Covering events from January - December 2000
Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela
Head of state and government: Hugo Chávez Frías
Several people were reported to have ''disappeared'' or been extrajudicially executed by the security forces during rescue operations following catastrophic floods in December 1999. Scores of cases of torture and ill-treatment were reported. Chronic prison overcrowding was eased by the release of prisoners awaiting trial, but prison conditions remained poor. Hundreds of prisoners were killed during the year, the majority by fellow inmates. Hundreds of refugees fleeing political violence in Colombia were denied a proper hearing to determine if they would be at risk if returned to their country.
In July, Hugo Chávez Frías of the Movimiento de la V República (MVR), Movement of the Fifth Republic, was re-elected President. The MVR also won an outright majority in congress. High crime rates continued to generate debate. In June the Ministry of the Interior and Justice proposed a bill reforming the Criminal Code of Criminal Procedures (COPP), which would give the police wider powers to detain criminal suspects without a judicial order. Critics of the bill argued that it was unconstitutional and violated international human rights standards. In November the National Assembly approved a law allowing President Chávez to govern by decree for a period of 12 months. The law included matters affecting the administration of criminal justice.
Human rights and the Vargas floods
In late December 1999, the state of Vargas suffered torrential rain and floods in which up to 50,000 people died. In the aftermath of the disaster, journalist Vanessa Davies and the human rights organization Provea published reports claiming that several people had ''disappeared'' or been extrajudicially executed by members of the security forces in Vargas. President Hugo Chávez reacted by calling on witnesses to come forward, but accused Provea of publishing a ''suspicious and superficial'' report. Within a week the Offices of the Attorney General and of the Ombudsman announced that they had opened investigations into the allegations. By the end of the year only one person had been brought to justice and convicted for these violations.
Marco Antonio Monasterio and Oscar José Blanco Romero ''disappeared'' on 21 December 1999, during the flood rescue operations. They were reportedly detained by the army in the neighbourhood of Valle del Pino and transferred into the custody of the Directorate of Intelligence and Criminal Prevention Services (DISIP). By the end of the year their whereabouts had not been established. José Francisco Rivas Fernández and Roberto Hernández apparently suffered a similar fate. Luis Rafael Bastardo was extrajudicially executed on 25 December. A National Guard corporal admitted to shooting him deliberately and was sentenced in September to 10 years in prison.
Torture and ill-treatment continued to be reported; most cases involved police officers beating victims.
In August Ronny Yosmar Aquino and Alexis Medina, two transgendered friends, were detained without a judicial order in the city of Valencia, Carabobo state. They were reportedly forced to undress in the street and severely beaten. They were then held in incommunicado detention without access to a lawyer, doctor or their families. The detentions took place in the context of a campaign of intimidation directed at the transgendered community, during which José Luis Nieves was fatally shot on 29 July while recovering from wounds inflicted in an earlier shooting by a state police officer.
The authorities claimed that the perennial crisis of overcrowding in Venezuela's prisons had been ameliorated as a result of the implementation of the COPP in July 1999 which allowed for the conditional release of prisoners awaiting trial.
In March the vice-president of the government's Commission on the Functioning and Restructuring of the Judicial System claimed that the prison population had been reduced from 25,000 to some 14,000 inmates, and that inmate killings had diminished. However, 460 prisoners were reported to have been killed by guards or fellow prisoners between October 1999 and September 2000, a small reduction compared to the previous 12 months.
In April, following a visit to several prisons, a European Union delegation was reported to have expressed concern about prison conditions, describing them as ''very hard and limited, because the inmates control them...as it is the only way they can survive the violence''.
Scores of people fleeing political violence in Colombia were forcibly returned. The Venezuelan authorities failed to provide them with access to a full and fair asylum procedure to identify those at risk of human rights violations. The authorities argued that those fleeing the violence were not refugees, but ''displaced people in transit'', and therefore did not fall within the terms of the UN Refugee Convention. However, many of those fleeing the violence stressed that their lives would be at risk if they were to return home. The UN High Commisioner for Refugees stated that there was a need for an official refugee service and that it was collaborating with the authorities to implement one.
In March, a friendly settlement was reached between the government and relatives of 41 people killed by the security forces in November 1992 in the Retén de Catia. The case had been referred to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Of some 300 cases of human rights abuses registered by local non-governmental organizations between 1985 and 1999, only 40 had been resolved as a result of judicial proceedings. Of at least 200 cases of torture reported since 1995, in none had those responsible been brought to justice. The authorities failed to open a prompt judicial investigation into allegations that Peru's Ambassador to Venezuela, army general Julio Salazar Monroe, had been responsible for crimes against humanity. He returned to Peru, claiming to be suffering from ill health.
AI country report
Venezuela: Protecting human rights - the task is not yet over (AI Index: AMR 53/008/2000)
regreso a documentos