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New Report Shows Venezuela Uses Criminal Justice System to Repress Critical Voices

Washington, D.C., June 21, 2022 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights and Foro Penal have published a new report illustrating how the Venezuelan government systematically uses the criminal justice system to persecute critical voices, human rights defenders and perceived political opponents.

The report, available in both English and Spanish, analyzes more than 480 arbitrary detentions that took place between January 2020 and October 2021. It highlights a disturbing pattern of enforced disappearance, torture and other human rights violations carried out by State agents to criminalize, repress and terrorize anyone perceived as a critical voice or political dissident.

“Access to a fair trial and an independent, impartial judicial system is a fundamental human right,” said Isabel C. Roby, Staff Attorney at RFK Human Rights. “Far from protecting its citizens, the Venezuelan government has used its criminal justice system as a tool of repression.”

The report includes case studies of these human rights abuses, including: criminalization of human rights activists (i.e. case FUNDAREDES, Azul Positivo); disappearance and torture (i.e. GEDO case); and violation to the right to defense and access to counsel of choice (i.e. Gideon-operation).

Among the report’s key findings:

  • A clear trend of criminalizing protests and freedom of expression, which accounted for the majority of recorded detentions in 2020.
  • The use of special criminal jurisdictions as a cover-up for due process and human rights violations. For example, the report shows a worrying number of “terrorism” cases where judicial proceedings are conducted through special and expedite proceedings, and usually under total secrecy.
  • A specific state policy wherein arbitrarily detained individuals are subject to torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment as a means of coercion.
  • Lack of access to an attorney of choice, particularly in cases of enforced disappearance.
  • The pandemic’s impact on Venezuela’s judicial system, which led to violations of due process and procedural lapses.

The report comes amid an ongoing investigation by the International Criminal Court into alleged crimes against humanity committed in Venezuela.

“The data paints a clear picture of systemic human rights violations in Venezuela. This analysis is more than numbers on a page – these statistics represent individuals, people with innate dignity and a right to due process who have been subjected to cruel and unjust treatment,” said Alfredo Romero, President of Foro Penal. “It is crucial to provide justice and reparations to victims, and to guarantee the non-repetition of these violations.”

“Foro Penal, in partnership with RFKHR, will continue to monitor the situation, documenting cases of human rights violations, and accompanying the victims with renewed solidarity in their quest for justice,” added Gonzalo Himiob Santomé, Vice President of Foro Penal.

The new report follows an earlier report released in 2020 by RFK Human Rights and Foro Penal, which documented a dramatic increase in enforced disappearances as a tool of political repression.

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About Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights

We are a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization that has worked to realize Robert F. Kennedy’s dream of a more just and peaceful world since 1968. In partnership with local activists, we advocate for key human rights issues—championing change makers and pursuing strategic litigation at home and around the world. And to ensure change that lasts, we foster a social-good approach to business and investment and educate millions of students about human rights and social justice.

About Foro Penal

Foro Penal is a non-governmental organization that has worked in the defense of human rights in Venezuela since 2002, providing pro bono assistance to more than 15,000 victims of political repression, including victims of arbitrary detention, torture and murder. Currently, Foro Penal has more than 400 volunteer lawyers and more than 7,000 activists in Venezuela and around the world who provide legal and humanitarian assistance to victims.

Media contacts

Amy Zelvin Reid, [email protected]

Emma Gillett, [email protected]