By Guadalupe Marengo, Amnesty International’s Americas Deputy Programme Director
Over the past two weeks we have witnessed a deepening of the polarization which has affected Venezuela for almost two decades. Violence during pro- and anti-government protests has resulted in at least six deaths, including opposition and government supporters. Dozens of people have also been injured and detained, many of whom said they were ill-treated.
The entire world has seen the images of excessive use of force by security forces, including the use of firearms, the violence used in some of the protests, and the attacks perpetrated with impunity by groups of armed civilians close to the government (known as colectivos). Journalists and human rights defenders have been suffered harassment and other abuse. All of these acts constitute human rights violations and must not be tolerated.
At least three members of opposition party Voluntad Popular (Popular Will) have reportedly been accused of crimes in relation to their participation in protests, including party leader Leopoldo López. A judge has already determined that there was no evidence to formally charge López with aggravated murder.
Sadly, this is not the first time that the world has had to witness such incidents in Venezuela. Both President Maduro and opposition leaders have made an appeal to end the violence and a prohibition to carry weapons was introduced in Táchira state. But this is not enough.
The solution to this crisis is the unconditional respect for the human rights of all, without discrimination, and for the rule of law to be upheld. To achieve this, everyone has responsibilities and an important role to play.
The state must reaffirm, clearly and unequivocally, its commitment to the rule of law, including the respect for international norms on the use of force by security forces andrespect for the separation of powers.
The authorities must refrain from actions and statements which interfere with the independence of the judiciary, and avoid the perception that the actions of the justice system are politically motivated.
Measures must be taken to prevent similar incidents in the future. It is imperative that armed civilian groups (colectivos) are disarmed. The security forces, on the other hand, must comply with their duty to the respect the human rights of all, including the right to freedom of expression, assembly and association.
The opposition also has a responsibility to show, through words and actions, their respect for the rule of law, and exercise their right to freedom of expression, assembly and association in a peaceful manner.
Above all, the authorities must clarify what has happened in the streets of Venezuela in the last few days. There must be an exhaustive and impartial investigation into all reports of human rights violations and all victims must be guaranteed access to justice.
Only by finding out what really happened, coupled with the necessary freedom to exchange different points of views on what happened in an open dialogue, can the Venezuelan people freely decide on their country’s future.
Venezuela: Trial of opposition leader an affront to justice and free assembly (Press release, 19 February 2014)
Venezuela: Three Protesters killed, others injured (Urgent action, 13 February 2014)