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Venezuela

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A variety of independent domestic and international human rights groups generally operated with restrictions from the Maduro regime. Major domestic human rights NGOs conducted investigations and published their findings on human rights cases. Regime officials were rarely cooperative or responsive to their requests. Domestic NGOs reported fear the regime would use the 2017 law against hate to justify widespread repression of their activities, jailing of the participants and organizers, and threats against family members. Some domestic NGOs reported threats against and harassment of their leaders, staff, and organizations, in addition to raids and detentions, but they were able to publish dozens of reports during the year. Some human rights activists reported regime authorities barred them from traveling abroad or that they feared not being able to return to the country if they traveled. NGOs played a significant role in informing citizens and the international community regarding alleged abuses and key human rights cases.

On March 30, the regime promulgated a decree that obligates NGOs to register in the unified registry of the Office Against Organized Crime and Terrorism Financing in the Ministry of Interior and Justice. Human rights watchdogs assessed the decree as a mechanism that would allow the Maduro regime to force civil society organizations to provide information with the intent of supervising and controlling their activities. Among the registration requirements were a list of international donors from whom they receive contributions, a list of the overseas headquarters of the organizations, and a list of all beneficiaries. Critics said the legal instrument criminalizes international cooperation and prequalifies the NGOs as terrorists. These new requirements and conditions were lightened in an amendment introduced on May 3, but it included four other mandatory registries for NGOs, raising concerns regarding the right to freedom of association.

NGOs noted the Maduro regime created a dangerous atmosphere for them to operate. The regime continued to implement increasingly stringent legal means aimed at controlling and supervising the actions of human rights and humanitarian organizations, including additional oversight of the banking operations of NGOs, resulting in raids, arrest warrants, and attempted prosecutions against members of organizations such as Azul Positivo, Accion Solidaria, Prepara Familia, Convite, Alimenta la Solidaridad, and Caracas Mi Convive.

Human rights organizations claimed they were subject to frequent internet hacking attacks and attempts to violate their email privacy. The regime targeted multiple humanitarian NGOs by issuing politically motivated arrest warrants against their staff and directors, raiding their facilities, and stealing their computers and other electronic devices.

The Maduro regime attempted to discredit and threaten NGOs with criminal investigations for allegedly illegally accepting foreign funds. Various regime officials accused human rights organizations on national television and other media of breaking the law by receiving funding from international donors.

The NGO Center for Defenders and Justice published a report that recorded 374 attacks and security incidents against human rights defenders and civil society organizations in the first half of the year, a 243 percent increase compared with the same period in 2020. In April alone there were at least 115 incidents. The NGO remarked that one of the mechanisms used by the Maduro regime to subdue human rights defenders was the Unified Registry of Obligated Subjects of the Office of Organized Crime and Terrorism Financing. The regime used the registry to seek information on external sources of support to civil society under the premise of terrorism or crimes against the state.

In February a draft law on international cooperation that threatened to restrict funding for NGOs was once more placed on the agenda of the illegal National Assembly. Although the law did not pass, the revival of the draft created a climate of fear among human rights NGOs and a hesitancy to seek international assistance.

In addition to the restrictions placed on fund raising, domestic NGOs also faced regulatory limitations on their ability to perform their missions. The law includes provisions eliminating the right of human rights NGOs to represent victims of human rights abuses in legal proceedings. The law provides that only the public defender and private individuals may file complaints in court or represent victims of alleged human rights abuses committed by public employees or members of security forces.

The OHCHR recorded 97 incidents related to human rights defenders, including journalists, union leaders, human rights activists, and civil society organizations. They included two killings, six acts of violence, 62 instances of criminalization, 17 accounts of threats and intimidation, and 10 cases of stigmatization. At least 16 members of the opposition were arbitrarily arrested; most were released shortly their detention.

On July 1, the OHCHR gave an update on the human rights situation, indicating it continued to receive credible reports of torture, new cases of forced disappearance, and other forms of Maduro regime-authorized violence and intimidation. The report also focused on the deteriorated condition of the country’s prisons and detention centers and discussed the regime’s pattern of voter intimidation and coercion.

On January 14, five human rights defenders and humanitarian workers of Azul Positivo – Johan Leon Reyes, Yordy Bermudez, Layners Gutierrez Diaz, Alejandro Gomez Di Maggio, and Luis Ferrebuz – were indicted on charges of “fraudulent handling of smart cards, money laundering, and criminal association.” On February 11, they were released on probation and subsequently required to report to court every 30 days.

On July 2, Javier Tarazona, director of the human rights NGO Fundaredes, was detained by SEBIN officers. Tarazona had gone to the Public Ministry to report the persecution he was suffering in Falcon State by police officers and unidentified individuals. He was arbitrarily detained along with Omar de Dios Garcia and Jose Rafael Tarazona, also human rights defenders. Regime attorney general Tarek William Saab accused Fundaredes members of issuing public accusations that incited hatred and compromised the peace of the country after Tarazona demanded an investigation into the alleged links of the country with Colombian guerrilla groups. As of November Tarazona remained in custody without trial and in need of medical treatment, but the other two had been released.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The Maduro regime was generally hostile toward international human rights bodies and continued to refuse to permit a visit by the IACHR, which last visited the country in 2002. In 2019 the regime and the OHCHR signed a memorandum of understanding that provided for the presence of two UN human rights officers, and in October the UN Human Rights Council voted to extend the mandate of the OHCHR until 2022. In 2019 the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution to establish a one-year FFM to investigate “extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests, torture, and other cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment committed in Venezuela since 2014.” The FFM was extended again in 2020 until 2022.

In September the FFM issued its second report demonstrating the Maduro regime had systematically deployed the judicial system since 2014 as a tool to attack and repress members of independent civil society and political opponents.

In November Chief International Criminal Court prosecutor Karim Khan visited the country, culminating in the announcement of the opening of an investigation into crimes committed under the Maduro regime.

Government Human Rights Bodies: Throughout the year the Maduro regime gave its 2016-19 human rights plan minimal attention, with no announcements to renew or update the plan.

The TSJ continued to hold the National Assembly in “contempt” status, which diminished the purview and operational effectiveness of the assembly’s subcommission on human rights. The regime’s human rights ombudsman failed to advocate for citizen victims of human rights neutrally and objectively, especially in the most emblematic of cases. In September regime attorney general Tarek William Saab announced the formation of a new Office to Attend to Victims of Human Rights Abuses; the office showed limited public progress by year’s end.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape, making it punishable by a prison term of eight to 14 years. A man may legally avoid punishment by marrying (before he is sentenced) the person he raped. The law allows authorities to consider alternative forms of punishment, including work release, for those convicted of various crimes, including rape, if they have completed three-quarters of their sentence. The law was not consistently enforced.

The law criminalizes physical, sexual, and psychological violence in the home or community and at work, with increased penalties for intimate partner violence. The law punishes perpetrators of domestic violence with penalties for conviction ranging from six to 27 months in prison. The law requires police to report domestic violence to judicial authorities and obligates hospital personnel to notify authorities when admitting patients who are victims of domestic abuse. Police generally were reluctant to intervene to prevent domestic violence and were not properly trained to handle such cases. The law also establishes women’s bureaus at local police headquarters and tribunals specializing in gender-based violence, and two-thirds of states had specialized courts. The Public Ministry’s ’s Defense Department employed a team of lawyers, psychiatrists, and other experts who dealt exclusively with cases of femicide, gender-related violence, and other crimes against women. The law was often not followed or enforced.

The Maduro regime did not publish statistics on gender-based violence. The OHCHR reported a lack of due diligence in investigations of gender-based violence cases. According to NGOs, government efforts to protect victims of gender-based violence were ineffective or nonexistent. Enforcement of laws and access to justice were limited, as victims of gender-based violence reported a lack of progress and inability to follow up on cases after filing reports with authorities.

Many advocates observed there was a lack of public awareness among women regarding resources and support available to prevent and combat domestic violence. There were four shelters for victims of gender-based violence, one each in Aragua, Cojedes, Sucre, and Trujillo States, but only two remained open; the remaining two struggled to operate effectively due to a lack of government support. NGOs provided most domestic abuse support services.

NGOs and media reported an increase of domestic abuse and gender-based violence during the COVID-19 pandemic. The NGO Center for Justice and Peace reported 207 femicides between January and September 30.

On February 21 and 22, Eduarlys Falcon and Eliannys Martinez Ronoz were killed in Turen, Portuguesa State. The two young women were missing for more 24 hours and were later found with signs indicating they were tortured and sexually assaulted before being strangled to death. On February 28, the regime attorney general declared the alleged murderer had been arrested. In his annual report before the illegitimate National Assembly, the attorney general stated since 2017 there had been 610 femicide cases, of which 50 percent had been resolved.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is illegal and punishable by fines and a prison sentence of one to three years. Although allegedly common in the workplace, sexual harassment cases were rarely reported. Several cases of harassment at the hands of security forces – both police and military – were reported during the year.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of the Maduro regime. The regime restricted access to sexual and reproductive health services for sexual violence survivors, including emergency contraception for the clinical management of rape.

The regime’s economic mismanagement and neglect of the country’s health-care infrastructure severely restricted access to resources for menstrual health and hygiene as well as to skilled health attendance during pregnancy and childbirth. Media reported access to methods of contraception and emergency contraception were limited. When available, birth control pills cost almost 10 times the monthly minimum wage, and an intrauterine device cost 25 times the monthly minimum wage. A pack of condoms cost three times the monthly minimum wage. According to NGOs, the COVID-19 pandemic further reduced access to contraception and the ability to see doctors and pharmacies. A 2020 study by the Venezuelan Association for Alternative Sex Education (AVESA) found that fewer than 50 percent of women of reproductive age had their need for family planning satisfied with modern methods.

The IACHR found that many young women who were pregnant or had young children migrated to other countries to gain access to prenatal care and health and reproductive services. The IACHR also reported that women seeking neonatal or obstetric care had to provide their own surgical and personal protective equipment. Pregnant women frequently did not receive prenatal care or take prenatal supplements containing iron or folic acid needed for correct child formation, which affected child development and caused possible malnutrition and diseases. The precarious economic situation limited access to food to the entire population, which had a direct negative impact on pregnant women and their unborn children.

Hospitals lacked qualified health-care professionals, medicine, and necessities such as water, electricity, and cleaning supplies. The country’s health-care crisis, including the inability to attend to maternal health, was compounded by the pandemic as hospitals prioritized COVID-19 cases over other health services. AVESA also studied the impact the COVID-19 pandemic on the sexual and reproductive health of women in reproductive age in the Capital District and Miranda State. A report released during the year showed that between October and December 2020, there was a reduction of 18 percent in health assistance centers with family planning services, with no increase of the numbers of centers for assistance regarding sexually transmitted infections. Media reported sexually transmitted infections, including those passed onto children, were on the rise and citizens had limited access to resources to address them.

Women, children, and teenagers lacked the conditions and information to safely make decisions about their sexual and reproductive health and also lacked access to services and contraceptive methods in a timely manner and in terms of quality. The pandemic’s mobility restrictions and closure of services aggravated the situation.

The Maduro regime claimed in its report to the UN ’s Women’s Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination towards Women that maternal mortality had dropped, which experts doubted. According to the Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology of Venezuela, the maternal death rate in 2019 was 112 per 100,000 live births, with postpartum hemorrhages, sepsis, and pregnancy-induced hypertension cited as the leading causes of maternal mortality. Doctors stated these were “predictable and treatable” conditions but were often fatal due to hospitals’ lack of adequate beds, medical resources, and medicine. Statistics were unreliable due to the compounded crisis in the country, and experts believed the numbers could potentially be higher. An increasing number of births took place at home due to faltering medical services.

According to the UN Population Fund, the adolescent birth rate in 2019 was 95 births for every 1,000 adolescents ages 15 to 19.

In October 2020 Vanesa Rosales, a human rights defender from the city of Merida, was arrested on accusations of providing information and medications for the voluntary termination of pregnancy for a 13-year-old adolescent who became pregnant as a result of rape. Rosales was charged with conspiracy, conspiracy to commit a crime, and abortion induced by a third party, exposing her to severe penalties. She was detained without due process and was released in May.

Discrimination: Women enjoy the same legal status and rights as men under the constitution. Women and men are legally equal in marriage, and the law provides for gender equality in exercising the right to work. The law specifies that employers must not discriminate against women regarding pay or working conditions. According to the Ministry of Labor and the Confederation of Workers, regulations protecting women’s labor rights were enforced in the formal sector, although according to the World Economic Forum, women earned 36 percent less on average than men doing comparable jobs. Gender disparities persisted despite guarantees provided by law.

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