InterAction Council statement on the situation in Venezuela

Former heads of state and government from around the world today expressed their concern with the clampdown on human rights and democracy in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. The world leaders called for the immediate release of several arrested opposition party politicians and for reinstating democracy in Venezuela.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s first year in office has been marked with increasing discontent and mass protests. According to human rights organizations at least 43 were killed, hundreds were tortured or injured and over 3000 persons were detained during the demonstrations and counter-demonstrations in 2014.

Human rights, democracy and the rule of law have long been under attack in Venezuela. Political dissent is silenced by harassment and incrimination of dissenters. Protest is suppressed by restrictions of freedom of speech and assembly, and violent disruptions of demonstrations. The independence of the justice system is undermined by attacks, harassment and intimidation of prosecutors and judges. Torture and ill-treatment remain endemic in places of detention, and authorities committing human rights violations enjoy impunity.

Over 70 political prisoners remain incarcerated, among them Leopoldo Lopez, Daniel Ceballos and Antonio Ledezma. In February, this year the Mayor of Caracas Antonio Ledezma was detained without a warrant by heavily armed members of the Bolivarian Intelligence Services. He is currently under house arrest after undergoing major surgery. Mayor Daniel Ceballos was previously held at a military garrison, and recently transferred to a prison that resembles a “concentration camp” according to his wife. Leopoldo Lopez, a political leader, remains incarcerated in a military prison. Detaining civilians in military facilities is against international standards. The detention conditions raise concern about the health and personal integrity of the prisoners.

The UN Group on Arbitrary Detention has stated that the aforementioned arrests were arbitrary. UN High Commissioner of Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein has expressed his concern over the detention conditions of the opposition politicians; called for their immediate release; and noted that those detained have the right to visits from their families, lawyers and doctors. The InterAction Council expresses its deep concern over this situation, and demands the Venezuelan government release all prisoners detained on political grounds.

The Charter of the Organization of American States recognizes representative democracy as indispensable for the stability, peace, and development of the region. States of the region have affirmed this in their collective commitment to maintaining and strengthening democracy: the Inter-American Charter on Democracy. Its Article 1 provides that “[t]he peoples of the Americas have a right to democracy, and their governments have an obligation to promote and defend it." The Charter identifies fundamental democratic values and rights, such as: respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms; periodic free and fair elections;  transparency, probity, and respect for social rights; exercise of power in accordance with the rule of law; pluralistic system of political parties and organizations, separation of powers and independence of the branches of government;  elimination of all forms of discrimination; and the right and responsibility of all citizens to participate in decisions relating to their own development.

The InterAction Council noted the importance of these fundamental values for democracy and stability and called for a full restoration of democracy in Venezuela. A date must be set for free and fair elections, monitored by independent election observers. Venezuela must respect the OAS Charters, adhere to its human rights obligations, and comply with recommendations by human rights monitoring bodies.

In its 32-year history, the InterAction Council has been at the forefront of many prominent issues, most notably the 1997 drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Responsibilities, a document that counterbalances the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights; the 2010 Hiroshima Declaration, a powerful plea for the abolishment of nuclear weapons; and the 2012 report, The Global Water Crisis: Addressing an Urgent Security Issue.

About InterAction Council

Established in 1983, the InterAction Council of Former Heads of State and Government is an international organization whose objective is to address long-term, global issues facing humankind. Co-Chaired by the Right Honourable Jean Chrétien (Prime Minister of Canada, 1993-2003) and Dr. Franz Vranitzky (Chancellor of Austria, 1986-1997), the Council’s membership is comprised of 40 former heads of state who volunteer their time to develop proposals for action and submit them directly to national and international decision-makers.