The 1999 Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela provides that the state “shall guarantee to every individual, in accordance with the progressive principle and without discrimination of any kind, the non-renounceable, indivisible, and interdependent enjoyment and exercise of human rights.”Art. 19, 1999 Constitution of Venezuela.The right to life is inviolable.Art. 43, 1999 Constitution of Venezuela.Torture and any other form of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment are prohibited.Art. 46, 1999 Constitution of Venezuela.These rights are non-derogable.
The use of weapons or toxic chemicals ("sustancias toxicas") by the police and security officers is limited by the principles of necessity, care, circumstance, and proportionality in accordance with the law.Art. 55, 1999 Constitution of Venezuela.The use of firearms and toxic chemicals to control peaceful demonstrations is prohibited.Art. 68, 1999 Constitution of Venezuela.
Under Article 52, everyone has the right to assemble for lawful purposes, in accordance with law. The State is obligated to facilitate the exercise of this right. In accordance with Article 53, everyone has the right to meet publicly or privately, without obtaining permission in advance, for lawful purposes and without weapons. Meetings in public places may be regulated by law.
|1966 Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)||State Party|
|ICCPR Optional Protocol 1||State Party|
|1984 Convention against Torture (CAT)||State Party|
|Competence of CAT Committee to receive individual complaints||Yes|
|CAT Optional Protocol 1||Not party|
1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court
|1948 Charter of the Organization of American States||State Party|
|1969 Inter-American Convention on Human Rights||State Party*|
|Competence of Inter-American Court on Human Rights||Yes|
* In 2012, Venezuela denounced the Convention. It ratified the Convention again in 2019 and recognised the competence of the Court.
Police Use of Force
The 2009 Organic Law of the Police Service and the Bolivarian National Police (Ley Orgánica del Servicio de Policía y del Cuerpo de Policía Nacional Bolivariana) established the Bolivarian National Police Body. The general principles of policing include acting in respect of human rights and in proportion to the seriousness of the situation and the legitimate objective being pursued. Police officers must use the minimum force necessary to achieve the proposed objective. Force be never used as a form of punishment.Art. 70, 2009 Organic Law of the Police Service and the Bolivarian National Police.The use of deadly force will only be justified in the defence of the life of a police officer or a third party.Art. 68, 2009 Organic Law of the Police Service and the Bolivarian National Police.
The 2012 Code of Criminal Procedure, issued in 2012 by Presidential Decree, governs police use of force during arrest. In such situations, force shall be used only when strictly necessary and in proportion to the circumstances. Use of weapons such as firearms is forbidden, except when there is resistance that endangers the life or physical integrity of people. In such cases, they must be used within the limitations of necessity and proportionality.
With respect to assemblies, Resolution 008610 of 2015 on the Conduct of the National Armed Forces, issued by the Minister of Popular Power to Defense, Padrino López, allows the National Bolivarian Guard to use firearms when managing public demonstrations. The resolution requires graduated use of force, but when the use of firearms is "unavoidable", military personnel shall: take special precautions to protect human life, reduce damage and injuries, and avoid affecting other people.
These rules do not comply with international law and standards.
Use of Force in Custodial Settings
The 2015 Prison Code governs the use of force in correctional facilities. Weapons such as firearms may be used in self-defence or defence of others, when preventing a grave crime that entails a serious threat to life; and when lesser means are insufficient to prevent an escape. If firearms are used, at least three warning shots must be fired, and then firing should aim at the lower extremities, with a view to minimising injury and protecting as far as possible the life of the person.
The Office of the Ombudsman (People's Defender) is mandated to promote, defend, and oversee the rights guaranteed under the Constitution and in treaties on human rights to which Venezuela is a party.
International Criminal Court
On 26 September 2018, Argentina, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay, and Peru referred the situation of Venezuela to the ICC, asking the Court to investigate crimes against humanity committed in Venezuela since 12 February 2014. This move marks the first state referral of another State Party’s situation in the history of the ICC. The Office of the Prosecutor has an ongoing preliminary examination of alleged crimes committed since at least April 2017 in Venezuela in the context of demonstrations and related political unrest.
In 2020, the Office concluded that there was a reasonable basis to believe that crimes against humanity, particularly in the context of detention, have been committed in Venezuela since at least April 2017. Since then, the preliminary examination has also focused on the existence and genuineness of national proceedings as part of the admissibility assessment.
On 6 June 2017, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) established a team to document and report on human rights violations in the context of mass protests in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela between 1 April and 31 July 2017. The OHCHR found that security forces systematically used excessive force and arbitrarily detained protesters.
Credible and consistent accounts of victims and witnesses indicate that security forces systematically used excessive force to deter demonstrations, crush dissent and instil fear. The Bolivarian National Police (PNB) and the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB), which is part of the armed forces, used tear gas and other less lethal weapons, such as water cannons and plastic pellets, during demonstrations without prior warning, in a non-progressive manner, and in violation of the international legal principles of necessity and proportionality. Less lethal weapons were also used systematically in a manner intended to cause unnecessary harm, for example security forces shot tear-gas grenades directly at demonstrators at short range and manipulated ammunition to make them more harmful. OHCHR also documented the use of lethal force against protestors by security forces. Authorities rarely condemned incidents of excessive use of force, in most cases denied security forces were responsible for such incidents, and repeatedly labelled demonstrators as “terrorists.”
Olivares Muñoz v. Venezuela
In 2019, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) filed an application before the Inter-American Court in Case 12.814, Orlando Edgardo Olivares Muñoz and Others (Deaths at Vista Hermosa Prison), with regard to Venezuela. The case concerns the extrajudicial executions of Orlando Edgardo Olivares Muñoz, Joel Rinaldi Reyes Nava, Orangel José Figueroa, Héctor Javier Muñoz Valerio, Pedro Ramón López Chaurán, José Gregorio Bolívar Corro and Richard Alexis Núñez Palma, when they were inmates at Vista Hermosa Prison in Ciudad Bolívar. Those executions were carried out by members of the National Guard during a raid at the prison on November 10, 2003. A further 27 inmates were injured and are also regarded as victims in this case.
The Commission concluded that the State had failed to adequately explain the deaths and injuries that happened under its watch in a way that might have defused its presumed international responsibility in such a context. Further, the IACHR established that many elements of the case, taken together and given the lack of appropriate investigation of events, indicate the use of illegitimate, unnecessary and disproportionate force. The Commission noted that the rights to life and personal integrity of the executed and injured victims had been violated.
In its 2020 judgment, the Inter-American Court held Venezuela responsible for violating the human rights of the seven inmates who died and those who were injured following the operation by the National Guard. The Court stated that the deaths resulted from the use of excessive, disproportionate force and thus constituted arbitrary taking of life. It went on to consider the persons who had sustained injuries, concluding that the force used against them was not strictly necessary in view of the behavior of the inmates and thus constituted a violation of the right to humane treatment.
Crimes against Humanity
In May 2018, the Report of the General Secretariat of the Organization of American States and the Panel of Independent International Experts on the possible Commission of Crimes Against Humanity in Venezuela was published. The report found evidence pointing to
the systematic, tactical and strategic use of murder, imprisonment, torture, rape and other forms of sexual violence, as tools to terrorize the Venezuelan people in a planned campaign to quash opposition to the Regime.
The panel of independent international experts found that reasonable grounds exist to believe that crimes against humanity have been committed in Venezuela. This included more than 8,000 extrajudicial executions recorded since 2012.
A challenge to the legality of the order allowing the armed forces to use firearms in the context of demonstrations was rejected by the Supreme Tribunal of Justice, the highest court of law in Venezuela. The Tribunal argued that references to the right to life in the 2015 Resolution meant that it was not inherently illegal.