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Venezuela: Attacks on human rights defenders surge by 157% during Covid-19

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    VENEZUELA: Attacks on human rights defenders surge by 157% during Covid-19

    Geneva-Paris-Caracas, February 2, 2021 - The escalation of attacks, harassment, and criminalisation against human rights defenders in Venezuela has accelerated during the pandemic with more than 338 attacks in the first 10 months of 2020, according to a report published today by COFAVIC, the Observatory (OMCT and FIDH) and the Human Rights Office of the Archdiocese of Caracas.

    The crisis surrounding the right to defend human rights in Venezuela has deepened against the backdrop of Covid-19, with a clear erosion of safeguards for the work of human rights defenders and social organisations, and a further shrinking of civic space in the country.

    Attacks on defenders and civil society organisations have increased by 157%, compared to 2019 figures. Arbitrary arrests, acts of defamation, stigmatisation and harassment are the most common types of human rights attacks seen in Venezuela. However, attacks against media and organisations defending the right to information, such as Efecto Cocuyo, VPI TV, Panorama, Tal Cual, El Pitazo, Radio Fe y Alegría and the National Press Workers' Union (Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Prensa), have also risen.

    A prime example of the stigmatisation, persecution and criminalisation of human rights defenders and organisations happened just a few weeks ago. On January 19, six members of Azul Positivo - an NGO working to support communities in Zulia state through health and hygiene campaigns, disease prevention, human awareness workshops and the provision of financial support to socio-economically vulnerable communities - were arbitrarily arrested. Five of these humanitarian workers, Johan León Reyes, Yordy Bermúdez, Layners Gutiérrez Díaz, Alejandro Gómez Di Maggio and Luis Ferrebuz, have been prosecuted for this work. They are charged with “criminal association” and other serious offences which carry long prison sentences under the Law on the Financing of Terrorism.

    In light of this evidence, and as a follow-up to our monitoring and recording attacks on human rights defenders and organisations in Venezuela, today we are publishing Internal Enemies: Defending Human Rights in the Context of the Covid-19 Pandemic in Venezuela (Enemigos internos: defender derechos humanos en el contexto de la pandemia Covid-19 en Venezuela) -an update of the report originally published in March 2020. We are also publishing a set of recommendations for public policy to better protect the right to defend human rights in Venezuela.

    • Read the full report in Spanish here​.
    • Read the recommendations in Spanish here.

    Some of the report’s key findings:

    • Clear patterns are emerging of violence and attacks on human rights defenders. These are not isolated cases and seem to confirm the existence of a State policy of persecution of human rights organisations, as we have been reporting.
    • The context of Covid-19 has been used by the authorities to intensify their efforts to quiet independent voices in Venezuela and restrict the right to defend human rights.
    • The State of Emergency regulation lacks human rights safeguards, especially in relation to the right to effective legal protection. This has had a significant impact on access to justice for those whose human rights have been violated.

    The report is the outcome of the Alliance to Promote the Comprehensive Protection of Human Rights Defenders in Venezuela project, supported by the European Union and carried out by COFAVIC, the Human Rights Office of the Archdiocese of Caracas and OMCT, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders.

    For further information, please contact:

    • OMCT: Iolanda Jaquemet: +41 79 539 41 06
    • FIDH: José Carlos Thissen: + 51 95 41 31 650
    • COFAVIC: Yeniter Poleo: +58 424 159 84 07
    • Human Rights Office of the Archdiocese of Caracas: +58 4241017698

    The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) is a programme created in 1997 by the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), which aims to intervene to prevent or remedy specific situations of repression against human rights defenders. OMCT and FIDH are both members of, the European Union Human Rights Defenders mechanism implemented by international civil society.

    The Committee of Family Members of Victims of the Events of February and March 1989 (Comité de Familiares de Víctimas de los sucesos de febrero y marzo de 1989 - COFAVIC) is a non-profit civil association based in Venezuela that carries out high-impact work focused on strengthening the Venezuelan justice system. It is an NGO founded and managed by relatives of victims of human rights violations, who have now become human rights defenders. The organisation brings together the most extensive experience in litigating Venezuelan cases before the Inter-American System for the Protection of Human Rights and other international protection organisations.

    The Human Rights Office of the Archdiocese of Caracas (Vicaría de Derechos Humanos de la Arquidiócesis de Caracas), was created in 1989 and is a Venezuelan NGO responsible for promoting and defending human rights, through the application of national and international human rights instruments.