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Andrei Serbin Pont – One Step Back: Venezuela´s denunciation of the American Convention on Human Rights

8 octubre 2013 No Comment

FotoNotaAndreiOne Step Back: Venezuela´s denunciation of the American Convention on Human Rights*

(Versión en español aquí)

Andrei Serbin Pont**

On September 10, 2012, Venezuela presented a formal notice of denunciation of the American Convention on Human Rights, and in accordance with Article 78(1) of the Convention, the denunciation takes effect one year after the notice has been given. Throughout the following year the conflict between the Bolivarian government and the IACHR(Inter-American Commission on Human Rights) continued, reflecting the setbacks in matters of human rights in Venezuela.

The first years of Chávez´s administration were marked by a pro-human rights rhetoric and advances in regards to this subject, highlighted by the inclusion articles 19, 22 and 23 in the 1999 Venezuelan Constitution that gave constitutional hierarchy to treaties, pacts and conventions on human rights signed by Venezuela. Yet rejection on behalf of the Bolivarian government of any international institution that does not attend its own ideological objectives is not a recent trend. With the exception of more recent treaties such as those developed in the framework of ALBA(Alianza Bolivariana Para Los Pueblos de Nuestra América), UNASUR(Unión de Naciones Suramericanas) and CELAC(Comunidad de Estados Latinoamericanos y Caribeños), the Bolivarian government has left the CAN(Comunidad Andina de Naciones), the Grupo de los Tres and the CIADI(International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes), as well as constantly questioning the OAS(Organization of American States), the Summit of the Americas, and overall any treaty or mechanism that it interprets to represent North American interest in the Latin American region. It is part of strategy that prioritizes national sovereignty and geopolitical objectives over supranational norms.  A foreign policy in which geostrategic and military interpretation of the international dynamics leaves no space for treaties and pacts that may be adverse to the Chavismo´s political purposes and objectives.

Since 2002 the Venezuelan government has refused to receive any in loco visits to Venezuela of representatives of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. In 2003 the IACHR presented a report based on its last visit to Venezuela that pointed out a series of abuses and violations to human rights occurring in that country, and in 2009 the IACHR published a report that highlighted the increase of these abuses and violations, and affirmed that the national government was hampering democratic rights and that it had restricted human rights of Venezuelans as they are enshrined in the American Convention. As a response to the report, the Venezuelan government threatened with withdrawal from the organization.

The escalation of the conflict between Venezuela and the IACHR continued, with the Bolivarian government requesting the removal of Santiago Cantón as Executive Secretary of the IACHR. In 2012 Santiago Cantón was replaced by Emilio Álvarez Icaza, but 3 months after his designation the Bolivarian government was once again threatening to withdrawal from the IACHR. Over the following months, President Chávez continued with the his threats, especially after the sentence of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in the case of Díaz Peña vs. Venezuela, which favored Díaz Peña and dictated that “the State is responsible for the violation of the right to personal integrity recognized in Article 5(1) and for the inhuman and degrading treatment contrary to Article 5(2) in relation to Article 1(1) of the American Convention on Human Rights to the detriment of Raúl José Díaz Peña”.

More recently, in March 2013, Venezuela with the support of several ALBA members, charged once again against the Inter-American Human Rights System during the Extraordinary General Assembly of the OAS in Washington DC, with a proposal for limiting external financing of the IACHR with the objective of debilitating the Inter-American Human Rights System. Although the proposal was unsuccessful as it was only supported by the ALBA minority, it did allow for the debate on reforming the system to be left open for future revisal.

So is Venezuela now out of reach of the IACHR? No, the denunciation means that Venezuela has left the court, yet it remains under the mandate of the commission as long as it is part of the OAS. Also, any petitions the Inter-American Commission may receive after September 10 2013, that allege human rights violations that took place before that date will be processed based on the State’s obligations under the American Convention and subject to consideration by the Inter-American Court. This translates into the fact that Venezuelans are still under the Commission’s jurisdiction as well as the mechanisms present in the Permanent Council and the General Assembly of the OAS. Currently nothing is signaling intentions on behalf of the Bolivarian government to leave the OAS.

The denunciation of the IACHR is a strong setback for the Inter-American Human Rights System, and establishes a dangerous precedent for human rights in the region, being that Ecuador and Bolivia have also threatened to follow Venezuela´s footsteps and denounce the IACHR. Not only does the denunciation translate into an overall weakening of the system, but a loss of an important space for Venezuelans to report violations of human rights in their country, and a step back in the development of an effective preventive mechanism for safeguarding human rights in the region.

*Based on the article by Andrés Serbin and Andrei Serbin Pont “Si los derechos humanos se oponen . . .” published in Foreign Affairs Latinoamerica, Vol. 13: Num. 4.

**Andrei Serbin Pont is Communications Coordinator for CRIES and Regional Liaison Officer for CRIES/GPPAC Conflict Prevention Program. He has a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts with orientation in public policy from Universidad Nacional San Martín(UNSAM Argentina), he is a Escuela de Defensa Nacional(EDENA Argentina) graduate, and is currently doing his postgraduate studies in International Relations in the San Tiago Dantas Program in Brazil(UNESP, PUC-SP, UNICAMP) 

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