The judgement of international tribunals hangs over Venezuela after the controversial Resolution 008610 came into force on January 27. The internal decree authorizes the military to use firearms and “lethal force” to maintain public order, which several human rights groups fear will be used against peaceful demonstrators.
Venezuelan NGO umbrella organization Forum for Life will present a claim that denounces the measure with the UN special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful, assembly, and of association, and with the UN Committee Against Torture.
Venezuela has a non-democratic government and should be suspended from all participation in the Organization of American States.
Inti Amaru Rodríguez, coordinator of local human-rights NGO Provea, told the PanAm Post that the UN rapporteur has previously denounced the restriction of the right to peaceful protest and government labeling of demonstrations as “violent” elsewhere.
The Committee Against Torture similarly issued a series of recommendations for Venezuela in January, which included criticism of the government’s use of soldiers to control protests. The UN human rights body argues that the function should remain in the hands of civil police.
Rodríguez stated that the UN Human Rights Committee is also likely to review the measure. At this stage, Venezuela is scheduled to report on its human rights situation before the committee in a July hearing.
While any resolution issued by these bodies would not have a binding or punitive impact on the Venezuelan government, the NGO director highlighted the influence on international public opinion that such rulings can have.
“The image of Venezuela as a country which respects human rights no longer exists in the international sphere,” Rodríguez said.
The lethal-force decree was adopted by the Ministry of Defense one month ahead of the 26th anniversary of the bloody street fighting in the Venezuelan capital known as El Caracazo. The anti-government protests on 27 February, 1989, resulted in a wave of riots and shootings.
In 2002, therefore, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) ordered Venezuela to abstain from using soldiers for public-order purposes. The IACHR attributed the deaths of approximately 600 people during the Caracazo to military presence.
Rodríguez contends that resolution 008610 fails to observe the Court’s 2002 ruling, noting that despite Venezuela’s withdrawal from the IACHR in September 2013, the 2002 Caracazo ruling remains binding.
Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch (HRW), in its 2014 global report, raised the alarm on the lack of sufficient training for military personnel to carry out public-order roles.
Despite a growing chorus of judicial and civilian complaints, however, Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino López referred to the resolution on January 30 as a “beautiful document.” He dismissed fears about the merging of military and police functions: “This dichotomy between soldiers and civilians has to disappear completely.”
New York-based NGO the Human Rights Foundation (HRF) described resolution 008610 as “formalizing still further” the repression of dissent in Venezuela, and providing further guarantees of impunity for military officials.
“The agents of the authoritarian Venezuelan government — officers of the National Guard and the Intelligence Service, and paramilitary groups named revolutionary collectives — have now spent at least a year using live ammunition against protesters, as well as using non-lethal rounds to kill,” HRF legal director Javier El-Hage told the PanAm Post.
El-Hage referred to the killing of multiple protesters on February 12, 2014, with shots to the head — as was the case with young student Bassil Da Costa — and those such as Geraldine Moreno and José Alejandro Márquez, who died from injuries related to non-lethal ammunition.
“Venezuela has spent several years systematically violating the human rights of freedom of expression and assembly, established in articles 19 and 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the principal instrument of human rights binding for Venezuela,” El-Hage said.
“Juridically, Venezuela has a non-democratic government and should be suspended from all participation in the various organs of the Organization of American States (OEA), in accordance with articles 3, 4, and 19 to 21 of the Inter-American Democratic Charter,” he added.
Over the weekend, the Continental Forum for Democratic Promotion — an organization composed of regional citizens exiled from their countries of origin, and allied with the Democraciaparticipativa.net network — also issued a press release on the resolution.
The Forum argued that the shoot-to-kill order disregarded other human-rights instruments, such as a the IACHR’s 2009 Report on Citizen Security and Human Rights. They note that it established national armed forces as lacking necessary training for citizen security, and that such functions belong to civil police forces.
The organization contends that the killing of over 40 people who participated in widespread protests in Venezuela during 2014 was due to the failure of the Venezuelan government to follow the IACHR’s 2009 norm. The briefing requests that the international community, in particular countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, express their solidarity “with those in Venezuela who are struggling to promote due respect for the freedoms and human rights of the Venezuelan people.”
Translated by Laurie Blair. Edited by Fergus Hodgson.