Venezuelan Massacres Investigated

The petition was filed in March 2020 and is under initial study by the IACHR.

RFK Human Rights Investigates the attacks against Indigenous Venezuelans in the Kumarakapay Massacres

Home to members of the Pemón indigenous ethnic group—the fourth largest in Venezuela—Kumarakapay is located about 50 miles north of the Brazilian border. On February 21, 2019, the village became the site of a tragic massacre.

The attack against the population in Kumarakapay happened just one day before truckloads of humanitarian aid were supposed to enter Venezuela from Brazil and Colombia. Considering the aid as part of a coup plot against him, disputed Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro mobilized military forces to block its entry into the country.

When unarmed villagers in Kumarakapay attempted to stop military troop carriers from entering the town as they headed to the border, one soldier fired a shot into the ground. Seconds later, 50 soldiers opened fire at the villagers with war-grade weapons. Three Pemón were killed and dozens were wounded as victims were rushed to desperately under-equipped hospitals. News of what came to be known as the Kumarakapay Massacres spread to a larger town closer to the border with Brazil, Santa Elena de Uairén, where people met by security forces protested day and night against the massacre and in support of humanitarian aid. Fifty-seven protesters were wounded, 11 were killed in the village and larger cities, and 62 were arbitrarily arrested. The military continued to maintain a presence in the region.

Why is this a key case?

A once-thriving region thanks to tourism to Canaima National Park, a UNESCO world heritage site, and home to the tallest waterfall on earth, Kumarakapay has been decimated largely by rampant gold, diamond, and other mining. The mining violates the native peoples’ constitutional rights to the land, and the resulting presence of security forces—often members of Colombian rebel groups and colectivos authorized by Maduro and the military leadership of Venezuela—have driven visitors away. The Kumarakapay massacre is the largest attack to date by Venezuelan security forces against indigenous peoples in what has become an increasingly repressive regime in Venezuela.

How is RFK Human Rights Supporting the Case?

In March 2019, the organization and Venezuelan human rights partner Foro Penal—whose executive director, Alfredo Romero, was the 2017 laureate of the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award—conducted a fact-finding mission complete with interviews of the survivors of the February attacks. Based on the information gathered, RFK Human Rights and Foro Penal filed a petition before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) requesting it to find Venezuela internationally responsible for the deaths, injuries, and displacement of survivors and to order the state to provide reparations to survivors and family members of those killed.

Name of the case (as it appears in the respective legal mechanism)

Indígenas de la etnia Pemón de la comunidad San Francisco de Yuruaní o Kumarakapay, Municipio de Gran Sabana v. Venezuela

Month/Year of filing

March 2020

Legal mechanism

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR)

Rights and legal instruments alleged violated (OR found to have been violated)

Articles 1 (right to life and personal integrity), XVIII (right to a fair trial), VIII (right to residence and movement), XXI (right of assembly) and XXV (right of protection from arbitrary arrest) of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man

Procedural stage

Initial study by the IACHR


RFKHR and Foro Penal

Case Partners

  • This Week’s Spotlight on Human Rights

    Tags Share Across the world, journalists are under threat for sharing the truth Conflict in Gaza, war in Ukraine, a battle over the global environment – the world is becoming an increasingly hostile place, particularly for frontline journalists. Last year saw 99 killings of reporters, up 44% on 2022 and the highest toll since 2015.…