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US State Department 2003 Human Rights Report on Venezuela

By Miguel Octavio

The report on human rights in Venezuela by the US State Department is out and it is not pretty. It is extremely long as it deals with all aspects of human rights, from free speech to women's rights. It is quite disturbing to read it, Venezuela has become a country in which not only there are routine violations of human rights, but even worse they are not investigated and those responsible are not found. Total impunity is the name of the game if you are a victim in Venezuela. It is actually indifferent which side you are on, forget about justice or someone defending your rights.

Here are some of the highlights:

Arbitrary or unlawful deprivation of life

-There were a dozen politically motivated killings in 2003.

-Opposition members received death threats or were intimidated by Government supporters.

-There were 130 extrajudicial killings from October 2002 to September 2003. Some of these were summary executions of criminal suspects while in custody.

-Killing of Government supporters in Apure state were blamed on Colombian guerillas which was denied by national leaders of the same party.

-Eight ranchers were kidnapped and killed. Ransom demands were beyond the ability of those kidnapped or no demand was made.

-A human rights worker in Zulia working for the U.N. Commission on refugees was shot and killed. He received eleven bullets.

-The Government rarely prosecutes cases of extrajudicial killings and characterizes them as “confrontations”

-Death squads composed of police members killed hundreds in the last year. The press registered 854 such cases, only a small number got to the Courts, members of security forces if convicted received light sentences.

-The Chief Prosecutor reported 1541 people killed since 1999 by the police. Death squad cases increased exponentially in 2002.

-Demonstrators from both sides were killed during marches.


-116 ranchers were kidnapped in 2003. 22 remained captive at the end of the year. While these cases used to involve mostly Colombian guerrillas, common criminals have become involved.


-Most victims of torture were poor and torture took place during interrogation.

-PROVEA documented 137 cases affecting 567 victims. Very few cases resulted in convictions.

-There were five bombings during the year, against foreign embassies, the house of one pro-Government Deputy and one with no clear target.

-Prison conditions are terrible, the report callas them inhuman. 48% of prisoners are awaiting trial. Most prisoners have to pay to even eat

Arbitrary Arrest

-There were arbitrary detentions by the Caracas Metropolitan Police, the political police DISP, municipal forces and the investigative police CICPC. Provea documents 3627 such cases in the year.

Denial of fair or public trial

-There are only 619 public defenders in the country, which have 150 cases on average but as many as 520 per defender.

- The Supreme Court ordered the replacement of the First Court on administrative matters by two Courts but has failed to name these Courts.

-There were no reports of political prisoners.

Freedom of Speech

-There were reprisals against those that publicly criticized the Government.

-There were 93 aggressions against reporters in 2003.

-There were six attacks against reporters with explosive devices.

-There were sixty attacks on media installations.

-The Government has failed to investigate any of these attacks.

-The Government has pressured the media with administrative procedures. 15 such cases were reported in 2003.

-There are no restrictions on the Internet (If you are reading this, there are none!)

Freedom of Association and Assembly

-Opposition figures and marches were attacked by alleged Government supporters.

-The Government claimed the metropolitan Police used excessive force against demonstrations, but failed to bring charges.

-Non Government associations that receive foreign funding were denied the right to represent citizens in Court or bring their own legal action. The Court also ruled the Government had the right to oversee democracy within these institutions and therefore the elections of their leadership can be regulated by the Electoral Board.

Freedom of Religion

-There were verbal attacks on religious institutions by the President.

-There were fie attacks on the church and its symbols.

Freedom of Movement

-There were 9533 deportation, most of which did not follow the thirty day period required by law.

Respect for political rights

-The Interamerican Human Rights Court ordered the Government to compensate victims of the 1989 Caracazo, while the President said the decision was not binding, since then the Government has complied.


-Violence against women is a severe problem.

-Sexual harassment in the workplace is not a criminal offense. (Note: I did not know this!)

-Women are underrepresented in general, but are 50% of the student body of universities.

-1.6 million children work illegally. mostly in the informal sector.

-240,000 abandoned children roam the streets.

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