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IFEX-ALC delegation submits recommendations on freedom of expression during Venezuela's UPR

IFEX-ALC is calling on the UN Human Rights Council members to urge the Venezuelan government to uphold the right to free expression; 2012 will be a decisive year for the country because of the presidential elections and other factors. Specifically, the Venezuelan government should:
• Provide protection for journalists, media outlets and human rights activists
• Condemn attacks on free expression
• Allow visits to the country from international Rapporteurs

(IFEX-ALC/IFEX) - Geneva, 3 October 2011 - An IFEX-Latin America and the Caribbean (IFEX-ALC) delegation will attend the upcoming Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Venezuela, which will take place on 7 October at the United Nations Human Rights Council.

The delegation would like to see certain recommendations incorporated into the final UPR report, which should be immediately adopted by the Venezuelan government. This would not only serve to elevate the status of freedom of expression in the country, thus bringing it into line with international standards, but it may also help prevent a serious crisis in 2012. Key presidential elections are scheduled for the upcoming year, during which President Hugo Chávez will be seeking to extend his mandate by another six years. According to the information gathered by the Institute for Press and Society of Venezuela (IPYS Venezuela), a member organisation of the IFEX-ALC, electoral years in this South American nation are typically marked by a greater severity and number of attacks against journalists and media outlets.

Since 1999, the Bolivarian Revolutionary Government of Venezuela has had a tense relationship with critical media and with independent journalists in general. The President of the Republic, Hugo Chávez, members of his government, as well as a number of regionally-based officials who are linked to the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela, PSUV), often question the actions of the opposition media and have criticised them harshly. This is an indication of the extreme political polarisation in the country. Between 2007 and 2010, IPYS Venezuela documented 449 cases of attacks and restrictions imposed on the media and journalists. Of these, half consisted of threats or physical attacks against journalists, many of which (up to a third) were carried out by unknown individuals or supporters of the Venezuelan government. In 2010-2011, of the 39 attacks against journalists reported to the authorities, only eight resulted in further legal action. Since the majority of the cases have not been investigated there is a concern that attacks against the media will continue to rise.

Given the current situation in Venezuela, IFEX-ALC is calling on members of the international community who will be at the Human Rights Council to submit the following recommendations to the Venezuelan State for consideration during the UPR process:
1. The Venezuelan State should adopt an open and permanent stance in support of the right to freedom of expression and condemn physical attacks against the media and journalists.
2. The Venezuelan State should work in conjunction with at-risk journalists who have been granted protective measures by international entities to develop a plan for the implementation of these measures.
3. The Venezuelan State should ensure that cases of attacks against the media and journalists are subject to a thorough and impartial investigation and a conscientious effort to explore all possible avenues of inquiry.
4. The Venezuelan State should review and amend all laws and decrees that promote prior censorship; criminalise "desacato" (contempt) or insult; and establish imprecise or ambiguous exceptions vis-à-vis the right to freedom of expression and access to information.
5. The Venezuelan State should extend an official invitation to the special rapporteurs on freedom of expression of international human rights mechanisms, calling on them to visit the country so that they may assess firsthand the state of freedom of expression in Venezuela.
6. The Venezuelan State should guarantee citizens' access to information by adopting freedom of information legislation.
7. The Venezuelan State should guarantee plurality and diversity in broadcasting and audiovisual media.

*IFEX-ALC is an alliance of 17 organisations, members of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange network, based in Latin America and the Caribbean. The groups promote and defend the right to free expression in the countries of the region. The delegation to the Venezuela UPR is led by IPYS Venezuela, ARTICLE 19, FOPEA and RIDH, a partner organisation based in Geneva.

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