- 40 people killed and more than 800 detained since public protests began on January 23
- Journalists covering demonstrations have been attacked
- The UN has called for an independent investigation into the state’s alleged used of force against protesters
- The government of President Nicolás Maduro has often used violence against protesters since coming to power in 2013.
- Global civil society groups have urged authorities to release all detainees and uphold citizens’ rights and the rule of law
Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, has condemned the repression and excessive use of force by Venezuelan Security Forces against peaceful protests that has left at least 40 people dead and more than 800 detained. Juan Guaidó, President of the National Assembly called the protests on 23 January 2019. During the protest, Guaidó claimed that he was taking power as interim president of Venezuela and called for a democratic transition that would culminate in free and fair elections. The protests were called as sitting President Nicolás Maduro started his second term after he emerged the winner in a disputed May 2018 election in May. The national vote took place amid widespread allegations that the polls had not met international standards of freedom and fairness.
Since President Maduro took power in 2013, protests against mounting economic challenges, severe shortages of food, medicines and basic necessities as well as extremely high levels of inflation have been violently repressed by security forces. Civil society groups report that more than 13, 000 people have been arrested over the past five years, as the part of the government’s standard tactics to respond to peaceful protests.
According to civil society groups, the total number of deaths resulting from the violent dispersal of protests since 2013 when Maduro took power, has risen to 250. Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, has called for an independent investigation into the alleged used of force against marchers in Venezuela. UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Association and Assembly, Clement N. Voule, has also urged the State to “refrain from using excessive, disproportionate and indiscriminate force towards protesters”.
“The Security forces in Venezuela have been using violence against peaceful marchers that have taken to the streets to demand democracy and respect for their civic freedoms,” said CIVICUS’ Natalia Gomez.
“The government must guarantee the safety and security of the people participating in demonstrations, at all times,” said Gomez.
Reports also indicate that journalists covering the protests have been attacked and detained. According to Espacio Publico, a civil society organisation that works to protect freedom of expression, 15 cases of free speech violations were reported in January 23. The victims were journalists, photojournalists, camera operators and media independent or critical of the government. Citizens also reported problems accessing the internet and social media sites.
Restrictions on fundamental freedoms in Venezuela have been steadily increasing in recent years. Since the last presidential election, the situation seems to have grown even more critical. Repression and harassment of, and violence against, human rights defenders as well as censorship and abuses of freedom of expression are commonplace.
Last year the National Constituent Assembly sanctioned the anti-hate law, which civil society organistions (CSOs) have warned aims to censor opinions against the government. CSOs are also aware of a proposed law to regulate cyberspace, which would place controls on internet access. The bill is supposed to be discussed by parliament in early 2019.
”What we see today is the accumulated result of many years of deterioration, of undermining democracy and of criminalization of the exercise of rights. CSOs have been deeply affected, not only by the application of restrictive laws that limit their functioning, but also by the creation of a high-risk environment, in which threats and attacks against human rights defenders and CSOs have become a daily issue,” said Beatriz Borges, Executive Director of Centro de Justicia y Paz (Cepaz), a Venezuelan CSO that works to promote democracy and human rights in the country.
CIVICUS has called on the Venezuelan authorities to respect the right of citizens protest peacefully and release all those in detention. CIVICUS also calls on the armed forces to ensure the security of the citizens demanding their rights on the streets.
The CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in all countries across the globe, rates civic space – the space for civil society – in Venezuela as ‘repressed’.
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