Covering events from January - December 2000


Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela

Head of state and government: Hugo Chávez Frías
Capital: Caracas
Population: 24.1 million
Official language: Spanish
Death penalty: abolitionist for all crimes
2000 treaty ratifications/signatures: Optional Protocol to the UN Children's Convention on the
involvement of children in armed conflict; Optional Protocol to the UN Women's Convention; Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court


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.

Torture and ill-treatment continued to be reported; most cases involved police officers beating victims.

Prison conditions
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 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

regreso a documentos