On July 23 the United Nations Human Rights Committee issued its final observations and recommendations on Venezuela after its fourth periodic exam of the country on June 29 and 30. An “advanced un-edited draft” of the document has been published in Spanish in the UN web page. Within the next year the Venezuelan State is obliged to issue a report on how it is applying the Committee’s recommendations. The Venezuelan State will need to submit its next full report for the next periodic evaluation by June 24, 2018.

The nine page draft devotes one page to “positive aspects” and eight pages to “issues of concern” about the human rights situation in Venezuela.

The positive aspects mentioned in the document refer to improvements in the legal and institutional framework of human rights.

·      The Committee sees as a positive sign that the Venezuelan State has adopted a new Law for Indigenous Communities and has stablished a Minister for Indigenous People.

·      The Committee sees the new Law for Women’s Rights as an advance, as well as the creation of the Minister for Women and Gender Equality, the Law against Racial Discrimination, and the Law against Torture and the establishment of a National Plan for the Prevention of Torture in 2013.

·      The Committee also favorably assesses the ratification of several international human rights protocols and conventions, such as the Children’s Rights Convention, and the Convention against the Discrimination of Women.

But the Committee is worried that many of the legal improvements made by Venezuela are not being applied and that the State’s institutional framework is showing weakness and lack of independence when it comes to the protection of human rights. The document mentions cases of discrimination based on gender, and recommends the Venezuelan State to take measures to investigate and sanction them.

The Committee is especially concerned about the criminalization of abortion still in place in the Venezuelan penal code. Despite protests by the Venezuelan State that those articles of the penal code that refer to abortion are not applied in practice, the Committee recommends reform of the legislation in order  clearly stablish the legal exception to the prohibition abortion.

The document also notes that the Committee has received reports of a “very high number of violent deaths, including cases of deaths presumably perpetrated by public order officials.” Therefore it recommends an intensification of efforts to disarm the civil population and urges the State to investigate all cases of violent deaths so that the “authors be brought to justice and sanctioned.”

A matter of special concern is the conditions of Venezuela’s prison system. According to the document:

The Committee is worried about the conflicting information it has received about the levels of overcrowding, and the conditions of detentions, in particular in relation to [the lack of] adequate health services in detention centers. [The Committee] is also concerned about reports it has received on a relatively high number of people that are in prison, sometimes for very long periods of time, in police facilities designed to hold people in detention for short periods.

The Committee has also received information that by 2014 more than 60% of people in the prison system were held under “preventive custody” conditions. However the Committee claims it did not receive disaggregated data from the Venezuelan State on this issue.

The polemical case of human rights violations during the violent events of the beginning of 2014 is directly mentioned in the document:

The Committee is worried about reports on violations of human rights presumably perpetrated in the context of manifestations. On this issue, and even as we have taken note of information that some of the people in manifestations have used violence, we remain attentive to numerous reports of human rights violations that supposedly took place in the context of the manifestations during the first months of 2014, including the use of disproportionate and excessive force, torture or mistreatment, arbitrary detentions, and the disregard for fundamental legal safeguards.

The document says that Sub-Committee for Accreditation of the UN has recommended the downgrading of the Office of the Ombudsman to “Grade B.” The Committee recommends the office of the Ombudsman to “fully and efficiently show its independence in the protection and promotion of human rights.”

The Committee is also concerned about the lack of independence shown by the Judicial System. It points out that it has reports stating that only 34% of the judges have received tenure “which means they are in a provisional situation and that their appointment or removal can be done on a discretionary basis.”

The document then directly mentions the case of Judge Afiuni:

A matter of particular concern is the case of Judge María Lourdes Afiuni, who was arrested in 2009 for issuing a precautionary measure of substitution of imprisonment for a person whose arrest has been declared arbitrary by this Committee. We are also concerned by reports that judge Afiuni could have been mistreated and been the victim of sexual aggression during her detention and that such allegations have not been investigated.

The comments made by the President of the National Assembly Diosdado Cabello in his TV program relative to local human rights NGOs are also explicitly mentioned in the document:

The Committee is worried about reports that point to the fact that some of the persons that contributed with their work to this fourth periodic report were the object of dismissive declarations by the President of the National Assembly made in his TV program Con el Mazo Dando, quoting information provided by ‘collaborating patriots’ [pro-government anonymous informants.] Such declarations were made a short time after the Committee had mentioned to the State’s delegation its concern because of previous declarations made by the same person [Diosdado Cabello] relative to the contributions of civil society organizations to other human rights international institutions.

The document also briefly mentions concerns and recommendations on freedom of expression, freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, the rights of indigenous people.

Finally the Committee issues its recommendations that the Venezuelan State returns to the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights.

Local human right NGOs stressed the need for the Venezuelan government to “accept” the recommendations made by the Committee. Rafael Uzcátegui, coordinator of the Programa Venezolano de Educación-Acción en Derechos Humanos (PROVEA) declared: “The State has to accept the recommendations made last week by the UN and, in a year, work on the issues raised by the organization: the independence of the judiciary, the respect of peaceful public assembly, the guarantees due to defenders of human rights and to journalists, among other recommendations.”

Gonzalo Himiob, of the Foro Penal Venezolano, also emphasized the recommendations relative to the protection and respect of human right activists: “We expect that the State understands that human activists are concerned with the defense of all persons, without bias or distinctions, who have suffered human rights abuses. The duty of the State, as part of the UN, is to accept these recommendations.”

The Comité de Familiares y Víctimas (COFAVIC) also welcomed the recommendations and emphasized that the Venezuelan State “has to immediately accept the recommendations made by the Committee, and has to begin to correct and perfect all the issues that have been presented [in the document].”

Government officials reacted strongly. Attorney General, Luisa Ortega Díaz, who was head to the Venezuelan delegation to this periodic exam, accused the Committee of a “lack of objectivity.” Specifically she rejected the recommendation made by the Committee to investigate all cases of violent deaths claiming that such investigations were already and routinely done by her office: “This is something we always do, every time the Attorney’s office has knowledge of a criminal offense, we try to clarify it and we ask for sanctions for those responsible.”

She also questioned that the Committee asked for all violent deaths to be investigates because, “not all violent deaths are caused by a crime.” This confusion, she argued, is part of an “opinion matrix” created in order “to magnify events that do not correspond to reality.”

Cabello responded to the criticisms by Twitter (@dcabellor) just before the publication of the UN document: “The NGOs, supposedly defenders of human rights, went all the way to the UN to ask for my TV show Con el Mazo Dando to be pulled off the air. The truth hurts them.” Later he also wrote: “I reiterate that my show is for chavistas. The amargados [i.e. embittered opposition] can watch it, but it’s not really good for them.”

On the same day of the publication of the document, Venezuela’s Foreign Minister, Delcy Rodríguez, met with representatives of the UN agencies and programs working in the country. According to Rodríguez, Venezuela “received congratulations from these international agencies for the conception of the National Plan on Human Rights, which covers human rights issues in Venezuela in all its dimensions and includes the involvement of children, teenagers, young adults and seniors.”