Our Voices

RFKHR’s Roby, Foro Penal President Romero take on enforced disappearances in Venezuela during live event

Venezuela is a country that faces ongoing political repression, restrictions on civic space, widespread human rights violations, and the region’s most significant ongoing humanitarian crisis, which has caused over six million Venezuelans to flee abroad by June 2022, according to the United Nations.

That’s why Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights has partnered with Foro Penal to monitor and assess the human rights situation in the country releasing a series of joint reports detailing the use of enforced disappearance as a tool of political repression in Venezuela.

Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Latin America Attorney Isabel Carlota Roby and Foro Penal President Alfredo Romero revisited the issue Tuesday in a live virtual event, streamed on social platforms.

Romero, a lawyer and 2017 recipient of the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award, spent time clarifying the parameters of enforced disappearances.

“The important thing here is you cannot as a policeman or security force just detain someone and not tell anyone where this person is. You have to inform them where they are, and you cannot take them from the street,” Romero said. “When a lawyer or the family of this person doesn’t know where he or she is for (even a few hours), this person is disappeared.”

The organizations’ two joint reports were published in 2020 and 2022. The 2020 report found that women who were detained faced a greater chance of being forcibly disappeared than men and that women were targeted for information extractions or for punishing and intimidating their family members and loved ones. Approximately 51 percent of the women detained where disappeared compared to 34 percent of the men in 2018.

“Women are detained to often extract information about a husband, brother, or acquaintance they are looking for,” Romero said.

The organizations also found that most of those who alleged torture were disappeared upon being detained and that those who alleged torture were imposed public defense.

These results are closely related to the patterns of disappearances and imposition of public defense that often occurs when people are prosecuted in special courts.

“There are patterns on the disappearances,” Roby said. “There is a correlation with being forcibly disappeared, being tortured, and being prosecuted before special courts.”

One example of this is the case of Javier Tarazona, an activist whose disappearance is detailed in the 2022 report. Tarazona was detained in the city of Punto Fijo when he was denouncing a human rights violation at a prosecutor’s regional office.

Not only did no one know where he was taken, Romero said, nothing was known about what court he would be brought to. As a result, Romero said, “Foro Penal had to place lawyers and volunteers all around courts, just to find out where this person was.”

In full, the 2022 joint report documented 481 cases of those who were arbitrarily detained and their human rights violated, just because they dared to raise their voices to criticize the government.

The only way to decrease enforced disappearances is to increase denouncers of enforced disappearances,” Romero said. “The experience we present in helping victims and denouncing situations, and strategic litigation I think it’s going to be an example to be learned by other countries in the world.”

You can read the 2020 report in full here, and the 2022 report here.