It’s human rights week at Caracas Chronicles

Orders from high up

Orders from high up

The most recent report by Human Rights Watch on the protests in Venezuela comprehensibly dismantles the government’s line of defense on allegations of human rights abuses. In page after page of meticulous research the NGO documents a pattern of routinized human rights abuse, a finding with deep implications in International Human Rights Law.

HRW has produced an investigative landmark and we just don’t feel we can do justice to it with with a single post. That’s why we will be writing about the report all this week: highlighting some of its stories in detail and presenting some of its lines of argument to dissect the implications for Venezuela, and for chavismo in particular.

Personally, the first thing that caught my eye is HRW’s finding of “systematic” human rights violations. This is no lexical meandering – the word has deep implications in human rights law.

Pay close attention to the language in which their main conclusions are presented (emphasis is mine):

  • “What we found during our in-country investigation and subsequent research is a pattern of serious abuse.” (Page 1)
  • “Judges often confirmed charges against detainees based on dubious evidence presented by prosecutors … Prosecutors and judges routinely turned a blind eye to evidence suggesting that detainees had been subject to abuses while in detention…” (P. 2)
  • “(O)ur research leads us to conclude that the abuses were not isolated cases or excesses by rogue security force members, but rather part of a broader pattern, which senior officers and officials must or should have known about, and seem at a minimum to have tolerated. The fact that the abuses by members of security forces were carried out repeatedly, by multiple security forces, in multiple locations across three states and the capital (including in controlled environments such as military installations and other state institutions), and over the six-week period covered in this report, supports the conclusion that the abuses were part of a systematic practice by the Venezuelan security forces.” (P. 3 and 4)
  • “Security forces routinely used unlawful force against unarmed protesters and other people in the vicinity of demonstrations.” (P. 8)
  • “In the scores of cases of detentions documented by Human Rights Watch, the majority of the detainees were participating in protests at the time of their arrests. However, the government routinely failed to present credible evidence that these protesters were committing crimes at the time they were arrested, which is a requirement under Venezuelan law when detaining someone without an arrest warrant.” (P. 10)
  • “In every case in which individuals were detained on private property, security forces entered buildings without search orders, often forcing their way in by breaking down doors.” (P. 10)
  • “Security forces repeatedly allowed armed pro-government gangs to attack protesters … ” (P. 12)
  • “The detainees were routinely held incommunicado for extended periods of time, usually up to 48 hours, and sometimes longer. While, in a few exceptional cases documented by Human Rights Watch, detainees were released before being brought before a judge, in the overwhelming majority of cases prosecutors charged them with several crimes, regardless of whether there was any evidence the accused had committed a crime.” (P. 19)
  • “In virtually all of the cases we investigated, detainees were not permitted to contact their families during the initial 48 hours of their detention despite repeated requests to do so.” (P. 19)
  • Virtually all detainees were not allowed to meet with their defense lawyers until minutes before their initial hearing before a judge.” (P. 20)
  • “Hearings were routinely and inexplicably held in the middle of the night, a practice that lawyers interviewed by Human Rights Watch had not experienced in other types of cases.” (P. 21)
  • “While most of those charged were granted conditional liberty in the cases we investigated, judges repeatedly placed conditions (medidas cautelares) on detainees’ freedom that prevented them from exercising their fundamental rights to freedom of assembly and expression, such as prohibiting them from participating in demonstrations or talking to the media.” (P. 21)
  • “Never before, (defense attorneys) said, had they encountered such a comprehensive battery of obstacles affecting so many cases.” (P. 22)
  • “(I)n many of these cases, the investigative police, the Attorney General’s Office, and the judiciary are themselves implicated in serious due process violations, as well as in failing to intervene to address abuses by security forces against detainees.” (P. 26)

The report is clear – these were not isolated incidents. The way in which people were mistreated implied a level of coordination beyond simple “rogue” security forces acting wild. It strongly suggests coordination between security forces, paramilitaries, prosecutors, and judges. From this, calling it a state-wide terror campaign … is just a hop and a skip away.

This is relevant because trials for human rights violations typically require showing not only that the events happened, but that they were part of a systematic policy, organized by somebody high up. For example, if someone comes to your house and tortures you, they are guilty of torture and robbery, but they don’t go to The Hague. In much the same way, had the National Guardsmen acted on their own, they wouldn’t be liable for human rights violations – in an international court at least.

The pattern, however, suggests it’s the state that is at fault, and that means its authorities could credibly be charged with human rights violations. Take, for example, the case of Chile under Pinochet. When analyzing the pattern of torture and political imprisonment of those years, the Valech Commission said,

“… political prison and torture were a state policy of the Military Regime, one that was defined and promoted by the political authorities of the time, whose design and execution required the movement of personnel and money from several public organizations, and who dictated decrees and laws providing legal cover for repressive conduct. The authorities were supported, explicitly and sometimes implicitly, by the only part of the State that was not part of the government: the judiciary.” (emphasis mine)

Similarly, in the indictment of Slobodan Milosevic, prosecutors claimed the former Yugoslav dictator was part of a conspiracy, a “joint criminal enterprise,” that violated human rights. In effect,

“From 1 August 1991 until June 1992, Slobodan Milosevic, acting alone or in concert with other known and unknown members of a joint criminal enterprise, planned, instigated, ordered, committed, or otherwise aided and abetted the planning, preparation, or execution of the extermination, murder, and willful killings of Croat and other non-Serb civilians in the territories of …” (Para. 39, emphasis mine)

Notice here that the operational term is “joint criminal enterprise” … in other words, a conspiracy in which mass murder was planned and ordered. If it were proven that soldiers acted alone, or at least without the direct knowledge of authorities, the case against Milosevic would probably have fallen apart.

HRW could have simply documented what happened and left it at that, but in the face of undeniable evidence, they went further, presenting evidence of coordination with explosive human rights implications.

Don’t get me wrong – the HRW report on its own does not prove that Maduro and company should be tried in The Hague. But inasmuch as these processes require showing that the actions were not simply caused by rogue agents, common criminals, or gangs, but rather were a systematic state policy, this HRW report has a significance well beyond the enumeration of specific instances of abuse.

31 thoughts on “It’s human rights week at Caracas Chronicles

  1. Reblogged this on Confessions of a Verbivore and commented:
    The new report by Human Rights Watch is clear: the abuses were not isolated incidents in ‎Venezuela‬. The way in which people were mistreated implied a level of coordination beyond simple “rogue” security forces acting wild. It strongly suggests coordination between security forces, paramilitaries, prosecutors, and judges. From this, calling it a state-wide terror campaign … is just a hop and a skip away. Much more here, and this sobering post from Caracas Chronicles includes the link where the 103-page report, “Punished for Protesting: Rights Violations in Venezuela’s Streets, Detention Centers, and Justice System,” is available in English and Spanish.


  2. Clearly the attacks on students and protesters also follow a pattern all over the country first PNB then colectivos come out of the particular “CORE” attack and the GNB. So well orchestrated the you wish the economy was ran with such precision


      • Indeed. They are extremely focused and that’s why they excel: they are good at clinging to power and even if they fail where few could fail, they manage to win in spite of all odds. “Screw the economy!” “Education can go to pot!”, “The country can bleed” but “They won’t come back!”


        • I always wonder why Maduro doesn’t make legitimate attempts to fix the economy since that alone would stop much of the protests. Maduro is just plain stupid and believes in the stupid Cuba system way too much.


          • Nope, I don’t think that is possible. Fixing the economy would imply relinquishing a lot of their power for the economy can only be fixed by letting other people prosper and become by that means more prosperous.
            Madurismo cannot work like the “communist” system in China.

            One of the things that keep lingering in my mind is what Aristóbulo Istúriz said about the currency control: without it Chavismo would crumble down. He was right in more ways than he thought.
            The system is based on assuring the Boligarchs and the top military control all the revenues for a nation transformed into beggars.

            Venezuela’s elite for as long as I can think have tended to act like compradores but now, and in spite of all the crappy talk about soberania, that is more so than ever. The Boligarchs and milicos are the new compradores who want to keep the people dependent on the opium they deliver: the Daka gadgets, the US/Nicaraguan beans and Argentine/US rice and Colombian milk.


      • If you are very competent at beating up people, you don’t need to be competent at anything else. If they complain or try to mess with you because you are incompetent, you just beat them up. Problem solved, as far as you are concerned.


      • Same pattern as in the soviet union where some things got a great deal of concentrated attention and effort while concern for all the rest languished : i.e. interest in space projects , the military , ballet and gimnastics was high but was not accompanyed by any interest in things that might help improve the day to day lives of the mass of ordinary people .

        The space program , ballet / classical music and gimnastics where prestige areas , where they wanted to shine , other priority areas were increasing their military might and improved methods of repression because ultimately they idolized raw force and all that emboided it . (part of the fascist ethos) .these areas got much more resources than any other area because they were deemed of supreme importance

        The soviet regime was very disfunctional and mediochre in all aspects of governance , but they understood the need to create ‘islands of excellence’ where magnificent things could be achieved even at the expense of all else . Cuban excelence in sports and ballet is due to following this same soviet principle.

        Repression in Venezuelan both phisical and institutional is one priority area of interest , as is media control , thats were they concentrate their best talents and recources . In everything else they are incompetent and inept as all of those who live in Venezuela know from personal experience.


  3. Agree, this issue of systematic actions is pretty important… to be pointed out so clearly is a plus.


  4. What is next? What is the plan here? If you stop and think about it, the plan reveals itself. (1) No question there is a purposeful, Cuban-inspired campaign to intimidate any opposition. Human rights? Who cares! It’s blatant. It’s in-your-face and is taking place for all the world to see. They don’t care who writes about it or how many reports are filed with world watch dog agencies. They DON’T care! (2) In this scenario the collapse of the economy works to their advantage. The free fall might even be Cuban inspired. But,.. there is still a lot of money being filtered down to ‘loyal’ government entities. The well is not completely dry, yet. It’s ‘who gets what’ that appears to be at the core of Chavismo now. Those who supports and those who don’t. You don’t agree? You don’t like that? Then why don’t you just pack your bags, ….LEAVE! The plan being carried out here is quite simple. It’s the old Cuban “Mariel Boatlift” strategy. It’s a pressure release valve. Drive away any potential opposition, and things will eventually settle down. That’s the plan!


    • Dr. Faustus,

      I agree 100% that that is their plan. This has been the intent all along for the Cubans to annex Venezuela using the same strategy that was employed by Fidel to consolidate power in the early sixties. The question is can they make it work? There are some fundamental differences in play here from the ones Fidel encountered in the Sixties in Cuba:

      1) Venezuela is a much larger country than Cuba and has contiguous borders with other significant countries. The borders are porous as hell, and they will never be able to stop the flow of information, material, people, etc. Furthermore, the amount of refugees created by this strategy (if it worked) would overwhelm Colombia, and Panama. They will act before they allow that to happen.

      2) Fidel used the ongoing Cold War between the USSR and the US in order to assure that the U.S. did not interfere with his plans. While Raul and Maduro could play the same card (Russia), it is a far weaker one today than the one Fidel had.

      3) Economically, Fidel could prop up the economy with the sweetheart sugar for oil deal. The incompetent communists could keep producing sugar. I doubt that this crowd will be able to continue to produce oil without real outside expertise.

      4) Cuba did not have any significant strategic resources. Its value was in its location, but that value was neutralized when the missiles were removed. Venezuela has a lot of valuable resources and continues to have high potential. The Opposition is more likely to stay and fight for that potential.

      5) Fidel could play the nationalism card believably and successfully with his followers. The more they try to Cubanize Venezuela, the more the “patriotism” card belongs to the Opposition.

      6) Any more significant differences?

      Personally, I think the plan will fail. The original architects of the plan are dead or nearly so. The successors are unimaginative and unlikely to make the subtle adjustments required as events unfold. Even without that, I think that the factors above mitigate against its success. For Cuba, I see this as a Hail Mary pass. If they succeed they gain a lot. But if they fail, they have risked very little.


      • Thanks! By my posting I did not mean that there would be millions of Venezuelans running for the borders. The Cuban-inspired plan, however, is that there are enough planning their escape to seriously dampen the ongoing opposition. Key people. Young people. The middle class. The educated. The exodus has already begun. Venezuela’s golden goose is now meant for only those that support he cause. I understand that the old “Tascon List” is being looked at. Who are for us? Who are against us? Even a small exodus of Venezuelans will help the Cuban cause.


        • Dr. Faustus,

          But because of the geography, there very well might be millions running for the borders if Chavismo cannot feed them. When a country has let itself get to the point where it is importing 80% of its food, it is dangerously vulnerable. When Cuba could not feed its people, where could they go? In fact, tens of thousands risked their lives in rafts and leaky boats to get to the U.S. If they are driven by hunger, Venezuelans would migrate to Colombia en masse.


          • Venezuelans won’t start. There is enough oil to give them imported stuff. But life in general could deteriorate further.


          • Millions? To Colombia? It’s a frightening thought. Possible, yes, but just imagine the WWII refugee-like scenes. These people are evil. But, that appears to be the PLAN here. Toscan List. Those who are opposed to us, …get nothing. We know who you are. Everyone needs to pay attention here.


            • Hmmm… I hadn’t thought that one out to its logical conclusion. All they need to do is expropriate all of the grocery chains and incorporate them into Mercal. Then, they stop all dollars for food importations except for Mercal. Finally, they use the ration cards to assure active opposition is excluded from food purchase. Sure, they can live off of their family’s rations for awhile, but soon, they will be resented, and will leave.


              • Yup. I think that is a logical progression of thought. Mercal for OUR supporters. The rest of YOU need to fend for yourselves. I think this is what the future of Venezuela looks like. Scary. Frightening.


              • I am afraid I can even imagine the rhetoric, “Venezuela esta por los que crean en la revolución y están leal a nuestro comandante eterno, Chavez. Todos los otros, Váyanse! Patria, Socialismo, o Muerte!”


      • 7. Fidel is an invalid and is no longer the active leader. Without Raul Castro the Cuban plan will falter. The agreements between Chavez, Maduro, and the Castros for the takeover were not written down. Could Maduro and Cabello trust the word of anyone else in Cuba?

        Remember that Fidel and Raul are the ones who want to takeover Venezuela and stand to gain massively. Do other Cubans share this insane desire and would they have the savvy to continue? I doubt it.


        • Without Venezuelan petrodollars, the current Cuban regime- headed by the Castro brothers or their successors- collapses. So, yes, the current Cuban ruling class has a vested interest in keeping the Venezuela to Cuba pipeline going.


  5. I wonder what is in the mind of Chavistas.

    If they knew history, they ought to know that no empire last forever, so they WILL have to reckon with their actions. Much of their damage may be chucked away with sheer incompetence, but this report will haunt them… someday (think Pinochet and Juez Garzon).

    Traditionally, abuses, graft in Venezuela is forgotten, it always seems that ‘el vivo’ gets away with it. But this time the rancor is so high that I don’t think Chavismo will be swept under the rug, there is plenty of people that will not forget and exact their justice.

    What is Chavistas plan then? Run to Cuba? Again do they know history? Do they know that Fidel extorts his protected criminals from all their money? (poor in miserable Cuba, now that’s seems like a plan) Where else do they plan do hide? Some arm pit country like Iran, North Korea, maybe Russia? Certainly not glamorous Miami, Paris, London or New York.

    And then, Caracas, with it’s 1975 Saigon feel, don’t Chavistas worry? Why doesn’t anyone defect? I am amazed of the iron clad unity that they present. And then there is the disheartening polls, I quote:

    Según Datanálisis 35% de los venezolanos se definen como pro-oficialistas, 29,3% se identifican como opositores y 32,6% como Ni-ni.

    Maybe we have become Cuba, and there is no room for 29.3% of the population, so pack up and leave to Westonzuela.


    • “1975 Saigon feel”? Is there an advancing army thundering its way towards Caracas that we don’t know about?

      As long as Oil prices remain high, Chavista bigwigs will be fine. They’ll have enough money to pay the armed forces and keep their core supporters happy, everything else be damned. Unarmed protestors can be taken care of.

      BTW that poll was taken 9 months ago.


  6. Personnel can be policy.

    Are the police, National Guard, prosecutors, and judges being directed to do these things?

    Or has the chavernment filled these offices with sympathizers, who do them on their own initiative? The latter would be just as effective, but much harder to prove.

    The IRS scandal in the U.S. indicates that either the Obama Democrats have ordered the IRS to attack Obama’s political opponents and critics, which is scary, or else the staff of the IRS attack Obama’s opponents because they want to, which is scarier, and lets off Obama and his cronies.

    Holocaust deniers make much of the absence of written orders from Hitler explicitly ordering the mass murder of Jews. Hitler didn’t have to write such orders. He knew the men he had put in charge; he let them know in a general way what he wanted; and they were happy to “work toward the Fuehrer”.

    In the same way, are the chavernment’s state and volunteer goons acting under orders, or are they just “working toward the Comandante”? (Or perhaps more accurately, “toward the Bolivarian Revolution”.)

    ISTM that this is an area where the oppo needs an intelligence arm. They need to collect information on all personnel of security forces, see who takes orders if any, and who does stuff on his own initiative.

    The oppo also needs to look into what has happened to personnel of any police or security force that has fallen under chavista control. Lots of firings and new hires? IIRC, some state and municipal forces have only recently fallen to chavismo. Are these forces being purged? How are they acting in regards to guarimbas, demonstrations, colectivo attacks?

    Chavismo is at war; the oppo needs to realize this and go to a war footing.


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