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PUBLIC AI Index: AMR 53/012/2003

UA 260/03 Death Threat / fear for safety
03 September 2003

VENEZUELA Linmai Basave (m), human rights defender
Yelitza Moreno (f)
Her son (m), one and a half years old

killed: Joe Luis Castillo González (m), human rights defender

Amnesty International is deeply concerned for the safety of Linmai Basave, a staff member from the Oficina de Acción Social de Vicariato Apostólico de Machiques, Office of Social Action of the Episcopal Vicariate in Machiques. There are also serious concerns for Yelitza Moreno and her baby son, following the killing of her husband, Joe Luis Castillo González on 27 August.

On the evening of 27 August, Joe Luis Castillo González, until recently the coordinator of the Office of Social Action of the Episcopal Vicariate, was shot nine times by two unidentified individuals riding a motorbike in the town of Machiques in the North Western frontier state of Zulia. At the time, he was driving home with his wife, Yelitza Moreno and their baby son, who are both in serious, but stable conditions in hospital.

Five days after the assassination, on 1 September, the Office of the Episcopal Vicariate received an anonymous telephone call in which the caller asked to speak to Linmai Basave, the refugee project coordinator. The administrator was told to tell him "que se cuidara porque no iba a quedar aquí", (he should watch out as it's not stopping here), apparently in reference to the killing of Joe Luis Castillo González.

The Ministerio Publico, Public Prosecutor's Office has assigned a fiscal auxiliar, an assistant prosecutor to the case, despite requests that a fiscal especial, special prosecutor, be assigned, due to the severity of the case. The Office of the Episcopal Vicariate and other Venezuelan human rights organisations have questioned the effectiveness of the investigations carried out thus far. At present, Yelitza Moreno and her son are receiving police protection.

Joe Luis Castillo González carried out a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) programme in Machiques de Perijá, in the North Western frontier state of Zulia, assisting Colombian refugees who had fled the escalating violence in Colombia. Reports of Colombian paramilitary and armed opposition groups operating inside Venezuela's border have heightened tension in the area. In recent years, large scale army backed paramilitary operations in the north-eastern regions of Colombia have resulted in the displacement of tens of thousands of civilians, many of whom have fled to Venezuela. In this context, human rights defenders working with displaced communities have frequently been accused and threatened by the Colombian military and paramilitaries of being guerrilla collaborators.