Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were numerous reports that the Maduro regime committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. Although the regime did not release statistics on extrajudicial killings, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported that national, state, and municipal police entities, as well as the armed forces and regime-supported colectivos, carried out hundreds of such killings during the year. In September the UN Independent Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) on Venezuela also noted, for the second consecutive year, concern regarding “extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearance, arbitrary detentions, and torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, including sexual and gender-based violence.” The FFM report stated “real and perceived opponents or critics” of the Maduro regime increasingly included individuals and organizations that documented, denounced, or attempted to address human rights or social and economic problems in the country. The FFM concluded that it had reasonable grounds to believe the justice system had played a significant role in the state’s repression of government opponents.
The Public Ministry is responsible for initiating judicial investigations of security force abuses. The Office for Protection of Human Rights in the Public Ministry is responsible for investigating cases involving crimes committed by public officials, particularly security officials. There was, however, no official information available on the number of public officials prosecuted, convicted, or sentenced to prison for involvement in extrajudicial killings, which, in the case of killings committed by police, were often classified as “resistance to authority.”
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) reported a reduction in the rate of killings in the context of security operations or protests, yet the number remained high. No official data was available, but the NGO Monitor de Victimas reported 87 extrajudicial killings by the National Scientific, Criminal, and Investigative Corps (CICPC), Special Action Forces (FAES), Bolivarian National Guard, and Bolivarian National Police in greater Caracas from June 2020 to March 2021. The NGOs Venezuelan Education-Action Program on Human Rights (PROVEA) and Fundacion Gumilla documented 825 extrajudicial killings in the context of security operations or protests in the first half of the year.
According to the OHCHR, there were fewer allegations of extrajudicial killings attributed to FAES since September 2020 but more attributed to other forces, including state and municipal police forces and the CICPC.
On January 8-9, members of FAES, the Bolivarian National Police, and other security forces killed at least 24 persons, including two minors, in a police operation in Caracas’ La Vega parish. Investigations by human rights NGOs determined that at least 14 deaths constituted extrajudicial killings. Families of victims refuted the argument that the deaths stemmed from “resistance to authority,” the charges alleged by the Maduro regime to justify killings committed by security forces. The families reported security forces entered their homes without a warrant, robbed and killed the victims, and altered the crime scene to suggest a violent confrontation. Although human rights NGOs and international organizations demanded an investigation, the Maduro regime attorney general and human rights ombudsman did not issue a statement responding to the allegations. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and other international organizations demanded the regime investigate and convict the security forces responsible for the violence. No arrests had been made as of November regarding any of these killings.
The Maduro regime attorney general reported that from 2017 through February, 1,019 officers were accused of homicide, torture, or inhuman, cruel, or degrading treatment, but only 177 were convicted for such crimes, with no reference to arbitrary killings. The regime did not release details on officer convictions or other investigations of security officers involved in killings. The OHCHR found that investigations of human rights violations committed by regime security forces were hampered by the regime’s refusal to cooperate, tampering with evidence, judicial delays, and harassment of relatives of victims. According to NGOs, prosecutors occasionally brought cases against perpetrators of extrajudicial killings, but prosecutions often resulted in light sentences, and convictions were often overturned on appeal. In many cases the regime appeared to be scapegoating low-level functionaries while allowing high-level officials who issued the illegal orders to continue in their positions.
On March 21, the armed forces launched a military operation against a group of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia dissidents (FARC-D) in Apure State. NGOs denounced serious human rights violations committed by Maduro regime security forces during the operation. PROVEA reported that members of the notoriously violent FAES kidnapped a family of five in El Ripial, executed them, and dressed the bodies with uniforms and weapons to suggest an affiliation with FARC-D. Local residents reported intense fear of members of the armed forces and noted that FAES officers seized cell phones to monitor communications.
Maduro regime defense minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez criticized coverage of the violence by media outlets and NGOs as the propagation of “falsehoods and terror.” The attorney general designated a special commission to investigate human rights violations committed during the conflict, but as of October the investigation had not resulted in charges.
The NGO Foro Penal confirmed incidents of forced disappearances continued and said the forced disappearances were deployed by the state to control and intimidate opponents. This practice also extended to family members to coerce them to turn in relatives. In 2019 Directorate General of Military Counterintelligence (DGCIM) officials arrested Hugo Marino Salas, a civilian who had worked as a military contractor, but authorities did not respond to habeas corpus petitions filed by his relatives, and his whereabouts remained unknown as of November, according to OHCHR documentation. Foro Penal documented 33 disappearances through the end of May, with 14 persons still missing as of November.
The Maduro regime continued to deny requests by the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances to visit the country to conduct an investigation. On September 21, the Working Group requested the regime clarify the status of 20 disappearance cases in a report it presented to the UN Human Rights Council.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Although the constitution and law prohibit such practices, there were credible reports that Maduro-aligned security forces regularly tortured and abused detainees. As of November the Maduro regime had not revealed information regarding individuals convicted or accused of torturing or abusing detainees.
The Maduro regime-aligned Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman did not publish statistics regarding allegations of torture by police during the year. Several NGOs detailed cases of widespread torture and “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.” Human rights groups and the FFM reported the regime continued to influence the attorney general and public defenders to conduct investigations selectively and subjectively. The FFM also found that at times judges ordered pretrial detention in Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN) or DGCIM facilities, despite the risk or commission of torture, even when detainees in court rooms denounced, or displayed signs consistent with, torture. No official data were available on investigations, prosecutions, or convictions in cases of alleged torture. Foro Penal maintained that hundreds of cases were not reported to government institutions because victims feared reprisal. The OHCHR found that in some cases doctors issued false or inaccurate medical reports intended to cover up signs of torture.
Media and NGOs reported that beatings and humiliating treatment of suspects during arrests were common and involved various law enforcement agencies and the military controlled by the Maduro regime. Cases of torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment of prisoners were also reported during the year. Regime-aligned authorities reportedly subjected detainees to asphyxiation, electric shock, broken bones, being hung by their limbs, and being forced to spend hours on their knees. Detainees were also subjected to cold temperatures, sensory deprivation, and sleep deprivation; remained handcuffed for extended periods of time; and received death threats to themselves and their relatives. Detainees reported regime-aligned security forces moved them from detention centers to houses and other clandestine locations where abuse took place. Cruel treatment frequently involved Maduro regime authorities denying prisoners medical care and holding them for long periods in solitary confinement. The latter practice was most prevalent with political prisoners. NGOs detailed reports from detainees who were victims of sexual and gender-based violence by security units. The OHCHR noted instances of detainees telling judges they had been tortured or mistreated but then returned to the custody of those allegedly responsible for the reported mistreatment. In some cases the alleged perpetrators were called to testify against the victims in the criminal processes against them. The OHCHR continued to receive allegations of such cases, with no precautionary measures taken by judges or prosecutors to protect the alleged victims or address related due process concerns.
The Casla Institute for the Study of Latin America continued to denounce the construction of new places of torture utilized by FAES and colectivos. NGOs reported new torture patterns employed by military authorities, including the use of continuous loud noise, metallic spikes applied to the face, cells without ventilation or light, and exposure to the point of hypothermia.
Foro Penal reported multiple instances of political prisoners denied adequate medical treatment while in Maduro regime custody, including political prisoners who died in custody. As of October Foro Penal reported that 50 of the 260 individuals detained on politically motivated grounds were in a critical health situation. The health reports detailed muscle problems, severe fractures, hernias, and high blood pressure. Foro Penal also noted instances in which regime authorities transferred detainees to a medical facility, where instead of receiving treatment, they were interrogated by security officials.
The NGO Una Ventana por la Libertad (UVL) denounced the shooting and killing of Daniela Figueredo by a police officer while in custody in Zamora, Miranda State, on March 13. The officer was allegedly attempting to sexually assault the victim. The NGO also denounced that seven other prisoners in the cell were sexually assaulted and raped by police officers.
Impunity was a significant problem in the security forces. Despite continued reports of police abuse and involvement in crime, particularly in the activities of illegally armed groups, including illegal and arbitrary detentions, extrajudicial killings, kidnappings, and the excessive use of force, the Maduro regime took no effective action to investigate officials who committed human rights abuses. Corruption, inadequate police training and equipment, and insufficient central government funding, particularly for police forces in states and municipalities governed by opposition officials, reduced the effectiveness of the security forces. NGOs noted that many victims did not report violent crimes to police or other regime authorities due to fear of retribution or lack of confidence in police.
On November 3, International Criminal Court chief prosecutor Karim Khan announced a formal investigation into crimes against humanity committed in Venezuela under the Maduro regime and signed a memorandum of understanding “to facilitate cooperation and mutual assistance to advance accountability for atrocity crimes.”
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Most prison conditions were harsh and life threatening due to gross overcrowding, food shortages, inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care, systemic violence, and poor infrastructure.
Physical Conditions: According to the NGO Venezuelan Observatory for Prisons (OVP), prison capacity was approximately 21,200, while the estimated population was 37,500 inmates as of October. Conditions were most acute in pretrial detention facilities such as police station jails. Overcrowding was 177 percent on average across detention facilities, exacerbated by the excessive use of pretrial detention. Generally unsanitary conditions placed prisoners at increased risk of contracting respiratory diseases such as COVID-19 and tuberculosis, which had become the main cause of death among inmates. Lack of water and cleaning supplies, inadequate access to recreation and sunlight, and insufficient food also increased the risk of respiratory diseases. The OVP reported that deaths from malnutrition rose during the year.
Male and female inmates were held together in most prisons. The law stipulates women in mixed prisons must be held in annexes or separate women’s blocks; however, a local NGO reported that male and female prisoners intermingled. Maduro regime security forces and law enforcement authorities often held minors together with adults, although separate facilities existed. Because institutions were filled beyond capacity, hundreds of children accused of infractions were confined in juvenile detention centers, where they were reportedly crowded into small, unsanitary cells.
The CICPC and SEBIN detention facilities, police station jails, and detention centers also were overcrowded, causing many police station offices to be converted into makeshift prison cells. Long delays in court proceedings and prison transfers created a parallel system that held prisoners in police station jails, in some cases for years, although these facilities were designed to hold individuals only for 48 hours. Prisoners reportedly took turns sleeping on floors and in office chairs, and sanitation facilities were inadequate or nonexistent. A UVL study of 111 facilities holding pretrial detainees revealed 311 percent overcrowding. These centers had a designed capacity of 3,702 persons; as of April they housed 11,527 detainees. The UVL also found that only 9 percent of facilities provided medical services, one in 26 detention centers had potable water, 16 percent had running water, 22 percent did not have regular trash collection, 63 percent lacked proper restrooms, and 35 percent lacked electricity. None of the centers had proper infrastructure for persons with disabilities.
The Bolivarian National Guard and the Ministry of Interior, Justice, and Peace have responsibility for prisons’ exterior and interior security, respectively. The Maduro regime failed to provide adequate prison security. The OVP estimated a staffing gap of 90 percent for prison security personnel, with one guard for every 100 inmates instead of one for every 10, as recommended by international standards. Armed gangs, known as pranes, exercised de facto control within some prisons and used these bases to operate criminal networks on the outside.
According to the OVP, between January and June, 170 prisoners died in prisons and pretrial detention centers. Some deaths resulted from detention center riots and unsafe prison conditions. On February 7, a grenade exploded in the Monagas Police Coordination Center, killing two prisoners killed and injuring 26. Official reports claimed the deaths resulted from a riot, but media reported one of the inmates was handling a grenade, indicating the lax security controls inside prisons.
There are no gender-oriented policies that address female-specific prison needs. According to the OVP, the female population was 2,327 inmates (6.6 percent of the total population), with only one prison dedicated exclusively to women. That facility, the Feminine Orientation Institute, with a designed capacity of 350, was overcrowded with 533 women. Pregnant or lactating women lacked proper facilities, medical assistance, prenatal supplements, and basic hygiene goods. Women were also victims of sexual violence, abuse, and torture, and they were frequently asked for sexual favors in exchange for food or water. NGOs reported guards knew and tolerated these abuses and sometimes were also accomplices.
The OVP reported inmate deaths were due to generally unsanitary and unsafe conditions prevalent in prisons, with 73 percent the result of tuberculosis and malnutrition. The OVP reported that due to inadequate nutrition and lack of potable water, stomach illnesses were common among inmates. The UVL and OVP reported that in 98 percent of detention facilities, prisoners depended upon family visits to supply them with food, water, and medicine. Media reported prison guards regularly stole food that families purchased for inmates and extorted families attempting to bring food into prisons. The NGO Solidarity Action found prison rules resulted in the isolation of those with HIV/AIDS in “inadequate spaces.” The OVP reported a generalized lack of medical care, drugs, equipment, and physicians for prisoners. Inmates often received the same pills regardless of their symptoms, and pregnant women lacked adequate facilities for medical attention.
On January 3, indigenous political prisoner Salvador Franco died in regime custody after he was denied court-ordered medical attention due to his declining health. Franco and 12 other members of the Pemon indigenous community had been in the custody of the Maduro regime since 2019 for their alleged participation in an uprising against the regime. Human rights NGOs denounced the arbitrary arrest, torture, and violations of due process during the detention of the Pemon political prisoners. On February 12, the regime released the 12 surviving political prisoners, although they remained subject to restrictions of movement and other unspecified court orders. (See section 6, Indigenous Peoples for more.)
On August 29, military officer Gabriel Medina died in La Pica Prison, in Monagas State, after being held for three months for allegedly attempting to kidnap regime vice president Diosdado Cabello. Medina died due to respiratory arrest after requesting but not receiving medical attention for more than 30 days.
Administration: The Maduro regime’s Ministry of Penitentiary Services did not respond to requests from the OVP, UVL, other human rights organizations, inmates, or families regarding credible allegations of mistreatment or investigations of the harsh conditions that led to hunger strikes, violent uprisings, and massacres.
Prisoners and detainees generally had access to visitors, including some with overnight privileges, every other week until the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to visit restrictions. In some cases prison officials harassed or abused visitors. For political prisoners, prison officials imposed significant restrictions on visits by family and legal representation. When allowed access, visitors were at times subjected to strip searches.
Independent Monitoring: Human rights observers experienced lengthy delays and restrictions in gaining access to prisons and detention centers. More than 300 lay members from the Venezuelan Episcopal Conference of the Roman Catholic Church volunteered in 40 prisons. Although prohibited from formally entering prisons, Catholic laity visited prisoners on family visitation days. The OHCHR conducted visits of eight detention centers, and the Red Cross was allowed access to three.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution prohibits the arrest or detention of an individual without a judicial order and provides for the accused to remain free while being tried, but judges and prosecutors often disregarded these provisions. NGOs such as Foro Penal, the Committee for the Families of Victims of February-March 1989, the Institute for Press and Society, Espacio Publico, and PROVEA noted at least 2,000 open cases of arbitrary detentions; however, Maduro regime authorities rarely granted detainees the right to challenge the lawfulness of their detentions in court, even though the right to petition is stipulated under law. Regime authorities arbitrarily detained individuals, including foreign citizens, for extended periods without criminal charges.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
While a warrant is required for an arrest, detention is permitted without an arrest warrant when an individual is apprehended in the act of committing a crime or to secure a suspect or witness during an investigation. Police often detained individuals and raided their homes without a warrant. The OHCHR found that in several cases the Maduro regime issued warrants retroactively or forged the warrant’s date of issuance. Foro Penal maintained that detentions were often conducted without a warrant, which were provided retroactively by complicit prosecutors and judges. Detainees were presented without proper defense before a court days after being disappeared; public defenders were imposed in violation of detainees’ right to choose their own lawyers.
The law mandates that detainees be brought before a prosecutor within 12 hours and before a judge within 48 hours to determine the legality of the detention. The law also requires that detainees be informed promptly of the charges against them. The regime routinely ignored these requirements.
Although the law provides for bail, release on bail is not afforded to persons charged with certain crimes. Bail also may be denied if a person is apprehended in the act of committing a crime or if a judge determines the accused may flee or impede the investigation. The law allows detainees access to counsel and family members, but that requirement was often not met, particularly for political prisoners. The constitution also provides any detained individual the right to immediate communication with family members and lawyers who, in turn, have the right to know a detainee’s whereabouts. A person accused of a crime may not be detained for longer than the possible minimum sentence for that crime or for longer than two years, whichever is shorter, except in certain circumstances, such as when the defendant is responsible for the delay in the proceedings. The regime routinely ignored these requirements.
Arbitrary Arrest: Foro Penal reported 266 cases of arbitrary detention between January 1 and August 16. More than 10 cases were referred to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions, but the cases received no response from the regime.
On January 12, five members of the UNAIDS-affiliated HIV-prevention NGO Azul Positivo were detained in Zulia State by military police without explanation. They were released on February 10, but the charges they faced, relating to terrorism, terrorism financing, and money laundering, were not dropped.
The Maduro regime arbitrarily detained 15 journalists from January to July, according to a report from the NGO Un Mundo Sin Mordaza.
On July 2, SEBIN officers arrested Javier Tarazona, director of the domestic human rights NGO Fundaredes, two days after he held a news conference alleging links between members of the Maduro regime and illegal armed groups accused of human rights abuses (see section 5). He and two other Fundaredes workers were detained in Falcon State. As of November, two had been released, but Tarazona remained in custody without trial and in need of medical treatment (see section 5).
In November 2020 unionized oil worker Guillermo Zarraga was detained in Coro, Falcon State, without a warrant. He was later transferred to a military facility, the DGCIM headquarters in Caracas, with no contact with family or lawyers through October.
Pretrial Detention: Pretrial detention remained an egregious problem. According to the Maduro regime attorney general, there were 22,759 persons in pretrial detention in December 2020, representing more than two-thirds of the total prison population. According to the UVL, approximately 70 percent of the prison population was in pretrial detention. The NGO Citizen Observatory of the Penal Justice System attributed trial delays to the shortage of prosecutors and penal judges. The OHCHR also observed the routine use of pretrial detention without due consideration of alternative measures to detention, even in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. The FFM found that judges ordered pretrial detention as routine, rather than an exceptional measure, and without providing sufficient or appropriate justification.
Despite constitutional protections that provide for timely trials, judges reportedly scheduled initial hearings months after the events that led to the detention. Proceedings were often deferred or suspended when an officer of the court, such as the prosecutor, public defender, or judge, failed to attend. Prisoners reported to NGOs that a lack of transportation and disorganization in the prison system reduced their access to the courts and contributed to trial delays.
On June 12, Rodney Alvarez, a Ferrominera (state-owned industrial iron firm) union leader, was sentenced to 15 years in prison after waiting in pretrial detention for 10 years.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Detained individuals may challenge the grounds for their detention, but proceedings were often delayed and hearings postponed, stretching trials for years. Courts frequently disregarded defendants’ presumption of innocence. Maduro regime authorities often failed to allow detainees to consult with counsel or access their case records when filing challenges. Some detainees remained on probation or under house arrest indefinitely.
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary lacked independence and generally judged in favor of the Maduro regime at all levels. There were credible allegations of corruption and political influence throughout the judiciary. According to the International Commission of Jurists, 85 percent of judges had provisional appointments and were subject to removal at will by the Supreme Court (TSJ) Judicial Committee. The IACHR also reported the judiciary operated with opacity, which obfuscated whether judges were appointed according to established procedures or political imperatives. Provisional and temporary judges, who legally have the same rights and authorities as permanent judges, allegedly were subjected to political influence to make proregime determinations. The OHCHR reported that lower courts received instructions from the TSJ on cases, especially those of a political nature, and observed that TSJ decisions related to the legitimate National Assembly were inconsistent and raised concerns regarding politicization. Low salaries for judges at all levels increased the risk of corruption.
There was a general lack of transparency and stability in the assignments of district attorneys to cases and a lack of technical criteria for assigning district attorneys to criminal investigations. These deficiencies hindered the possibility of bringing offenders to justice and resulted in a 90 percent impunity rate for common crimes and a higher percentage of impunity for cases of alleged human rights abuses.
NGOs reported the lack of independence of the judiciary impeded the normal functioning of investigations and judicial processes and highlighted the fragility of norms and procedures.
The September FFM report noted judges interviewed by the OHCHR experienced regular threats of dismissal, or pressure to resign or seek early retirement. The judges alleged the presidents of the criminal judicial circuits were responsible for many such threats for retaliatory or coercive purposes. Former judges and prosecutors reported they and their family members had been subjected to threats and intimidation, including phone tapping, surveillance, and monitoring.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The constitution provides for the inviolability of the home and personal privacy, but the Maduro regime generally failed to respect these prohibitions. In many cases, particularly regarding the political opposition, regime-aligned authorities searched homes without judicial or other appropriate authorization, seized property without due process, and interfered in personal communications. FAES and other security forces regularly conducted both politically motivated and indiscriminate household raids. Throughout the year media reports documented raids by security forces on the homes of opposition party politicians, their relatives, and members of independent media. NGO offices were also subject to arbitrary raids and their work equipment seized.
State surveillance remained rampant, including through the assistance of telecom regulator the National Telecommunications Commission (CONATEL) and state-run telecommunications provider CANTV. Furthermore, telecommunications companies reportedly assisted the regime in monitoring communications of political opponents. Technical attacks against media outlets appeared to be linked to the armed forces.
China, through its telecommunications corporation ZTE (Zhongxing Telecommunication Equipment Corporation), provided the Maduro regime with technology to monitor citizens’ social, political, and economic behavior through an identity card called carnet de la patria (homeland card). To force citizens to comply, the regime made it obligatory to present the card to obtain social services, including pensions, medicine, food baskets, subsidized fuel, and in some instances COVID vaccinations. Citizens essentially had no choice but to obtain and use the card despite the known tracking methods. Chinese companies such as Huawei and the China National Electronics Import-Export Company also supported, financially and technologically, these surveillance methods.
Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
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.
The constitution prohibits discrimination based on race. The law prohibits all forms of racial discrimination and provides for a maximum of three years’ imprisonment for acts of racial discrimination. As mandated by law, signage existed outside commercial and recreational establishments announcing the prohibition against acts of racial discrimination. Beyond signage, the Maduro regime did little to enforce laws against discrimination or prosecute cases of discrimination.
The law prohibits discrimination based on ethnic origin. The constitution provides for three seats in the National Assembly for deputies of indigenous origin to “protect indigenous communities and their progressive incorporation into the life of the nation,” but some indigenous communities continued without representation due to the TSJ’s annulment of the 2015 election of Amazonas State’s indigenous representatives.
NGOs and the press reported local political authorities seldom took account of indigenous interests when making decisions affecting indigenous lands, cultures, traditions, or allocation of natural resources. Indigenous groups continued to call for faster implementation of the demarcation process.
Indigenous groups and NGOs expressed concern regarding mining in the expanding Arco Minero, an area between the states of Bolivar, Amazonas, and Delta Amacuro. Indigenous communities reported the Maduro regime developed and expanded mining zones without consulting those native to the region, resulting in a rise in environmental degradation, water contamination, and malaria. Illegal armed groups, including the National Liberation Army and FARC-D, had a considerable presence in the area, increasing the level of violence and insecurity in the communities. There was also an unprecedented influx of disease; drugs; human trafficking, including commercial sexual exploitation and forced labor; and other illegal activities in the mining areas, putting indigenous communities at risk.
Indigenous groups regularly reported violent conflicts with miners and cattle ranchers regarding land rights. There were reports of harassment, attacks, and forced evictions against indigenous persons living in areas included as part of Maduro regime mining concessions. Indigenous persons reported a lack of consultation by the regime on the social and environmental impact of mining activity in indigenous and protected areas.
Border disputes with Colombia affected indigenous groups living in border regions. There were many reported cases in which movements of indigenous groups were restricted, including from border closures. After more than 18 months, these regions continued to suffer severe restrictions that impeded tourism and forced indigenous communities of Santa Elena de Uairen, Bolivar State, to practice mining. The tourism chamber affirmed that approximately 28 indigenous communities stopped working in tourism due to the closure of the country’s borders and gasoline shortages, which made them depend on illegal mining for 60 percent of their income.
NGOs stated that quarantine measures imposed by the Maduro regime unduly affected indigenous communities, preventing transit to and through territories and making it impossible for indigenous persons to obtain sufficient food, water, and access to medical care, which was already difficult due to gasoline shortages in the area. PROVEA alerted that the migration of indigenous communities from Amazonas State to Colombia had increased in the past five years due to the worsening of the political-economic crisis and the increase in mining activity and invasion of indigenous territories. Colombian authorities estimated 3,900 Venezuelans had registered in 25 indigenous and nonindigenous settlements in Puerto Carreno as migrants or displaced persons.
In January there was concern for the 12 indigenous members of the Pemon community detained in the Rodeo II prison, due to the poor detention conditions. All were detained on allegations of having assaulted the 513 Jungle Infantry Battalion Mariano Montilla in 2019. Foro Penal called on authorities to grant them priority medical assistance, since they had tuberculosis due to poor sanitary conditions and lack of adequate food and water. Their lawyers affirmed in their case that due process was not guaranteed and that they had been subject to cruel and inhuman treatment. Advocacy groups decried that they should have been tried in an indigenous jurisdiction to respect indigenous rights. The National Observatory for Human Rights demanded the detainees be transferred to another facility closer to their community where they could have access to family and community. They also requested as a minimum condition to receive medical assistance according to their indigenous practices. They were released on February 13.
On February 21, an assembly of indigenous leaders in Bolivar State denounced the continued presence of illegal armed groups engaged in illegal mining activities on indigenous lands and declared a state of emergency in the community of San Luis de Morichal. The National Assembly denounced environmental degradation, instability, human rights violations, and the closure of schools. Leaders condemned the inaction and complicity of the Maduro regime and called on the regime to enforce protections for indigenous communities as enshrined in the constitution.
On June 21, Fundaredes in Apure State reported FARC dissidents killed six indigenous individuals in the Macanilla sector, located in the Pedro Camejo municipality. According to the NGO, the deaths occurred on June 15 after the indigenous individuals allegedly looted a food truck that was moving from San Juan de Payara to a church in Puerto Paez, in the Codazzi parish. Fundaredes also said the indigenous communities were unprotected by the state and suffered from malnutrition, sexual abuse, human trafficking, and displacement by irregular armed groups.
Also in June the OHCHR expressed concern regarding the death of indigenous Pemon leader Salvador Franco while he was in detention and called on authorities to conduct an immediate and independent investigation and to protect the rights of the detainees, especially their right to receive medical assistance. As of November neither the Attorney General’s Office nor the human rights ombudsman had made a statement regarding the case.
Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country’s territory. The children’s rights NGO Cecodap reported that families struggled to register births due to quarantine measures related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Child Abuse: According to UNICEF and NGOs working with children and women, child abuse, including incest, occurred but was rarely reported. The Maduro regime made efforts to detain and prosecute some perpetrators of child abuse. Although the judicial system acted to remove children from abusive households, the press reported public facilities for such children were inadequate. According to NGOs, in many cases children were returned to their homes without proper reintegration measures or follow-up. An investigation by Cecodap documented the lack of information from official sources regarding the violation of child and adolescents’ rights, noting that only 23 percent of the monitored news came from official sources.
During the first quarter of the year, Cecodap identified 209 violent episodes involving child and adolescents and said they were the victims in 86 percent of the cases. Cecodap reported that 30 percent of episodes monitored involved sexual abuse and most victims were between seven and 12 years old.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18 for women and men, but with parental consent the minimum age is 16.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: By law conviction for having sexual relations with a minor younger than 13, with an “especially vulnerable” person, or with a minor younger than 16 when the perpetrator is a relative or guardian is punishable with a mandatory sentence of 15 to 20 years’ imprisonment. The law prohibits the forced commercial sexual exploitation and the corruption of minors. Penalties range from 15 to 20 years’ imprisonment in cases of forced labor and some forms of sex trafficking of women and girls. The law requires a demonstration of force, fraud, or coercion to constitute child sex trafficking. The law prohibits the production and sale of child pornography and establishes penalties of 16 to 20 years’ imprisonment.
Displaced Children: Children’s rights advocates and media reported an increase in the number of abandoned children living on the street. State-run facilities, already filled to capacity, were unable to support the influx. Cecodap estimated that as many as one million minors had been left behind with family members when their parents fled the country’s economic crisis, many of whom also struggled with the country’s economic downturn. These children resided in limbo, since their parents who left were unable legally to transfer guardianship to a third party. Private institutions denounced the Maduro regime’s refusal to provide subsidized food benefits to support the country’s population.
NGOs noted young girls constituted almost one-half of the children living on the streets. This shift posed particular challenges for shelters, which historically housed predominantly male populations. With institutions filled to capacity, hundreds of children accused of infractions, such as curfew violations, were confined in inadequate juvenile detention centers.
The Human Rights Center of the Catholic University Andres Bello documented that between October 2020 and February, at least 430 children and adolescents permanently left the country alone or accompanied by other minors. An additional 51,250 minors were recorded as regularly crossing the border between Venezuela and Colombia.
Save The Children affirmed that 70 percent of children and adolescents left the country to find their parents and to achieve a family reunion; the remainder fled domestic violence. Many of these children were motivated by deceptive job offers. NGOs confirmed cases of unaccompanied Venezuelan girls who were victims of sex trafficking in Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, and Peru.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://www.travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.
The Confederation of Israelite Associations in Venezuela estimated there were 10,000 Jews in the country. Jewish community leaders expressed concern regarding anti-Semitic pieces in regime-aligned media outlets. They stated regime-owned or -associated media and supporters of the Maduro regime promoted Zionist conspiracy theories. There were reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice, including anti-Semitism.
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical and mental disabilities, but the Maduro regime did not implement the law, inform the public of it, or combat societal prejudice against persons with disabilities. The law requires that all newly constructed or renovated public parks and buildings provide access, but persons with disabilities had minimal access to public transportation, and ramps were almost nonexistent. Many persons with disabilities expressed concern that public transportation workers often were unwilling to transport them and forced them to find taxis, which were often unaffordable and frequently not equipped to support patrons with disabilities. NGOs reported hospitals lacked infrastructure to accommodate persons with mobility problems and staff to communicate with deaf persons. Parents of children with disabilities also complained they were forced to wait in long lines for services rather than receive preference as afforded by law. Online resources and access to information were generally available to persons with disabilities, although access to closed-captioned or audio-described online videos for persons with sight and hearing disabilities was limited. Leading advocates for persons with hearing disabilities lamented difficult access to public services due to a lack of interpreters in public courts, health-care facilities, and legal services, as well as a lack of other public accommodations.
The National Council for Persons with Disabilities, an independent agency, advocated for the rights of persons with disabilities and provided medical, legal, occupational, and cultural programs. All forms of organization, whether public or private, are required by law to incorporate no less than 5 percent of persons with disabilities in their work area, according to their condition, their abilities, their skills, and their specialties with the aim of seek job placement. There was no available information regarding the number of persons registered with regime health programs who were fully employed. The law was generally not followed or enforced.
Some children with disabilities attended separate schools, while others were in mainstream schools with their peers without disabilities. Media reported that schools for children with disabilities suffered from underfunding, decaying infrastructure, and little consideration for the specific needs of individual disabilities. Parents of children with disabilities reported significant difficulties in school enrollment, which prevented their children from receiving formal education. NGOs reported that in the shift to online classes due to COVID-19, children with disabilities had limited access to educational materials, and the Ministry of Education did not adapt curricula for children with disabilities.
The NGOs Cecodap and Deaf Confederation of Venezuela reported three legal cases where the accused were individuals with cognitive disabilities who were arbitrarily detained and deprived of liberty. In each case the court omitted information about the defendant’s mental disability, even when the disability was reflected and endorsed by medical reports from each of the accused. The most recent case was in December 2020, regarding a 15-year-old adolescent in Yaracuy State who allegedly was involved in crimes of extortion and kidnapping. He was linked to the crime by a cell phone that was used by his mother, who went missing at that time.
The law provides for the equal rights of persons with HIV or AIDS and their families. Nevertheless, leading advocates alleged discrimination occurred against such persons. Media and NGOs denounced that during the pandemic more than one thousand persons died due to lack of antiretroviral treatment, as well as poor care in public hospitals. Since 2016 the regime had not purchased antiretroviral medicine, which also affected a great number of children with HIV. The NGO Citizen Action Against AIDS reported there was permanent discrimination in public hospitals and refusal of medical attention against persons with HIV and mistreatment of pregnant women with HIV at the time of delivery.
The number of persons with HIV in treatment increased in the last two years from 24 percent to 54 percent in December 2020, according to UNAIDS. On January 12, DGCIM arbitrarily detained six members of NGO Azul Positivo that provided humanitarian aid to the HIV-positive population of Zulia State, raided the NGO’s offices, and seized equipment.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Local police and private security forces allegedly prevented lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons from entering malls, public parks, and recreational areas. NGOs reported the Maduro regime systematically denied legal recognition to transgender and intersex persons by preventing them from obtaining identity documents required for accessing education, employment, housing, and health care. This vulnerability often led transgender and intersex persons to become victims of human trafficking.
The armed forces criminalize homosexual relations in the military justice code, punishing members of the LGBTQI+ community with prison from one to three years and fines.
NGOs reported incidents of bias-motivated violence against LGBTQI+ persons. Reported incidents were most prevalent against transgender individuals. Leading advocates noted that law enforcement authorities often did not properly investigate to determine whether crimes were bias motivated.
In June media reported at least seven hate crimes against LGBTQI+ persons. These cases should have been processed by the Special Ombudsman’s Office for the Protection of Persons of Sexual Diversity (an entity created in December 2020 and attached to the Ombudsman’s Office), but NGOs affirmed the office was ineffective and that most related hate crimes were not investigated.
The constitution provides for equality before the law of all persons and prohibits discrimination based on “sex or social condition,” but it does not explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. According to a TSJ ruling, no individual may be subjected to discrimination because of sexual orientation, but the ruling was rarely enforced.
The law establishes the principle of no discrimination for sexual orientation as well as no discrimination in the workplace for sexual preferences; however, there were no mechanisms to denounce violations of the law.