Our Voices

International organizations express concern over revived legislation aiming to criminalize and obstruct civil society work in Venezuela

The undersigned organizations express deep concern over the ongoing efforts by the Venezuelan government to pass the bill entitled “Law of Supervision, Regularization, Performance, and Financing of Non-Governmental and Related Organizations” (Ley de Fiscalización, Regularización, Actuación y Financiamiento de las Organizaciones No Gubernamentales y Afines). This legislation, which was introduced and initially approved by the ruling party in the National Assembly on January 24, 2023, stands in contradiction to international norms and standards and poses a dire threat to the operations of civil society organizations (CSOs). New efforts to pass the legislation have resumed with the announcement on January 9, 2024, by the President of the National Assembly about a public consultation on the content of the draft law, aiming to facilitate a second discussion, leading to its ultimate approval.

If enacted, this law would seriously hinder the freedom of association and the free and independent functioning of civil society organizations by requiring them to seek government authorization for their operations and disclose any foreign funding. The vague and ambiguous language in the current draft of the bill raises fears of heightened persecution against human rights defenders, with potential fines, registration cancellations, and even criminal charges. The bill’s explicit emphasis on foreign funding and labeling of NGOs as ‘foreign agents’ adds to its troubling features.

This is not the first effort by the State to advance legal or administrative measures to limit the work of civil society organizations. Thus, regardless of the ultimate approval of this bill, the mere existence of these types of legislative proposals represents a threat, with a chilling effect on civil society that constitutes a form of control, contrary to an enabling environment for the defense of rights and democratic values.

As Venezuela embarks upon a pivotal year in the investigation at the International Criminal Court, the limitations imposed on NGOs may impede their capacity to collect essential information for the ongoing investigation and ultimately obstruct the pursuit of justice for crimes against humanity. Moreover, the timing of the bill raises concerns that it will be used to repress debate and dissent in the lead-up to the presidential elections this year, as well as the legislative and regional elections in 2025..

We urge the international community to condemn both the proposed bill and the ongoing efforts by the Venezuelan government to harass civil society organizations in the country. We stand in solidarity with Venezuela human rights defenders who face continuous criminalization and persecution. Finally, we urge the Venezuelan government to cease any form of harassment against civil society organizations and abide by its international human rights obligations to guarantee an enabling environment for human rights defenders.

Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights

Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL)

Human Rights Watch

Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)

World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) (in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders)

International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) (in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders)

Due Process of Law Foundation (DPLF)