Covering events from January - December 2001
Bolivarian Republic of
Head of state and government: Hugo Chávez Frías
Population: 24.6 million
Official language: Spanish
Death penalty: abolitionist for all crimes
At least 240 people were killed by police in circumstances suggesting they were victims of extrajudicial execution or excessive use of force. Allegations of torture and ill-treatment continued. Five people were reported to have ''disappeared''. Conditions in many prisons remained inhumane, and violence among inmates continued to claim many lives. There were threats to freedom of expression.
Official and public concern about rising levels of violent crime continued to generate widespread debate, including calls within government circles for the imposition of a state of emergency. Human rights organizations identified the primary causes as the government's failure to address human rights violations, tackle widespread impunity and corruption, and deal with the country's deep-seated social and economic problems. There were serious institutional weaknesses in structures charged with safeguarding human rights, such as the judicial system, in which numerous dismissed judges had not been replaced. In August, the National Assembly approved a law on refugees and asylum-seekers. In December a one-day national strike was called in response to a series of controversial economic measures passed by presidential decree in the previous month.
Killings by police
Deaths in circumstances suggesting extrajudicial execution or the excessive use of force increased steeply in a number of states. In September, the Office of the Attorney General sent the National Guard to take over police stations in the state of Portuguesa following persistent allegations that a so-called ''extermination group'' was operating inside the state police force. Between September 2000 and May 2001, investigations had been opened into the deaths of 100 people reported to have been killed by the police. By the end of the year, a number of police officers were under investigation. In October, the Attorney General announced the appointment of a national attorney to look at complaints of killings by members of the security forces in eight states. Also in October, the Ombudsman produced a preliminary report into 239 complaints of killings by police in several states. According to the Ombudsman, operations by the security forces generally appeared to follow a similar pattern, including the simulation of armed confrontations, illegal raids and death threats to witnesses and relatives. Human rights defenders who publicly denounced killings by the police in the states of Portuguesa and Bolívar were threatened.
In February, 17-year-old Argenis Antonio González died after officers of the Metropolitan Police arrived at his workplace and opened fire indiscriminately. The police reportedly planted a weapon next to his body.
Torture and ill-treatment
There were continuing reports of torture and ill-treatment by members of the security forces. There was concern that police officers continued to abuse their power with impunity as the vast majority of cases failed to make any progress in the courts.
Silvano Castro, and one other, both members of the Pemón indigenous group who were campaigning against the construction of an electricity supply network in the Gran Sabana region, were beaten by soldiers in March during a protest held by the group. The incident was part of a pattern of harassment and intimidation against the Pemón.
Five new cases of ''disappearance'' were reported. Orlando José Castillo ''disappeared'' after he was detained by police officers on 20 January in the state of Yaracuy. In October it was announced that 10 police officers were under investigation in connection with the case.
In October, plaintiffs for four people who ''disappeared'' after being detained in Vargas state in December 1999 rejected a proposal by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to facilitate a friendly settlement between the interested parties and asked for the normal process to continue. They expressed concern that the government was not acting with due speed, and stated that the state's continuing failure to address the problem of impunity had significantly contributed to the deteriorating human rights situation.
Conditions in prisons continued to be extremely harsh. Although numbers were lower than in previous years, scores of prisoners were killed, mostly as a result of violence by fellow inmates. In June, inmates of El Rodeo Prison and their relatives staged a protest that included a demand for an investigation into ill-treatment by prison guards. The government acknowledged once again the crisis in the prison system and in August announced it was launching an emergency repair program to modernize the country's prisons.
Colombians fleeing political violence continued to face difficulties in Venezuela despite the introduction in August of new legislation establishing the right to seek asylum and protecting the rights of refugees. In August, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees opened an office in San Cristóbal near the border with Colombia. Its representatives expressed concern in November about the number of people awaiting a decision on their application for refugee status.
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