Venezuela: Amnesty International 2006 report
There were reports of unlawful killings of criminal suspects by police. Most cases were not investigated and the perpetrators remained unpunished. The lack of independence of the judiciary remained a concern. Persistent social and economic inequalities continued to limit access to the economic and social rights of Afro-descendants and indigenous peoples.
Political polarization continued to be a destabilizing factor. There were continued concerns that critics of the government were being harassed, including through the criminal justice system. Some confrontations between supporters of President Chávez and the opposition took place before August municipal elections, which were won by President Chávez’ party, Movimiento V República.
Congressional elections in December resulted in a landslide victory for President Chávez’ party, after opposition parties refused to take part, accusing the electoral body of bias. The elections were largely regarded as fair by international observers.
International relations with the USA remained tense as US officials continued to accuse President Chávez’ government of threatening the stability of the region. President Chávez continued to increase its co-operation with Latin American nations, including trade and energy links.
There were continuing reports of human rights violations by the police, including unlawful killings of criminal suspects. In most cases an investigation was not opened and the alleged perpetrators were not brought to justice. According to statistics published by the Public Prosecutor’s Office in July, between 2000 and mid-2005, more than 6,100 people were killed by police in 5,500 incidents. Of the nearly 6,000 police officers implicated, only 517 were charged and fewer than 250 were under arrest.
The Commission of Internal Affairs of the National Assembly, the Human Rights Ombudsman and the Public Prosecutor’s Office received reports of killings by the police in Guárico, Aragua, Falcón and Carabobo states. The National Assembly expressed its commitment to investigate these allegations. In a report published in July, local human rights organizations warned of a pattern of killings, possible “disappearances” and kidnappings in six states (Anzoategui, Capital District, Falcón, Miranda, Portuguesa and Yaracay).
Victims of human rights violations, and their relatives, were reportedly threatened and intimidated by police.
- In January, 16-year-old Rigoberto Barrios died in hospital after being shot eight times by the police in Guanayen town, Aragua State. He was the third member of his family allegedly killed by the police since they reported the killing of Narciso Barrios in December 2003, following an argument with Aragua State police officers. In June an attempt was made on the life of Óscar Barrios. He escaped unharmed. In August, Juan Barrios was threatened by two uniformed police officers. The family was granted police protection in May, following instructions from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. However, by the end of 2005, none of the police officers implicated in the killings and threats had been prosecuted.
- Carmen Alicia Mota de Hernández and her family in Valle de la Pascua town, Guárico State, were reportedly subjected to a campaign of intimidation by police officers after reporting the killing of her husband, Arturo Hernández, in April 2004.
Lack of independence of the judiciary
The failure of the judiciary and the Public Prosecutor’s Office to guarantee impartial and effective redress mechanisms for victims of human rights violations undermined their credibility. According to reports,
98 per cent of human rights violations remained unpunished. Only a small proportion of judges and prosecutors were reportedly in permanent employment.
Human rights defenders
Human rights defenders continued to face harassment and intimidation.
There were concerns over the safety of members of the human rights organization COFAVIC (Comité de Familiares de Víctimas de los Sucesos de Febrero-Marzo de 1989), after their police protection was withdrawn in March. The organization had made a public statement which criticized the authorities for not bringing to justice the perpetrators of human rights violations committed during confrontations in 1989 between the opposition, the police and the military. In November 2002, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights had ordered Venezuela to protect members of COFAVIC after they suffered threats and acts of intimidation.
Freedom of expression
Administrative and tax proceedings were allegedly used to restrict freedom of expression. The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights expressed concern over the decision of the National Agency for the Administration of Taxes and Customs to impose a fine and order a 24-hour closure of the regional newspaper El Impulso, reportedly because it had criticized restrictions on freedom of expression in Venezuela.
Economic, social and cultural rights
In August the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination expressed concern that persistent social and economic inequalities continued to restrict the enjoyment of economic and social rights by Afro-descendants and indigenous peoples. It noted that indigenous lands and resources continued to be threatened by outsiders. The Committee also expressed concern about child labour, child prostitution, and about slavery in illegal gold prospecting sites in the upper Orinoco and Casiquiare and Guainia-Río Negro basins.
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