Legal Snapshot | Legal Analysis | Reports | News and Additional Resources
Last updated: 25 June 2016
Civil society has a long tradition in Venezuela. Civil society organizations may assume various forms, such as associations, foundations, neighborhood groups, community organizations and cooperatives. The two primary forms in which non-governmental, non-profit organizations (NPOs) acquire legal personality are civil associations and foundations.
The current Constitution of Venezuela was approved in 1999, and gave 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. Since the approval of the Constitution in 1999, numerous associations have emerged and there is considerable effort being made to cultivate popular enthusiasm for participation.
Nonetheless, participatory initiatives have been challenged by the Venezuelan government through both restrictive laws and unwritten government practice targeting NPOs that seek to promote human rights or monitor State actions. Indeed, for most of the past decade, the Venezuelan government has increasingly restricted civic space. A 2009 report by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) chronicles the deteriorating climate for human rights. Among other issues, the Commission cited a “troubling trend of punishments, intimidation, and attacks on individuals in reprisal for expressing their dissent with official policy.”
The operations of NPOs are also threatened by laws such as the "Law for the Defense of Political Sovereignty and National Self-Determination," which criminalizes NPOs working on defending political rights and participation, "The Organic Law on Organized Crime and Financing of Terrorism," and a government decree from 2013 on "Rank, Value and Force of Law," which allows the government to “establish strategic mechanisims to fight against foreign countries that may destroy the country through media, economical or political means… and fight illegal sponsors of political parties.”
The Hugo Chavez administration 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 civil society groups. Since Chavez's death in 2013, the new Nicolás Maduro administration has continued many of the same tactics as its predecessor.
|Organizational Forms||NPOs (Civil Associations and Foundations)|
|Registration Body||Subsidiary Registry Office (Branch of the Civil Registry System)|
|Approximate Number||Venezuela does not have any precise data on this subject. Nonetheless, according to REDSOC, which is one of the most important organizations dedicated to gathering information on the subject, there are 960 NPOs registered in Venezuela.|
|Barriers to Entry||Register before the Subsidiary Registry Office according to the Venezuelan Civil Code (Article 19).
Cases have been reported of Registry Offices making the registration process difficult or impossible for organizations dedicated to human rights defense.
|Barriers to Activities||A wide range of activities is permitted as long as the activities are enumerated in the organization’s governing documents.
Public threats to NGOs and their members.
|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.
In addition, cases of direct governmental retaliation and prosecution against members of NPOs that exercise the right of freedom of speech or advocacy have been reported.
|Barriers to International Contact||NPOs dedicated to the “defense of political rights” or other “political objectives” are precluded from hosting a foreign citizen who speaks out in a manner that might offend State institutions or senior officials, or that might go against the exercise of State sovereignty.
In addition, cases of direct governmental retaliation and threats against NPOs that work with foreign organizations have been reported.
|Barriers to Resources||
There are restrictions relating to exchange control.Any financial activity that might be deemed as suspicious must be reported, even if the source of the funds is legitimate.
NPOs dedicated to the “defense of political rights” or other “political objectives” are precluded from possessing assets, or receiving any income from foreign sources.
|Barriers to Assembly||Vague language in certain laws allow the government to criminalize organizations that are critical of the government, thus chilling the freedom of assembly.
Assemblies must be authorized by the government in advance.
Assemblies are not permitted within security zones designated by law.
Organizers and participants of assemblies are subject to criminal penalties, including imprisonment, for violations of law.
|Population||29,275,460 (July 2015 est.)|
|Type of Government||Federal Republic|
|Life Expectancy at Birth||Total population: 74.54 years
Male: 71.4 years
Female: 77.83 years (2015 est.)
|Literacy Rate||Total population: 96.3%
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||$16,700 (2015 est.)|
Source: The World Factbook. Washington, DC: Central Intelligence Agency, 2015.
|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|
|Freedom House: Freedom in the World||Status: Partly Free
Political Rights: 5
Civil Liberties: 5
|Free/Partly Free/Not Free
1 – 7
1 – 7
|Foreign Policy: Failed States Index
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|
|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|
|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|
|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|
|American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man||Yes||1948|
|American Convention on Human Rights||Yes||1969|
|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||Yes||1988|
|Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights to Abolish the Death Penalty||Yes||1990|
* Category includes ratification, accession, or succession to the treaty
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 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.
National Laws and Regulations Affecting Sector
- Constitution (1999)
- Código Civil (CC) (Civil Code) (1982)
- El Codigo Organico Tributario (Tax Code) (2001)
- Ley de Impuestos Sobre la Renta (LISR) (Income Tax Law) (as amended in 2007 by the Reforma Parcial de la Ley de Impuestos Sobre la Renta) (1999)
- Ley de Impuesto Sobre Sucesiones y Donaciones (Law on Taxation of Inheritance and Donations) (1999)
- Ley para Personas con Incapacidades (Law for Disabled Persons) (2007)
- Ley de Impuestos Valor Agregado (LIVA) (Value Added Tax) (as amended in 2007 by the Reforma Parcial de la Ley que establece el Impuesto al Valor Agregado (partial reform of the statute that creates VAT) (1994)
- Ley Organica de Aduanas (Customs Law) (1999) as amended in 2008 by the Reforma Parcial a la Ley Orgánica de Aduanas (partial reform to the Organic Customs Law)
- Ley Organica de la Educacion (Education Law) (2009)
- Ley Organica para la Protección del Niño y del Adolescentes (as amended in 2007 by the Reforma Parcial a la Ley Orgánica para la Protección del Niño y del Adolescente)
- Regulamiento de la Ley de Impuestos Sobre la Renta (RLISR) (Regulation to the Income Tax Law) (2003)
- Regulamiento de la Ley que Establece el Impuesto al Valor Agregado (Regulation to the VAT Law) (1999)
- Decreto con rango, valor y fuerza de ley de la reconversión monetaria (Presidential Decree on Monetary Reconversion) (2007)
- Reforma de la Ley Organica Contra la Delincuencia Organizada y Financiamiento Al Terrorismo (2012)
- Ley del Consejo Federal de Gobierno y su reglamento (Organic Law of the Federal Council of Government and its by-law) (2010)
- Ley del poder popular de la juventud (Law of the popular power of the youth) (2010)
- Ley Orgánica de Drogas (Organic Law on Drugs) (2010)
- Reforma a la Ley Contra Ilícitos Cambiarios, amended by the Illicit Currency Exchange Law (2010)
- Normas relativas al Mercado de Divisas, resolución del Banco Central de Venezuela, (Resolution by the Venezuelan Central Bank (Banco Central Venezuela) dictating norms regarding the currency market) (2010)
- Ley de defensa de la soberanía política y la autodeterminación nacional (Law of Defense of Political Sovereignty and National Self-Determination) (2010)
- Ley que autoriza al Presidente de la República para dictar Decretos con Rango Valor y Fuerza de Ley en las materias que se delegan (Ley Habilitante) (2010) (Law that Authorizes the President of the Republic to Dictate Decrees that Have the Force of Law in Delegated Matters) or (Enabling Law).
- Ley que autoriza al Presidente de la República para dictar Decretos con Rango, Valor y Fuerza de Ley en las materias que se delegan (2013) (Gaceta official extraordinario 6112)
- Ley Orgánica del Poder Popular (Organic Law of Popular Power) (2010)
- Ley Orgánica de Planificación Pública y Popular (Organic Law of Public and Popular Planning) (2010)
- Ley Orgánica de las Comunas (Organic Law of Communes) (2010)
- Ley Orgánica del Sistema Económico Comunal (Organic Law of the Communal Economic System) (2010)
- Ley Orgánica de Contraloría Social (Organic Law of Social Accountability) (2010)
- Ley de Reforma Parcial de la Ley Orgánica del Poder Público Municipal (partial amendment of the Organic Law of Municipal Public Power) (2010) la sentencia de la Sala Constitucional del Tribunal Supremo de Justicia de fecha 29 de enero de 2013 con Ponencia del Magistrado Arcadio de Jesús Delgado Rosales (Nro. De expediente: 05-1315), anuló parcialmente los artículos 56 (H), 95 (12) y 78 de la Ley Orgánica del Poder Público Municipal (2005) que continuaron en las reformas del 2006 y del 2010
- Ley de Reforma Parcial de la Ley de Consejos Locales de Planificación Pública (partial amendment of the Organic Law of Public Planning Local Councils) (2010) La Asamblea Nacional en su sesión del día jueves 1 de Agosto de 2013, sancionó Reforma a la Ley de los Consejos Locales de Planificación Pública, sin embargo no ha sido publicada en Gaceta Oficial
- Ley de Reforma de la Ley de los Consejos Estadales de Planificación y Coordinación de Políticas Públicas (partial amendment of the State Planning Councils and Public Policy Coordination) (2010) La Asamblea Nacional en la sesión del 1/08/2013 sancionó Ley de Reforma Parcial de la Ley de los Consejos Locales de Planificación Pública y la Ley de Reforma Parcial de la Ley de los Consejos Estadales de Planificación y Coordinación de Políticas Públicas, pero tampoco ha sid promulgada en Gaceta official
- Ley Orgánica de la Contraloría General de la República y del Sistema Nacional de Control Fiscal. Gaceta Oficial Nro 6.013 (Organic Law of the General Treasury Inspector's Office of The Republic and the National System of Fiscal Control) (2010)
- Organic Law of Sports, Physics Activity and Physical Education (2011)
- Decreto con Fuerza de ley Especial de Asociaciones Cooperativas (Gaceta Oficial Nro. 37285 de fecha 18 de Abril de 2006)
- Ley de Bosques (Gaceta Oficial Nro 40222 de fecha 6 de Agosto de 2013)
- Ley de Registro y Alistamiento para la Defensa Integral de la Nación. Gaceta Oficial 40.440 del 25 de Junio de 2014
Pending NGO Legislative / Regulatory Initiatives
The International Cooperation Law. In 2006 the National Assembly introduced, and passed on first reading, a restrictive draft Law on International Cooperation. The legislature did not take further action, and the law was never enacted.
In November 2010, Chavez made a speech imploring the National Assembly to make “a severe law” that would impede political and non-governmental organizations that are financed by the "Yankee Empire." The Assembly took under consideration a revised version of the International Cooperation Law. The Foreign Affairs Permanent Committee of the National Assembly met on December 1 and released a statement saying it planned to begin a comprehensive review of the law during the second week of December.
Venezuelan NPOs vigorously oppose the law, which they fear will ban international funding entirely, impeding their ability to garner sufficient financial resources to carry out their missions. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) also expressed its concern that the law’s provisions will restrict the international funding needed by nongovernmental organizations.
The law requires a vast array of organizations to register and subject themselves to highly discretionary government supervision if they engage in any international cooperation activity, broadly defined. The 2010 draft expands the type of organizations required to register under the law but is otherwise substantially similar to the 2006 draft. It contains the following provisions:
- The law establishes a Fund for International Cooperation and Assistance that will collect “inheritances, donations, transfers, and other resources received from other governments, international entities, cooperating sources, and national or foreign public and private institutions for purposes of supporting cooperation.”The Fund will potentially allow the government to collect international funds from donors and redirect them in accordance with national priorities as determined by the State. Venezuelan organizations will face serious restrictions on their ability to raise funds, particularly for activities that the government disfavors. This burden may disproportionately affect human rights defenders and advocacy organizations.
- A new executive agency will be created to regulate international cooperation with foreign states, international organizations, NPOs, and others and to “organize, direct, control, coordinate, pursue and evaluate all "activities of international cooperation" in Venezuela. Because the agency’s officials are chosen by the President, it will be able to create its own rules regarding how to register and regulate organizations. It is far from clear at this point how the agency will exercise its discretion and whether it will tolerate NPOs that do not support the President’s policies.
- The Law will prohibit Venezuelan groups from freely exchanging, in addition to money, goods, and services, “improvement of institutional capacities,” and “creation of human talent.” This provision may be interpreted to regulate the exchange of ideas, information, and opinions with foreign counterparts related to the betterment of their organizations or staff. This would essentially cut off any technical assistance programs that domestic NPOs have with their branches or partner organizations abroad.
- The Law creates a system of mandatory registration in order for an organization to be recognized by the State as having the ability to engage in activities with foreign counterparts, as well as to receive money, goods, and services. These registration requirements appear to be in addition to the registration process required to create an organization. A wide range of organizations would be required to register, including organized communities, nongovernmental organizations, universities, corporations, entrepreneurial organizations, unions, and other “social agents regarding those activities related to the international cooperation.” This is a major change from the original draft of the law, which would have required only NPOs to register.
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. [CC 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.
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 non-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.
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 it be registered with the Subsidiary Registry Office in the district in which the organization will be based. Registration with the Subsidiary Registry Office is a constitutive formality which grants legal personality to the organization. In practice, however, state implementation of registration procedures has reportedly made the process difficult and even impeded the registration of NPOs engaging in the defense and promotion of human rights.
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. (art. 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.
The main legal restriction to NPO activities is the Law for the Defense of Political Sovereignty and National Self-determination (2010). This law prohibits any organization with political aims or any organization that protects political rights (organizaciones con fines políticos u 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.
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 advocacy. The Government has retaliated against members of NPOs who have made studies, reports or declarations criticizing governmental acts. The forms of retaliation vary but include informal threats against the personal integrity of members of NPOs, governmental pressure over donors, judicial prosecution of members of NPOs, and public derision of the NPOs and its members, among others.
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 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 out 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.
Foreign persons, natural or legal, are fully permitted to establish branch offices in Venezuela. However, there have been cases of direct governmental retaliation and threats against national NPOs that work with foreign organizations.
Barriers to Resources
The principal legal barrier affecting resources springs from the political context that affects all Venezuelan activity and not exclusively NPOs. Since Venezuela has for the past five years been subjected 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 subjected 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 the funds is legitimate.
The National Assembly on December 21, 2010 passed the Law for Protection of Political Liberty and National Self-determination, which targets NPOs dedicated to the “defense of political rights” or other “political objectives.” Specifically, it precludes these organizations from possessing assets, or receiving any income from foreign sources. Noncompliance could lead to a fine of double the amount received from the foreign source.
There are no legal barriers that restrict domestic funding of civil society organizations. 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; they prefer anonymity.
Barriers to Assembly
The Venezuelan Constitution, in Article 68, enshrines the freedom of assembly:
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 security corps in maintaining public order.
The right to 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.
The language in recently enacted laws affecting civil society and freedom of assembly is confusing, ambiguous and highly discretionary. Such laws include the Organic Law against Organized Crime and Financing Terrorism, the Law for the Defense of Political Sovereignty and National Self-Determination, and the recently enacted Decree No. 458, which mandates the creation of the Strategic Center of Security and Protection of the Country (CESPPA). These laws are designed to criminalize organizations that are critical of the government, thus chilling the freedom of assembly.
According to Article 38 of the Law on Political Parties, Public Gatherings and Manifestations, organizers must notify the authorities at least 24 hours before an assembly takes place. The information required includes the place of gathering or selected route, time of the gathering, and objective. According to Article 38, the assembly must be authorized immediately if the notice fulfills all legal requirements. If the assembly is not authorized, then, according to Article 45, two appeals are possible. The first one must be directed to the governor of the authorizing body, and, if still denied, a second appeal may be filed with the National Electoral Counsel. There is also the possibility of judicial review of these appeals.
Liability of Organizers
A court may find organizers criminally liable for disruption of public order under Article 485 of Venezuela’s Criminal Code, which states:
Whosoever disobeys a direct order legally pronounced by a competent authority, or fails to observe a measure legally adopted by an authority in the interest of justice or public security or salubrity, will be sentenced with arrest from 5 to 35 days, or fined from 20 to 150 Bolívares.
Venezuelan law prohibits simultaneous assemblies if there is cause to believe that public order and peace may be threatened (Article 39, Law on Political Parties, Public Gatherings and Manifestations). However, it is customary for government supporters to call for a counter-demonstration whenever a large opposition gathering is taking place, as could be seen after the elections held on April 14, 2013, when candidate Capriles called for a march on the National Electoral Council and President Nicolás Maduro not only prohibited the march but also called for a counter-demonstration at the same place. Local authorities supported this illegal measure. These actions taken by government officials severely endanger public order and hamper the right to assembly and expression of members of opposition parties.
Time, Place, and Manner Restrictions
Security zones are defined in Article 47 of the Law on Political Parties, Public Gatherings and Manifestations as “those spaces of National territory which, due to their strategic importance, characteristics and elements that conform them, are subject to special regulation regarding the people, goods and activities performed within them, with the purpose of guaranteeing the security of said zones against external or internal peril or menace.” Such places are not permitted to host assemblies. Article 48 also states that the National Defense Counsel may decree as security zones spaces such as frontiers, shores, ducts and power lines, military, public and industrial installations, as well as basic service facilities, among others.
Article 3 of the Law for the Defense of Political Sovereignty and National Self-determination establishes that the law is applicable to any person (natural or legal) who develops activities, including gatherings, demonstrations, etc., with political aims or addressed to the defense of political rights that threaten sovereignty, national independence, national institutions or legally constituted authorities. In so doing, the Law places severe constraints on assemblies that seek to defend political rights.
Failure to Protect Protestors
Venezuelan authorities do not routinely provide sufficient protection for protesters in public gatherings or to political leaders sponsoring them. There is a general feeling of repression due to the militarization of the country, with government officials known to sponsor violent groups, such as the Colectivos and international paramilitary, and no actions taken against these practices by the police or courts. A well-known case was the assault perpetrated on Globovisión, the former main television channel for the opposition in Venezuela, by activist Lina Ron and her followers. Ron was never sentenced, nor were any of her adherents.
Workers' demonstrations and strikes have also been banned or violently repressed by the army and police force on the grounds that they threaten national security and political sovereignty, even though there is no legal basis to support this.
The Law on Political Parties, Public Gatherings and Manifestations includes the following criminal penalties:
1. Interruption, disruption or hindering the assembly is penalized with arrest up to 30 days. (Article 42)
2. Manifestations in uniform are penalized with 15 to 30 days arrest, without prejudice to further legal actions that may be applied. (Article 43)
3. People involved in public gatherings or manifestations, which have not complied with lawful notice, will be punished with 15 to 30 days arrest, without prejudice to further legal actions that may be applied. (Article 44)
4. Media directors who engage in propaganda announcing gatherings or manifestations which have not acquired the necessary permit will be sanctioned with a fine of 500 to 5,000 Bolivares, or proportional arrest. (Article 44)
5. Actors engaged in gatherings which attempt to hinder the normal functions of deliberative, political, judicial or administrative bodies, as well as those which attempt to foster disorder or block free transit, will be sanctioned with 15 to 30 days arrest, without prejudice to further legal actions that may be applied. (Article 46)
|UN Universal Periodic Review Reports|
|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|
|Fragile States Index Reports|
|IMF Country Reports||Venezuela|
|Amnesty International||Report on Venezuela 2015/16|
|Human Rights Watch|
|Organization of American States (OAS)|
|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|
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Peru's Incoming President Pressures Venezuela on Human Rights, Economic Crisis (June 2016)
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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.
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)
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)
The foregoing information was collected by the ICNL NGO Law Monitor partner organization in Venezuela, Marcos Carrillo and Paz Activa.