Venezuela’s National Human Rights Plan Approved, Final Text Still Unknown

Hugo Pérez Hernáiz

On February 27 president Maduro announced he has approved the National Human Rights Plan for 2016-2019. He said the plan is “the result of hundreds of assemblies held with social movements, in which there has been a convergence and integration of great objectives with respect to human rights. All the powers of the State are to be subordinate to this plan,” he added.

The original draft of the plan underwent what the government labeled a “consultation period,” which extended for three month since the publication of the draft and expired on October 15, 2015. The draft had been criticized by independent human rights organization for being overtly political and for holding, according to one human rights NGO, “partial ideological visions.” The version approved by Maduro this weekend has yet to be published.

The consultation period and its methodology were also criticized by human rights NGOs for its failure to incorporate UN experts, and for excluding the participation of civil society in the process. The government claimed, however, to have made wide consultations to “social movements” and to have held discussions in several government institutions.

Rafael Uzcátegui, General Coordinator of the human rights organization PROVEA, told this blog that reaction by human rights NGO to the announcement of the Plan’s approval has been slow because the actual text approved is still unknown.

He says his organization and many others were in fact convened to a first meeting by the government during the consultation period, but the “tumultuous character” of the event made any meaningful contribution by participants impossible. After that first meeting, PROVEA received no further invitations by the government.

Uzcátegui thinks the approval of the Plan could have been rushed in order for the government to present it as a positive achievement in the upcoming United Nations’ Universal Periodic Review.

The timing of the approval of the Plan is very significant. February 27 marks the anniversary of the Caracazo, a week of riots and lootings which erupted that date in 1989 in most Venezuelan cities in response to economic measures by the government. Soldiers and National Guard units were called to take control of the streets and reports speak of hundreds of victims of indiscriminate shootings, perhaps more than a thousand, in the following weeks.

Chavismo portrays those events as the direct inspiration of the coup d’état by Hugo Chávez in 1992, and thereby claims to be the legitimate representative of the victims of the Caracazo. The announcement of the new Plan was made during a commemoration ceremony for the victims of the Caracazo.

The government claims to have granted compensations to 600 victims of the Caracazo. However, the human rights organization COFAVIC, an NGO born in response to help the victims of this event, disputes the government’s claims, and says that the Venezuelan State has failed to learn the lessons of the consequences of a “disproportionate use of public forces” against protests, and that victims have fallen into a structure of “institutionalized impunity.”

Maduro compared the victims of the Caracazo to the 43 fatal victims of the February 2014 unrest, which according to the government’s narrative of those events are the sole responsibility of the opposition leaders who called for street protest to outs Maduro. The President suggested a direct link between the Caracazo events and what he says is the impunity which would be sanctioned by the Amnesty Law currently being discussed in the opposition dominated National Assembly.

During the ceremony Maduro also sanctioned the creation of a Committee for the Promotion of the Congress for Human Rights of the Fatherland, which according to the Agencia Venezolana de Noticias, will be formed by the victims of Puntofijismo (1958-1998), and the victims of the “Continued Coup” (2002-2014). Thus suggesting that the victims of human rights abuses under the Chavez and Maduro governments are to be understood exclusively as the victims of opposition instigated violence.

Uzcátegui says that independent human rights NGOs were not invited to the commemoration ceremony.