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Venezuela should revoke emergency decree

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro speaks during a press conference at the Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas, Venezuela, Tuesday, May 17, 2016
Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro speaks during a press conference at the Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas, Venezuela, Tuesday, May 17, 2016

AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos

The international community should press Venezuela to revoke the recent “State of Exception and Emergency Decree” that granted the government powers to restrict rights, suspend international cooperation for civil society groups, including human rights organizations, and limit the constitutional powers of the National Assembly, 125 human rights and civil society organizations from around the world said today.

The groups emphasized that these powers could be used to seriously undermine the work of civil society organizations and harass and intimidate human rights defenders, noting that the measures are inconsistent with Venezuela's obligation as a member of the UN Human Rights Council to “uphold the highest standards of human rights”. The groups called on states to raise these concerns during the upcoming UN Human Rights Council session in June 2016, and governments in the Americas to carry out a candid assessment of the human rights situation in Venezuela before competent Organizations of American States (OAS) bodies. The OAS and United Nations human rights systems should request Venezuela to revoke the state of exception and economic emergency decree, the groups said.

On May 13, 2016, President Nicolás Maduro adopted an emergency decree that declared a state of exception in the country for 60 days, granting his government the power to potentially restrict human rights. Venezuela is facing an economic crisis, with severe shortages of medicines and basic goods, as well as electricity shortages, which the decree states it aims to address.

President Maduro claims that the emergency measures are in response to concerns including a foreign-led plot to destabilize his government. The May 13 decree authorizes the president to “adopt measures and execute special security plans that guarantee the sustainability of the public order when faced with destabilizing actions” and “any other social, environmental, economic, political, and legal measures he deems convenient.” In the past, the Venezuelan government has responded to alleged “destabilization” plots by jailing opponents and critics clamping down on the expression of dissent and the right to freedom of assembly, including through arbitrary arrests of political opponents and critics, and the weakening of the safeguards against torture. Security forces have used excessive force to disperse anti-government demonstrations, and have participated in nationwide security operations since July 2015 that led to widespread allegations of abuses against low-income and immigrant communities, including extrajudicial executions, massive arbitrary detentions, evictions without due process, destructions of homes, and arbitrary deportations.

The decree does not meet international standards to restrict rights during states of emergency, the groups said. Under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, governments do have the power to “derogate,” or temporarily suspend, some of their human rights obligations by declaring a state of emergency – but only in the face of a public emergency that “threatens the life of the nation.” Even then, governments may only derogate from human rights obligations to the extent “strictly required by the exigencies of the situation.” Instead, President Maduro's broad decree could enable the government to further undermine basic rights that are already under sustained assault in Venezuela, including the rights to freedom of association, assembly, and expression.

The emergency decree also instructs the Foreign Affairs Ministry to suspend all international cooperation agreements that provide funding to individuals or organizations when “it is presumed” that such agreements “are used with political purposes or to destabilize the Republic.” In a country where authorities have routinely accused civil society representatives, including human rights defenders, of destabilizing Venezuelan democracy, this order could effectively force key Venezuelan independent organizations, which rely on foreign funding to work independently, to shut down or dramatically scale back their work.

In addition, the emergency decree allows the president to block the National Assembly from using its constitutional powers to sanction government officials. The Venezuelan Constitution grants the National Assembly oversight powers over the executive branch, including the power to summon officials to be questioned about their policies and practices by legislative committees and – in the case of the vice president and cabinet ministers – to remove them from office through a no-confidence vote. The May 13 decree allows the president to impose a “temporary suspension” of accountability mechanisms of this kind if he deems they could “undermine national security” or could “obstruct the continuity of the implementation of economic measures for the urgent reactivation of the national economy [or] the provision of essential goods and services to the Venezuelan people.”

The Venezuelan Constitution requires National Assembly approval of decrees declaring states of emergency. The National Assembly rejected the new emergency decree on May 17. However, the Supreme Court ruled in February 2016 that National Assembly rejection of decrees declaring states of emergency does not “affect the[ir] legitimacy, validity, and juridical efficacy.”

Since the government's political takeover of the Supreme Court in 2004, the judiciary has ceased to function as an independent branch of government, and has routinely validated the government's policies and practices that fail to meet international human rights standards. The National Assembly, which was controlled by government supporters for most of the past decade, repeatedly enacted “enabling laws” granting the president broad powers to legislate. It repacked the Supreme Court, most recently in December 2015, to ensure that a loyal court remained in place. Since the new opposition-controlled National Assembly took office on January 5th, 2016, the Supreme Court has adopted a series of rulings that severely undermine its ability to legislate.

The June session of the UN Human Rights Council provides a timely and necessary opportunity to press Venezuela to revoke this unnecessary and arbitrary decree.


Espacio Público
Human Rights Watch
Instituto de Prensa y Libertad de Expresión - IPLEX
Instituto Prensa y Sociedad
Instituto Prensa y Sociedad de Venezuela
National Press Association
Observatorio Latinoamericano para la Libertad de Expresión - OLA

International Organisations
APT, Association for the Prevention of Torture
CCPR, Centre for Civil and Political Rights
CIVICUS, World Alliance for Citizen Participation
DPLF, Due Process Law Foundation
ICJ, International Commission of Jurists
ISHR, International Service for Human Rights
OMCT, World Organization Against Torture
PIDHDD, Plataforma Interamericana de Derechos Humanos, Democracia y Desarrollo
CPD, Cooperation for Peace and Development
ADC, Asociación por los Derechos Civiles
CELS, Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales
Rainbow Warriors Core Foundation
University of New South Wales
Aid Organization
UDDYOG Foundation
Fundación Construir
LACCASO, Latin American Council of Aids Service Organizations
Movimento Ficha Verde
Cambodian Development and Research Institute
FAPEFE, Fondation des femmes actives pour la promotion de l´education de la femme et de l´enfant
Voice of Grace Foundation
University of Ottawa
Corporación Humanas
Observatorio Ciudadano
Comisión Colombiana de Juristas
Action et Humanisme
Climate Reality Project Cote d´Ivoire
Revolution Congolaise
CSMM, Centro de Documentación en Derechos Humanos "Segundo Montes Mozo S.J."
INREDH, Fundación Regional de Asesoría en Derechos Humanos
Action for Solidarity
WOLA, Washington Office on Latin America
Mekelle University
International Institute for Child Protection
Tamale International Folk High School
SEDEM, Seguridad en Democracia
Association for Promotion Sustainable Development
Humanity Welfare Forum
India Media Centre
Tata Cummins
Nchekoua Business Consulting Club
Women Empowerment Group
SHIBL Movement
Abogadas y Abogados para la Justicia y los Derechos Humanos
Centro de Derechos Humanos Miguel Ángel Agustín Pro Juárez, A.C.
Ciudadanos en Apoyo a los Derechos Humanos, A. C.
Comisión Mexicana de Defensa y Promoción de los Derechos Humanos, A.C.
JOINT, Liga de ONG de Mozambique
YPDSN, Young Professional Development Society Nepal
Centro Nicaragüense de Derechos Humanos
ARIJ, Applied Research Institute – Jerusalem
Consumo Ético
Ágora Espacio Civil Paraguay
Asociación Pro Derechos Humanos
Comisión de Justicia Social de la Diócesis de Chimbote
Instituto Peruano de Educación en Derechos Humanos y la Paz
Instituto de Defensa Legal
Movimiento Manuela Ramos
Paz y Esperanza
SAHDCG, Social and Humanitarian Development Consultative Group
ALEJO Community Support Project

Venezuelan Organisations
Acceso a la Justicia
Acción Solidaria en VIH/sida
ACCSI, Acción Ciudadana Contra el SIDA
Amigos Trasplantados de Venezuela
Asociación Civil Movimiento Vinotinto
AVESA, Asociación Venezolana para una Educación Sexual Alternativa
Centro de Derechos Humanos de la Universidad Católica Andrés Bello
Centro de Derechos Humanos de la Universidad Metropolitana
Centro para la Paz y los DDHH - UCV
CEPAZ, Centro Justicia y Paz
CISFEM, Centro de Investigación Social Formación y Estudios de la Mujer
CIVILIS Derechos Humanos
CODEVIDA, Coalición de organizaciones por los derechos a la salud y la vida
COFAVIC, Comité de Familiares de las Víctimas de los Sucesos de febrero-marzo de 1989
Colegio Nacional de Periodistas
Comisión De Justicia y Paz
Comisión Nacional de DDHH de la Federación de Colegios de Abogados de Venezuela
Expresión Libre
Federación Nacional de Sociedades de Padres y Representantes (FENASOPADRES)
FEPAP, Fundación Ensayos para el Aprendizaje Permanente
Fundación Aguaclara
Fundación Ecodiversa
FUNPAZ, Asociación Civil Fuerza, Unión, Justicia, Solidaridad y Paz
ININCO, Instituto de Investigaciones de la Comunicación de la Universidad Central de Venezuela
INVESP, Instituto Venezolano de Estudios Sociales y Políticos
Justicia y Paz Los Teques
Laboratorio de Paz
María Estrella de la Mañana
Observatorio de Derechos Humanos de La Universidad de Los Andes
Observatorio Venezolano de los Derechos Humanos de las Mujeres
Observatorio Venezolano de Prisiones
Oficina de Derechos Humanos del Vicariato de Puerto Ayacucho
Postgrado en Comunicación Social de la Universidad Católica Andrés Bello
PROVEA, Programa Venezolano de Educación Acción en Derechos Humanos
Red Rosa
REDAC, Red de Activistas Ciudadanos por los Derechos Humanos
REDSOC, Red Venezolana de Organizaciones para el Desarrollo Social
Revista SIC
RTSP, Comité por una Radiotelevisión de Servicio Público
Ser, Comunicación e Investigación
Sinergia, Asociación Venezolana de Organizaciones de Sociedad Civil
SNTP, Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Prensa
SOHI, Sociedad Hominis Iura
Transparencia Venezuela
Un Mundo Sin Mordaza
Unión Vecinal para la Participación Ciudadana
Venezuela Diversa Asociación Civil

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