive stages of criminal proceedings, such as representing victims in judicial proceedings against officials who have been alleged to have been involved in human rights violations; this function was left only to individuals and the Ombudsman.

Barriers to Speech / Advocacy

The Law for Protection of Political Liberty and National Self-determination, enacted in December of 2010, targets NPOs dedicated to the “defense of political rights” or other “political objectives.”  Specifically, the Law precludes these organizations from possessing assets, or receiving any income, from foreign sources. In so doing, the Law undermines their ability to engage in advocacy and expressive activity.

In addition, experience has shown that there are practical barriers to speech and advocacy. The government has retaliated against members of NPOs who have made studies, reports or declarations criticizing the government. The forms of retaliation vary but include informal threats against the personal integrity of members of NPOs, governmental pressure about donor funding, judicial prosecution of members of NPOs, and public stigmatization of NPOs and their members.

The stigmatization of human rights defenders has become systemic within the government. Their work is equated with criminal behavior by calling them "treasonous, agents of foreign interests, destabilizing, and generating anxiety". They face the threat of being charged, prosecuted and penalized for these alleged crimes. The government even created a special commission of inquiry that opened the possibility for outlawing such organizations. In addition, "The Hammer", a TV program created in 2014 by Deputy Diosdado Cabello, who is the ex-president of the National Assembly, was focused on accusing and ridiculing human rights defenders, social activists, party leaders and the entrepreneurial sector based on reports from "cooperating patriots". Between January and August 2015, IPYS Venezuela recorded at least 578 people accused in this program of which 60 were human rights activists and members of NPOs. In monitoring done by DefiendoDDHH between July 2015 and September 2016, 59 programs of The Hammer were broadcast and 71% of them featured accusations against human rights defenders. 19 human rights defenders and 18 human rights organizations were repeatedly mentioned.

In several states, human rights defenders have also been subject to monitoring, persecution and death threats by state security organs and armed civilians. They have been subject to acts of harassment, assault, kidnapping, theft, arbitrary detention, temporary disappearance and murder committed by state and non-state actors. Most of the complaints made to competent national institutions have been dismissed or ignored. Both the Public Prosecutor and the Ombudsman have remained silent in spite of the intimidating discourse and have backed restrictive laws on the exercise of the freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has granted precautionary measures to protect several Venezuelan human rights defenders.

Barriers to International Contact

Foreign persons, natural or legal, are fully permitted to establish branch offices in Venezuela.  At the same time, however, there have been reported cases of direct governmental retaliation and threats against NPOs that work with foreign organizations. 

In 2010, the Bolivarian Intelligence Service (SEBIN) and the Center for Situational Studies of the Nation (CESNA) were created. Both are bodies of the Ministry of Interior and Justice and share the purposes of national intelligence and counterintelligence for the detection and neutralization of external and internal actual or potential threats against the security of the nation. In 2013, the CESNA was replaced by the Centre for Strategic Security and Protection of the Homeland (CESPPA), which is attached to the Presidency of the Republic and reports on potential threats to sensitive national interests and strategic aspects of security, defense, intelligence, internal order and external relations, in order to neutralize and defeat destabilizing plans against the nation. In 2014, a regulation was issued to analyze the impact of information and social media on political and social stability. Additionally, in 2014, President Maduro created a Special Brigade against the actions of Generating Groups of Violence (BEGV) with the task of coordinating, analyzing and gathering information on all public security organs and intelligence units of the state and other public and private entities. The courts have relied on data obtained from anonymous "cooperating patriots" to prosecute suspected government opponents and senior government officials and have used the personal information collected by such "patriots" to intimidate government critics and human rights defenders.

In addition, the Law for Protection of Political Liberty and National Self-determination prohibits NPOs dedicated to the “defense of political rights” or other “political objectives” from hosting a foreign citizen who speaks in a manner that might offend state institutions or senior officials, or that might operate "against the exercise of state sovereignty." Noncompliance with this provision could subject representatives of a Venezuelan organization to a loss of “political rights” for five to eight years, a fine of up to $100,000, and criminal law sanctions. Foreigners who are involved in such activities are subject to deportation.

Furthermore, Judgment No. 1395 of the Constitutional Chamber of November 21, 2000 ruled that "those who represent [civil society] cannot be foreigners, or organizations directed by, affiliated to, subsidized, financed, or sustained directly or indirectly by states or movements or groups influenced by those States; nor by transnational or global associations, groups or movements that pursue political or economic purposes to their own benefit." This means that NPOs that receive funding from foreign sources cannot be considered part of civil society, nor can civil society be represented by foreigners.

Barriers to Resources

Foreign Funding

The Law for the Defense of Political Sovereignty and National Self-determination, 2010 prohibits any organization with political aims or any organization that protects political rights (organizaciones con fines políticos y organizaciones para la defensa de derechos políticos) from receiving any kind of foreign funding or economic aid, be it from a natural foreign citizen, or a foreign organization. Organizations that do not comply with this law face a fine of up to twice the funding amount received, and where there are repeated violations organizations can be prohibited from participating in the electoral process for a period of five to eight years.  The chairman of an organization – in his or her individual capacity - found to be in violation of this law can also face a fine as well as individual exclusion from participation in political processes.

The principal legal barrier affecting resources springs from the political context that affects all activity in Venezuela and not exclusively NPOs. Since Venezuela has for the past five years been subject to an exchange control regime, any donation must be converted to Venezuelan local currency, Bolivars. The Ley de IIícitos Cambiarios (Illicit Currency Exchange Law) (“ICEL”) establishes penalties for any legal person – including NPOs – that violates exchange control laws.  Penalties include fines and imprisonment. 

Since NPOs are considered institutions susceptible to become instruments for money laundering, and other organized crime activities by the Organic Law Against Organized Crime (Ley Orgánica Contra el Crimen Organizado), they are subject to scrutiny and surveillance by the executive organ in charge of the fight against organized crime.

The Law Against Organized Crime and Financing of Terrorism, enacted in December 2011 and effective as of May 2012, requires that any financial activity that might be deemed "suspicious" must be reported, even if the source of funds is legitimate.

The Law on Financing Organizations of People's Power (Community Councils, Communes, Cooperative Associations, Social Owned Enterprises, Production Family Units and barter systems) establishes such organizations as beneficiaries of financial support from government agencies along with individuals in vulnerable situations. They are also endorsed by the Ministry of People's Power for Communes and Social Movements.

In Decision No. 656 of June 30, 2000, the Constitutional Court interpreted the concept of "civil society" based on Article 296 of the Constitution to be "associations, groups, and institutions (without external subsidy) that through their purpose, permanence, number of members or affiliates and continuous activity have been working from different angles of that society to achieve a better quality of life for its members, without being attached to the government or to political parties." Such rulings established a tone for discrediting NPOs early in the Chávez government, especially the line about "without external subsidy", which stigmatized the receiving of funds from foreign sources as not a part of civil society

Domestic Funding

There are no legal barriers that restrict domestic funding of NPOs. The law does require that all legal persons declare the income they receive and how it has been allocated.

An NPO may carry out any type of lawful economic activity compatible with its aims and with its not-for-profit legal personality. Although the Civil Code is silent on the matter, local experts state that Venezuelan courts require that NPOs pursue economic activities only as a means of advancing their non-profit goals, self-sustainability, and financial autonomy.

Due to the current political climate, domestic donors are very careful about funding activities related to human rights defense. In general, they prefer anonymity.

Barriers to Assembly

The Venezuelan Constitution, in Articles 53 and 68, enshrines the freedom of peaceful assembly.
Article 53 states, "Everyone has the right to assembly publicly or privately without previous permission, for lawful purposes and without weapons." Assemblies in public places are governed by the law. In Article 68, citizens have the right to demonstrate, peacefully and without weapons, subject only to such requirements as may be established by law. The use of firearms and toxic substances to control peaceful demonstrations is prohibited. Law shall regulate the activity of police and the security corps in maintaining public order.

Advance Notification

The right to freedom of peaceful assembly in Venezuela is mainly regulated by the Law on Political Parties, Public Gatherings and Manifestations and the Organic Law for Police Service and National Bolivarian Police Corps. Under this law, notification must be provided 24 hours in advance in writing within business hours to the civil authorities indicating the place, date, time and objective of the assembly. At the time notification is given, the authorities must affix a stamp that indicates their acceptance of the holding of the assembly (Article 43). The authorities should take all preventive measures to avoid public gatherings and demonstrations that have not been notified or those carried out against the law (Article 49).

Simultaneous Assemblies

If there are substantial grounds that simultaneous meetings or other events may cause disturbances of public order, then by mutual agreement with the organizers the assembly may be provided another place, time or date (Article 44). However, mayors and governors have the power to prohibit public meetings and demonstrations in certain places based on decisions published in official gazettes (Article 46). Those who disrupt, interfere with or attempt to impede or hinder public meetings and demonstrations may be arrested from one to 30 days (Article 47), and those who participate in public meetings and demonstrations of a political nature with the "use of uniforms" may be arrested for 15 to 30 days (Article 48).

Restrictions on Locations of Assemblies

Regulations on peaceful assembly come along with restrictions imposed on military and criminal matters, which were the result of political conflicts in Venezuela from 2002 to 2004. The Organic Law on National Security, Presidential Decrees and Resolutions of the Ministry of Defense on Security Zones, 2002 established a ban on assemblies in areas declared "security zones" by military authorities. These are "areas of the country, which are of strategic importance... and are subject to special regulation, in terms of people, goods and activities" (Article 47) and may include security zones at the border or be adjacent to sea areas, lakes, islands and navigable rivers, transmission corridors for pipelines, pipelines, aqueducts and main power lines, areas surrounding military and public facilities, basic industries, spaces for strategic services essential for air military installations, areas adjacent to roads and air communication and "any other area of ​​security deemed necessary for safety and defense of the Nation" (Article 48). Those who organize, hold or incite activities to disrupt or affect the organization in such areas can be imprisoned five to 10 years (Article 56).

Criminalization, Excessive Crackdowns, and Impunity for the State

The reform of the Penal Code April, 2005 was challenged by the Attorney General of the Republic in 2006 before the Supreme Court. The court admitted the case but did not resolve it in Judgment No. 667 of the Constitutional Chamber on March 30, 2006. The court considered the Penal Code "the greatest involucionista [reactionary] coup against the democratic public order" without "a single real and rational evidence to prove the need for such reform." In this Penal Code whoever offends with words or in writing the public authorities can be imprisoned from six to 30 months (Article 147 and 148); whoever intimidates or threatens public officials or their families can be imprisoned for two to five years (Article 283); whoever obstructs public highways can be imprisoned for four to 16 years depending on the severity (Article 357); whoever disobeys the authorities may be imprisoned for five to 30 days or fined (Article 483); and those who conspire or help other countries or "terrorist groups or associations, paramilitaries, insurgents or subversives" to go against the territorial integrity or republican institutions can be punished with 20 to 30 years in prison (Articles 128 and 140 )."

Between 1989 and 2013, 10,400 people were arrested by security forces during assemblies. In the first four months of 2014, the number of arrests was equivalent to 30% of all demonstrators detained in those prior 24 years. During the first half of 2014, more than 20% of demonstrations were repressed, with the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB) being the organization responsible for such repression.

According to records of two CSOs, Public Space and PROVEA, in 2014 the state responded disproportionately to demonstrations 82% of the time. 43 people were killed in separate demonstrations as a result of the actions of the security forces and other non-State actors. In addition, from the analysis of 37 cases of criminal court proceedings involving 399 people detained during the protests of 2014, Centro de Derechos Humanos - Universidad Católica Andrés Bello (CDH-UCAB) found there was an arbitrary nature to the arrests, concealment of evidence of torture and irregular judicial and other processes. No cases are known where the authorities compensated victims and, in the few cases in which an investigation was ordered and the aggressors were fully identified and called to testify, the victims were intimidated without any effective protection provided to them.

The State has also pressured mayors to crack down on assemblies and imprisoned a number of mayors in opposition to the government who did not participate in such crackdowns, such as the mayors of the Municipality of Chacao in Miranda state; the Municipality of San Cristobal in Tachira state; the Municipality of Diego Bautista Urbaneja in Anzoategui state; and the Municipality of Maracaibo in Zulia state.

In January 2015, the Ministry of Defence issued Resolution No. 08610 on "Standards for the Performance of the Bolivarian National Armed Force's Control Functions for Public Order, Social Peace and Citizen Coexistence in Public Meetings and Demonstrations", which allows the army, navy and air force to use weapons of war and "deadly" or "life-threatening" violence, if there is risk of death for officials who are controlling public demonstrations.

In March 2016, the alliance of opposition parties "Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD)" initiated a procedure to convene a recall referendum on the presidential term before the National Electoral Council (CNE), which is enshrined as a political right in Article 72 of the Constitution and regulated in Resolution No. 070906-2770 CNE. Allegations of undue obstruction and delay by the CNE and interference by the Executive in its decisions led to calls for peaceful demonstrations against the CNE headquarters. After this, Judgment No. 1478 of the Second Administrative Court ordered the National Guard and Bolivarian National Police to prevent "unauthorized acts, marches, protests, unpermitted rallies and violent demonstrations called by political and civil organizations, which may limit the access of workers and disrupt the normal functioning of the headquarters of the National Electoral Council, at the national level."

CODHEZ and the Inter-institutional Commission of Human Rights in Zulia state also studied 150 of about 453 cases of arbitrary detention reported in the protests in 2014 in the city of Maracaibo, Zulia state, and found frequent violations to liberty and personal security, due process, and physical, mental and moral integrity carried out repeatedly by the Venezuelan State against demonstrators. In most interviews, victims reported being labeled as "guarimberos" (similar to "hooligans"), "bourgeois" and many other derogatory words and phrases. 16 victims said they had received threats against their families and 87 reported personal attacks against them in detention with verbal attacks such as, "We know where you live"; "If you want to disappear..."; "You will not leave alive" or "We will kill you." Nearly 60 victims were beaten by government troops at the time of the arrest, including 29 while in transfer to the detention center and 26 while in the detention center. In the case of two sisters who were arrested, an officer grabbed one sister behind her neck and forced her to watch how they beat the other sister. Lawyers also stated that there was a marked delay of prosecutions. In 56 cases, the Public Ministry presented no evidence with any reasoned basis; 108 victims were prevented from contacting their families; and 40 of the accused said they had no contact with lawyers until the time of the conclusion of the hearing. In 20 cases, the court granted alternatives to punishments, with measures such as a ban on the accused approaching any kind of protest of a political nature, making use of caps, shirts or banners to protest, or using the national flag.

CivilisDDHH also documented 204 attacks on civilians in residential areas of Bolivar, Zulia, Lara and Táchira states between February and May 2014, and recorded similar situations in other 10 states. These attacks were carried out with military equipment and without a State of Emergency and Exception. The attacks consisted of the use of excessive and indiscriminate repressive force against individuals and families in their neighborhoods and housing developments, houses and buildings during the time demonstrations were held. In 81% of attacks the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB) was involved; in 17% state police were involved, in 12% of attacks the Army was involved and in 8% the Bolivarian National Police were involved (sometimes two or more entities attacked together). In 26% of attacks armed civilians were involved and 64% of the cases they attacked jointly with military and police.

Despite the above-mentioned reports, in the 4th periodic review of Venezuela to the Human Rights Committee, the State alleged that the demonstrations of 2014 had been "a violent offensive aimed to depose the legitimate authorities chosen by the people in free elections", for which the security organs were ordered to apprehend people engaged in the "flagrant commission of crimes". However, the Committee warned about violations committed, including cases of excessive and disproportionate use of force, torture or ill-treatment, arbitrary detention, and disregard of legal safeguards, for which only 7 officials of the State had been charged. Also, the Committee was concerned about the participation of military personnel at public meetings and demonstrations, the death of 43 people and 878 injured, of which 68% were civilians, in demonstrations; and 242 complaints reported by the State compared with 558 by the Ombudsman; the misuse of firearms and riot gear against demonstrators in residential areas; and 437 attacks by pro-government armed groups against demonstrators, with complicity and acquiescence of the security forces. The Committee also expressed concern about the existence of a number of rules, including some of those contained in the Organic Law on National Security, which could adversely affect the exercise of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly in practice, including a judgment of the Supreme Court of Justice, which set a requirement of authorization before holding a public meeting or demonstration.

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Reports

UN Universal Periodic Review Reports

October 7, 2011

Reports of UN Special Rapporteurs United Nations Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights 2015
USIG (United States International Grantmaking) Country Notes Venezuela 2015
U.S. State Department

Human Rights Report 2015

Fragile States Index Reports

Foreign Policy: Failed States Index 2015

IMF Country Reports Venezuela
Amnesty International Report on Venezuela 2015/16
Human Rights Watch

A Decade under Chavez: Political Intolerance and Lost Opportunities for Advancing Human Rights in Venezuela 2008

World Report: 2015

Organization of American States (OAS)

Venezuela Annual Report 2015
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) Report on Democracy and Human Rights in Venezuela 2010

Civil Society Index CIVICUS Submission on UPR for Venezuela 2016
International Commission of Jurists Not available
International Center for Not-for-Profit Law Online Library

Venezuela

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News and Additional Resources

While we aim to maintain information that is as current as possible, we realize that situations can rapidly change.  If you are aware of any additional information or inaccuracies on this page, please keep us informed; write to ICNL at ngomonitor@icnl.org.

General News

Peru's Incoming President Pressures Venezuela on Human Rights, Economic Crisis (June 2016)
Peru's president-elect called for Latin America's leaders to increase pressure on Venezuela to uphold rights for political opponents and address an economic crisis that has led to shortages of basic goods there. Pedro Pablo Kuczynski made the comments only days after the Washington-based Organization of American States said it would hold a special meeting on June 23 to discuss Venezuela.

Venezuela's Highest Court Rules Amnesty Bill Unconstitutional (April 2016)
Venezuela's highest court has ruled unconstitutional an amnesty bill passed by the opposition-controlled National Assembly in a move backing President Nicolas Maduro. The court -- called the Supreme Tribunal of Justice -- said the amnesty bill was unconstitutional because it shielded offenses "that are acts of organized crime, which are not related to crimes of a political nature."

Venezuela's National Assembly Passes Amnesty Bill (March 2016)
The Venezuelan National Assembly has passed an amnesty bill which could free dozens of jailed opposition leaders. The opposition-controlled assembly passed the bill after a heated discussion late on Tuesday. President Nicolas Maduro said he would block the bill, which he argued would benefit "criminals and terrorists". The opposition won the parliamentary elections in December on a promise to work towards the release of dozens of what it considers political prisoners. Among the more than 70 detainees who could be freed if the bill becomes law is Leopoldo Lopez, a prominent opposition leader who was sentenced to 13 years and nine months in prison last year for inciting violence during mass protests.

NGOs Denounce Venezuela's Human Rights Abuses before UN Committee (July 2015)
On Monday, June 29, the UN Human Rights Committee began its periodic review of Venezuela's human-rights compliance. A group of NGOs have brought a challenge before the United Nations based on studies conducted by independent experts who monitor political and civil rights in Venezuela. Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz served as head of Venezuela's 35-member delegation, which denied that the government violates human rights. However, at least 30 NGOs presented research that contradicts this claim.

Machado to Face Charges over Alleged Plot to Assassinate Maduro (November 2014)
Venezuelan opposition leader Maria Corina Machado will be charged for her presumed link to an alleged plot to assassinate president Nicolas Maduro. In a letter that Machado published on her twitter account, the Attorney General's office solicited her presence to formally charge her. Machado has rejected the accusations against her as "infamy", and claimed that the judicial action was a response to her demand that the leading rectors of the National Electoral Council resign. Machado was a leader of the movement of opposition protests named "The Exit" that brought several Venezuelan cities to a halt from February to May 2014.

Venezuela's military admits excesses during deadly protests (April 2014)
The military in Venezuela has admitted it committed "some excesses" during weeks of political unrest that have left more than 40 people dead. The military's strategic command chief, Vladimir Padrino, said they were investigating 97 officers and police staff for "cruelty and torture". But he stressed these were less than 1% of all officers.

Armed pro-government militias wreak havoc on Venezuela protests
(April 2014)
Masked gunmen emerged from a group of several dozen motorcycle-mounted government loyalists who were attempting to dismantle a barricade in La Isabelica, a working-class district of Valencia that has been a center of unrest since nationwide protests broke out last month. The barricades' defenders had been hurling rocks, sticks and other objects at the attackers, who included perhaps a dozen armed men.

UN human rights experts urge probe into recent violence amid Venezuelan protests (March 2014)
A group of independent United Nations human rights experts asked the Venezuelan Government for prompt clarification of allegations of arbitrary detention and excessive use of force and violence against protesters, journalists and media workers during recent protests. "The recent violence amid protests in Venezuela need to be urgently and thoroughly investigated, and perpetrators must be held accountable," the experts stressed in a news release. They also expressed their shock at the reported deaths of at least 17 persons during demonstrations.

Venezuela issues arrest warrant for opposition leader after clashes
(February 2014)
A day after political violence in Venezuela left three dead on the streets of Caracas, authorities issued an arrest warrant for an opposition leader on charges including conspiracy and murder in connection with the clashes, an official with Venezuela's justice ministry said. Before the government issued an arrest warrant for opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, President Nicolas Maduro had already threatened him with a permanent ban on holding public office. Lopez's party, Popular Will (known as VP after its initials in Spanish), has accused the government of responsibility for violence during anti-government protests.

Venezuela leaves international human rights body
(September 2013)
Venezuela withdrew from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights after President Nicolas Maduro and other Venezuelan leaders called the court an instrument of U.S. control in Latin America. Venezuela's exit from the human rights court -- which is affiliated with the Organization of American States -- comes a day after opposition leader Henrique Capriles sent documents to the OAS accusing Maduro of cheating him of the country's April 14 election. Capriles lost by less than 2 percent of the national vote in that race.

Civil Society Post-Chavez (May 2013)
There is a powerfully dangerous and condescending myth circulating about so-called ‘civil society’ in Venezuela, which goes something like this, as Daniel Levine put it on a recent radio program, “there’s just not independent groups as we conceive of civil society” in Venezuela. Focusing above all on the Communal Council phenomenon, Levine portrays these directly democratic institutions not as the radically participatory experiment they claim to be, but instead as little more than a cynical ruse by the late Hugo Chávez and his movement to enforce political objectives from above.

Constitutional Conundrum in Venezuela (January 2013)
Since early December 2012, President Chavez has been away from Caracas (in Habana, Cuba), and the state of his health is still a tightly kept secret. According to the Venezuelan Constitution, elected presidents must be sworn in on January 10 of the first year of their term and take an oath before the National Assembly. Mr. Chavez was reelected for a third six-year term in the presidential elections held on October 7, 2012. He won 54 percent of the vote against the 45 percent collected by Henrique Capriles, the candidate from a coalition of all the opposition parties. However, while so-called international accompaniers (the Venezuelan government chose not to allow observers) found no irregularities at the polls, the Chavez-controlled National Electoral Council’s website reveals a doubling of registered voters since 1999, and a surprising percentage of the registry is comprised of voters between the ages of 111 and 129. For reasons that were not clearly disclosed by those at his bedside, Chavez missed his own party on January 10th. The official position of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) is that, even in his condition, Chavez is still making decisions for the nation. Yet, no president was inaugurated, so who, then, is now in charge in Venezuela?

Venezuela writer defends Chavez government (November 2012)
Venezuela writer and intellectual Luis Britto defended the Chavez government against accusations of clamping down on press freedoms during a session held by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (Iachr) in Washington last Thursday. Britto called the continual claims of violations of freedom of expression in Venezuela as baseless and without merit, citing the fact that not a single proven case of repression has been brought before the commission.

Human Rights Council Elections: Pander Time (November 2012)
On November 12, 2012, 18 new members were elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council, which the UN says is the forum "all victims of human rights abuses should be able to look to... as a springboard for action." But the election process was emblematic of the betrayal of core human rights principles in the face of challenges from authoritarian states, and the disintegration of the idea of human rights itself in the main institution charged with defending it. The newly elected members include Pakistan, Venezuela and others with serious human rights deficits. A majority of the Council -- 24 of 47 members -- is now composed of states that are unfree or only partially free according to rankings by the nongovernmental organization Freedom House. None of the members from Africa are free, while three of five Asian members are only partially free. A majority of the Council are states from the "Global South."

NGO calls for debate on cable TV regulation in Venezuela (October 2012)
Representatives from several organizations belonging to the NGO Monitor Legislativo (Legislative Monitor) discussed the upcoming Venezuelan legislative agenda. They focused on several draft legislations and reforms that are to be debated at the Venezuelan National Assembly, such as the Organic Code on Criminal Procedure (COPP), the People's Power Law on Communication, the Disarmament Law, and the Law on Social Responsibility in Radio and Television (known as Resorte Law). As for the Resorte Law and a possible regulation of cable TV, director of NGO Espacio Público (Public Space) Carlos Correa recommended launching a debate on this matter. "We have limited information (regarding this legislation). Some of its provisions raise concern because they may entail some violations of Venezuelans' human rights," Correa remarked.

Call to sign petition condemning Venezuela denunciation of the American Convention on Human Rights(October 2012)
Venezuela’s government recently denounced the American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR). It also plans to withdraw from the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. This move is seen as political retaliation for the Inter-American Court’s support for human rights claims in Venezuela. Any decision to withdraw from the Inter-American Court’s jurisdiction would set an extremely regressive precedent and constitute a setback for the human rights of the peoples of the Americas. The deadline for the petition asking Venezuela to reverse its decision expired October 1.

NGOs report the killings of 65 union members in Venezuela since the beginning of 2012(September 2012)
Between January and September of this year 65 union members have been killed in Venezuela, most of whom worked in construction.  According to the NGO Venezuelan Social Conflict Observatory, and Conglictove.org.ve, there has been an increase in labor related conflicts.  According to the director of the Venezuelan Education Program, freedom of association in labor unions has been criminalized and just this year 120 union members have been tried in criminal court, and 273 have been killed during the past five years.

IACHR regrets decision of Venezuela to denounce the American Convention on Human Rights (September 2012)
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has been informed that Venezuela presented to the Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS) a notice of denunciation of the American Convention on Human Rights, dated September 6, 2012. The Commission observes that, when the denunciation of the Convention enters into effect one year from the date of the presentation of the letter, Venezuela, as a Member State of the OAS, will continue to be subject to the Commission’s jurisdiction and be bound by the obligations established in the OAS Charter and the American Declaration, to which Venezuela has been a State Party since 1948. Nonetheless, it is of deepest concern to the Inter-American Commission that, from the date that the denunciation enters into force, the Inter-American Court will not be able to analyze violations of human rights that may occur in Venezuela. This means that if the State completes the procedure it has begun, the inhabitants of Venezuela will be stripped of a mechanism to protect their human rights.

OAS General Secretary communicates Venezuela´s decision to denounce the American Convention on Human Rights (September 2012)
According to an OAS press release, "The government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela today informed the Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), José Miguel Insulza, through an official letter, that it is denouncing the American Convention on Human Rights.... The OAS Secretary General regrets the decision taken by the government of Venezuela to denounce this legal instrument, one of the pillars of the legal regulations that protect the defense of human rights in the hemisphere."

Amendments to criminal procedure protect public servants who violate human rights (June 2012)
Article 123 of the amended Organic Code of Criminal Procedure (COPP) was issued in mid-June by Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez using his special powers as granted by the National Assembly to make rules by decree. The Article makes the Office of the Ombudsman the only body, in addition to the Attorney General Office, empowered to file suit against public servants or police agents involved in human rights abuses in performing their functions. Furthermore, Article 123 deprives NGOs of the possibility of representing in court the victims of human rights abuses. For instance, from now on, individuals tortured or illegally detained by the police, who cannot afford to hire an attorney, may delegate their representation only to the Office of the Ombudsman.

Attacks on journalists and the media up 16% in Venezuela (May 2012)
Venezuelan NGO "Espacio Público" (Public Space) counted 244 reports of freedom of expression violations, registered in 201 events during 2011, which represents an increase of 16% from 2010. According to a report presented by the NGO, "Each week of 2011, (in average) 4.3 cases of violations of the content and scope of the right to freedom of expression occurred in Venezuela. These data point out to continuous freedom of expression violations."

Venezuelan NGOs present report before IACHR on freedom of expression concerns (March 2012)
Four Venezuelan NGOs presented a report with complaints about restrictions on freedom of expression and alleged attacks on journalists before the IACHR. The National College of Journalists of Venezuela, the National Union of Press Workers, the Human Rights Center at the Catholic University Andres Bello and Public Space discussed censorship and concerns regarding attacks on journalists in the upcoming election year.

News Archive

IACHR Report keeps Venezuela on the human rights blacklist (April 2011)

After 31 days of hunger strikes, students assure Government met their demands (March 2011)

The agony of Venezuela’s democracy (March 2011) 

New Laws in Venezuela Aim to Limit Dissent (December 2010)

Legislative Assault on Free Speech, Civil Society (December 2010)

In Venezuela, Accusations Against Ronald McDonald House, Among Other U.S. Charities (August 2010) 

NGO warns that Law on Social Controllership restricts information (July 2010)

Venezuela Rejects New Agression by Hillary Clinton (July 2010)

NGOs ask Venezuelan government to ensure free flow of ideas (June 2010)

Venezuela: UN expert calls on the authorities to withdraw arrest warrant against TV channel president (June 2010)

Chávez furious as OAS rights watchdog accuses him of endangering democracy (February 2010)

IACHR publishes report on Venezuela (February 2010)

Venezuela sees clashes as anti-Chavez TV station closed (January 2010)

Vice President, government officials resign (January 2010)

OAS expresses concern over closings of TV channels in Venezuela (January 2010)

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The foregoing information was collected by the ICNL Civic Freedom Monitor partner organization in Venezuela.