HUMAN RIGHTS IN VENEZUELA
1. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (hereinafter “the Inter-American Commission”, “the Commission”, or “IACHR”) is a principal organ of the Organization of American States (“OAS”) whose primary function is to promote compliance and defense of human rights in the region. In furtherance of this principle, for more than fifty years, the Commission has used its resources to issue reports analyzing the advances and challenges of the member states of the Organization regarding human rights by reference to the American Convention on Human Rights (hereinafter “the American Convention”) and other instruments of the Inter-American system.
2. In order to observe the human rights situation in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (hereinafter “Venezuela”, or “the State”), the IACHR undertook its last on-site visit in May 2002. This visit took place at the request of President Hugo Chavez Frías, who in 1999 visited the offices of the IACHR, at the headquarters of the Organization of American States in Washington, D.C., being the first head of state to undertake a visit to the IACHR.
3. The Commission’s visit was scheduled immediately after the institutional rupture of April of 2002 when there was an attempt to overthrow the Constitutional President of Venezuela. It is noteworthy that the reaction of the Commission to the attempted coup d’état was immediate and decisive, even though other international instances had not yet made any pronouncements about these serious events. In its press release of April 13 in relation to the occurrences of April 11 and the subsequent alteration of the constitutional order, the Commission issued a press release in which it expressed, among other things, its strong condemnation of the acts of violence that took the lives of at least 15 persons and caused injuries to more than one hundred. Additionally, the Commission lamented the fact that during the days of April 12 and 13, arbitrary detentions and other violations of human rights were committed; deplored the removal from office of the highest authorities from all of the branches of government; and warned that these acts constituted an interruption of the constitutional order as defined in the Democratic Charter. The Commission also affirmed that:
[…] the Commission is closely monitoring the unfolding of events arising from the removal or resignation of President Hugo Chávez Frías. The Commission deplores the dismissal, by a decree issued by the government that took office on April 12, of the highest officers of the judiciary and of independent officials within the executive branch, and the suspension of the mandate of the members of the legislature. These developments, in the IACHR’s opinion, could constitute an interruption of the constitutional order as defined in the Democratic Charter. The IACHR urges Venezuela to promptly restore the rule of law and the democratic system of government by guaranteeing full observance of human rights and basic freedoms.
4. During the on-site visit to Venezuela carried out in May of the same year, President Chávez thanked the Commission for these actions and extended an invitation to the Commission to visit Venezuela when it considered it necessary to give continuity to the observance of the human rights situation in the country.
5. On the basis of the observations gathered during its on-site visit to Venezuela, on the December 29, 2003, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights decided to publish The Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Venezuela approved on October 24, 2003. In this report, the IACHR “identified weaknesses in the rule of law in Venezuela, and […] offered in each chapter a series of recommendations that it considers indispensable for restoring social peace in a democratic state and society.” As has been reported to the Commission, a large part of the recommendations issued by the IACHR have not yet been implemented fully by the State.
6. In order to follow up on its recommendations, as well as to receive information first hand on the current situation of human rights in Venezuela, since the publication of the Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Venezuela in 2003, the Commission has requested unsuccessfully from the State, both verbally and in writing, its consent to visit the country once again. Up until now, it has not obtained the requested consent for and the State has confirmed that it will not permit an IACHR visit to Venezuela “until all [of the Commission] rectifies its biased position towards it [Venezuela]”.
7. Recently, the State declared to the IACHR that “the only way the government of president Chávez would accept another on-site visit would be if the following requests were complied with: (1) that the Commission publicly acknowledge its error in recognizing the coup d’état of April 11, 2002; (2) the substitution of the executive secretary [and] the naming of a new Rapporteur for Venezuela; [and] (3) the reformation of the rules of procedure of the Commission to guarantee transparency, independence, and plurality of thought in the heart of the system for the protection of human rights.”
8. The impossibility of conducting a visit to Venezuela makes more difficult the fulfillment of the mandate which the States of the OAS granted to the IACHR, especially that of promoting the observance and defense of human rights with both direct knowledge and on-site observation of the situation of human rights in the countries of the region. The powers of the Commission derive from the American Convention on Human Rights and the Charter of the OAS, instruments ratified by the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. More specifically, the Statute of the Inter-American Commission contains, in Article 18, a list of the Commission’s powers and subsection “g” of this Article establishes that of “conduct[ing] on-site observations in a state, with the consent or at the invitation of the government in question.” Similarly, the Rules of the IACHR contain a chapter devoted to on-site visits.
9. Given that the visits of the IACHR are one of the protection mechanisms of the human rights system created by the OAS Member States, by setting obstacles for the fulfillment of this faculty granted to the IACHR by the States, the State of Venezuela is endangering this collective mechanism for human rights protection and for the Commission’s supervision of the compliance with human rights. Thus, beyond jeopardizing the IACHR’s faculties, by impeding the Commission’s visit, the State of Venezuela is contributing to the weakening of the inter-American system for the protection of human rights created by the States of the Hemisphere.
10. During its 50 years of operation, the Inter-American Commission has undertaken 89 on-site visits in the course of which it has received information for the drafting of reports and recommendations on the situation of human rights in the countries in the region. The evolution of the situation of human rights in the Hemisphere has clearly demonstrated the importance of the functions of general supervision assigned to the Inter-American Commission, which find their highest expression in the observation visits in order to appreciate the reality of a specific country. On-site visits allow the members of the Commission to interview directly various sectors of society as well as to engage with the principle authorities of the branches of the State, thereby immersing themselves in the reality of the country and drawing ever closer the relationship of cooperation with the government. This allows the principal organ of the OAS in this area to gather relevant evidence to recommend protective measures and the promotion of fundamental rights.
11. Despite the impossibility of conducting an on-site visit, the Inter-American Commission, pursuant to its protective functions, has employed various mechanisms laid down in the American Convention and in its Rules of Procedure to monitor the situation of human rights in Venezuela. Thus, through the system of cases, the holding of hearings, the adoption of precautionary measures, the request of provisional measures from the Court, the inclusion in chapter IV of its annual report, and the release of communiqués to the press, the IACHR has responded to the Venezuelan citizens who have requested protection from the Inter-American system, and has made the international community aware of the progressive deterioration of the situation of human rights in Venezuela.
12. In point of fact, beginning with the publication of its last Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Venezuela, the Commission has held 44 hearings, both at the request of the State as well as from civil society organizations, with the purpose of receiving information on the progress and challenges of Venezuela in the area of human rights. The Commission has convened eleven hearings on the general situation of human rights in Venezuela; two hearings on the situation of institutions and guarantees of human rights in Venezuela; three hearings on the situation of the judiciary in Venezuela; four hearings on the situation of human rights defenders in Venezuela; nine hearings on the situation of freedom of expression in Venezuela; one hearing on the prosecution of social protest in Venezuela; two hearings on economic, social and cultural rights in Venezuela; one hearing on the situation of persons deprived of their liberty in Venezuela; two hearings regarding the situation of those seeking refugee status in Venezuela; one hearing on the Government Program for the Protection of Victims, Witnesses, and other Subjects of the Judicial Process; one hearing on the situation of the indigenous peoples of the mining area South of Venezuela; one hearing on the right to land of the indigenous peoples of Venezuela; one hearing on public safety in Venezuela; two hearings on parapolice groups in Venezuela; one hearing on democratic institutionality, parapolice groups, and prisons in Venezuela; one hearing on impunity in cases of extrajudicial executions of campesinos (small-scale and subsistence farmers) in Venezuela; and one hearing on the situation of impunity in Venezuela.
13. In view of the troubling information received by the Commission on the state of human rights in Venezuela during the past few years, the Commission agreed, during its 133rd Ordinary Period of Sessions held in October, 2008, to prepare this report on the situation of human rights in Venezuela. Unlike other reports issued by the IACHR in which the Commission presents an evaluation of the situation of human rights in the country as witnessed on site, this report is based on the information which both the State as well as civil society provided to the IACHR during the hearings, on the basis of specific requests for information issued by the IACHR, and on the constant monitoring of the situation of human rights in Venezuela through public information sources.
14. Also, in order to devise means to fulfill its mandate of assessing the achievements and challenges in the area of human rights, the IACHR prepared a questionnaire which was sent to the State at the beginning of July 2009. Through the questionnaire information was requested of both a quantitative and qualitative nature, including reports, specific evaluations, and statistical and budgetary information, inter alia, relevant to the enjoyment of the rights protected in the American Convention on Human Rights and other instruments of the Inter-American system. On August 3, 2009, the State requested an extension of ten days to respond to the questionnaire sent by the IACHR, an extension granted by the Commission. The reply of the State to the questionnaire was received by the IACHR on August 13, 2009.
15. The draft report Democracy and Human Rights in Venezuela was approved by the Commission on November 7th, 2009 during its 137th ordinary period of sessions, which took place from October 28th to November 13th, 2009. This draft was transmitted to the State on November 9, 2009, with the request that it present the observations it considers pertinent within a period of one month. Through a communication dated November 2, 2009, the State requested an extension from the IACHR in order to present its observations. On December 7, 2009, the Commission informed the State of its decision to grant an extension of ten additional days after the original deadline to present its observations on the report. On December 19, 2009, the State presented its observations, the pertinent parts of which were incorporated in this report. On December 30, 2009, the Commission considered the final approval and publication of this report.
16. Throughout this report the Commission analyzes the state of human rights in Venezuela in light of the rules of the American Convention as well as other instruments of the inter-American system of human rights. Taking into account that, under Article 23 of the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (hereinafter “the Constitution”), enacted by the Constituent Assembly on December 20, 1999, treaties, agreements, and conventions relating to human rights duly signed and ratified have constitutional hierarchy and prevail over the domestic order, in areas containing provisions concerning their enjoyment and exercise more favorable than those set out in the Constitution and laws of the Republic, and are of immediate and direct application by the courts and other organs of the Public Authority.
17. The present report, Democracy and Human Rights in Venezuela, seeks to identify the main human rights issues affecting the country and includes the recommendations which the IACHR considers relevant, with the object of assisting the State in the fulfillment of its international obligations in the area of human rights. In this sense, the IACHR reiterates its offer to work with the Government of Venezuela as well as with Venezuelan society as a whole, in order to contribute to the strengthening of the defense and protection of human rights in a context of democracy and institutional legality. Similarly, the Commission will continue following closely the situation of human rights in Venezuela and will pay special attention to the measures which the State may adopt to implement the recommendations contained in this report.
 In accordance with the provisions of Article 17.2 of the Rules of Procedure of the Commission, Commissioner Luz Patricia Mejía Guerrero, of Venezuelan nationality, did not participate in the debate or decision of the present report.
 Venezuela is a member of the Organization of American States and recognized the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on August 9, 1977 on ratification of the American Convention on Human Rights. Later, on June 26, 1981, Venezuela recognized as binding, ipso facto, and not requiring special agreement, the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
 IACHR. Press Release 14/02: On Events in Venezuela. April 13, 2002.
 See: IACHR. Press Release 23/02 of May 10, 2002. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights concludes its visit to the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, para. 2 and Annex to Press Release 23/02. Preliminary Observations of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights upon the conclusion of its visit to the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, para. 3. In its observations on the present report, the State indicated that “None of this is true and there is no evidence of what the Commission states.” Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Ministry of Popular Power for Foreign Affairs. State Agent for Human Rights. Observations on the Draft Report Democracy and Human Rights in Venezuela. Note AGEV/000598 of December 19, 2009, p. 13.
 IACHR. Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Venezuela. October 24, 2003. OEA/Ser.L/V/II.118. Doc. 4 rev. 1. (Original in Spanish). Available in English at: http://www.cidh.oas.org/countryrep/Venezuela2003eng/toc.htm.
 IACHR. Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Venezuela. October 24, 2003, paragraph 524.
 Venezuela’s response to draft Chapter IV on Venezuela, received by the IACHR on February 6, 2009.
 Information provided by the State to the IACHR. Hearing on the Situation of Human Rights in Venezuela. 137th Period of Sessions, November 2, 2009. In its observations on the present report, the State reiterated that these are “essential conditions for the Venezuelan State to approve another visit by the Commission to the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.” Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Ministry of Popular Power for Foreign Affairs. State Agent for Human Rights. Observations on the Draft Report Democracy and Human Rights in Venezuela. Note AGEV/000598 of December 19, 2009, p. 17.
 American Convention on Human Rights: Article 41.
 Charter of the Organization of American States: Article 106.
 In Venezuela, the Public Power is distributed between the Municipal Power, State Power, and National Power. The National Public Power is divided into the Legislative, Executive, Judicial, Citizen and Electoral branches (Article 132 of the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela).