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Mohamad Merhi; the Venezuelan Human Rights defender

By Aleksander Boyd
Director of Proveo

By any standards and taking into consideration the precarious situation experienced by the victims of human rights violations in Venezuela, today was a successful day. We started at the Latin American and Caribbean department of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office; we then went to the headquarters of Amnesty International. Words were changed for actions and a demonstration followed in front of the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, concluding the day with the presentation of a documentary about Chavez at the LSE.

The story of Mr Merhi is nothing short of outstanding and perhaps that was the reason why we received such a prompt and welcoming response from all the aforesaid institutions. For those of you whom are not familiarised with the struggle of Mr Merhi, I would say that he was marching with his son among a million strong demonstration towards Miraflores on April 11th 2002 (11A) when his son was shot in the head and died. At this stage one must not elaborate on the intellectual perpetrators of those crimes. However there is an issue that cannot be denied by any institution of this planet, i.e. the lack of a prompt and expeditious investigation, which will bring justice to light.

Lots of pro and con arguments can be presented against the current administration and its involvement in those events. Take Amnesty for example, they put forward the argument that the government has indeed advanced the investigations to a certain extent if compared to the events of "El Caracazo" in 1989 or the two coup attempts led by Chavez in 1992. They think that some progress has been made; alas Mr Merhi has seen none of that. What he has actually seen is that the government has used every single mechanism available to them to block, cover up and delay the normal course of justice, which in the Venezuelan case are quite a few considering that the president controls the Public Prosecutor's Office, the Supreme Court, the National Assembly, the investigative police force (PTJ) and the Ombudsman's Office. That can neither be denied for more than a year has passed and no one has been held accountable for said crimes, what is even worse is that one of the shooters of 11A in spite of being caught in camera -even by the Irish filmmakers- was presented to the triumphant Bolivarian crowd a year after as a "hero of the revolution" Chavez' dictum.

Confronted with such a pathetic response to investigate the killings, Mr Merhi took a more proactive stance in his claim for justice. He presented a lawsuit in the Supreme Court and started giving conferences and statements to the media on a constant basis. Due to these actions, unknown individuals attempted to kill him twice on the same day, actions that came to swell the list of violations that he has been trying to denounce. The OAS granted precautionary measures to Mr Merhi, in an attempt to ensure his well being. The police implemented said measures for two weeks, although the document clearly stated that they should have been enforced for a period of six months. He declared himself in hungerstrike shortly after, only to be the subject of more violent attacks not only by government supporters a.k.a. Bolivarian Circles but also by the National Guard.

The account of abuses goes on almost endlessly and yet Mr Merhi does not advocate for violence or confrontation. Losing a son is an unbearable tragedy for most people. It is therefore of extreme importance that no more sons will be lost, that is the core of Mr Merhi's speech. No more bloodshed, no more killings, no more hatred language but justice and only justice for all. Listening to him is quasi surreal.

On the other hand we still encounter people who would argue in favour of Chavez. The question is; who can contest Mr Merhi's position? Certainly the opposition and the media are riddled with problems and incompetence but that does not change the fact that people were and are killed in Venezuela. One of the main responsibilities of any government is to protect the citizens. Can we assume that politics are more important than the loss of human life? Someone was criticizing the role of the media in Venezuela today at the LSE, to which I replied; "how would the citizens and the sensationalist British media react if Mr Blair were to address the nation from Downing Street assuring that the situation is completely normal when a couple of miles away -say in Trafalgar Square- people are being shot at and killed? Would they be classified as biased for broadcasting the situation? Such a tragic event has to be made known to the general public regardless of who commenced the shootings and one must expect that our leftist European friends will agree. The president's attempt to block the signal of the Venezuelan TV networks that day constitutes another human rights violation, the one which deals with the right to be informed.

With no intentions of being an expert in human rights and after a quick revision to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, set forth by the UN and subscribed by Venezuela, eighteen articles out of thirty have been violated by Chavez' adminitration, namely art. 2, 3, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, 12, 17.2, 18, 19, 20, 21, 23.4, 25.1, 26.2, 27.2 and 30.

The evidence will surface sooner or later. By joining efforts with Mr Merhi and his cause, Proveo will take his message to new audiences all across this earth. Surely justice shall come and a huge step in that direction was made today. Success is ephemeral though, therefore several European institutions will hear our message this week.

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