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5/21/04 - HUMAN RIGHTS IN VENEZUELA - 2004-05-24

Human rights in Venezuela are under threat, according to a new report by Amnesty International. The latest abuses came in response to protests held to demand a recall of Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez. The petitioners say President Chavez's policies have made millions of Venezuelans poorer and driven the country toward economic ruin.

At least fourteen people died and at least two hundred were wounded in clashes with police. Many demonstrators were violent, said Amnesty International, but the response of the security forces “frequently involved excessive use of force, contributing to spiraling violence rather than preventing or controlling it.” The actions by the security forces, says the report, raise "serious questions about the commitment" of key government institutions “to prevent and punish such abuses impartially.”

The disregard for human rights during the demonstrations led to the resignation of Milos Alcalay, Venezuela’s ambassador to the United Nations. Mr. Alcaly said he could no longer defend the country's human rights record:

"Especially being in a house like this, the United Nations, where we deal every day with this priority, the Venezuelan ambassador cannot continue going to a committee of human rights, defending the human rights situation, and seeing sadly the situation that, in the press, in the news, you can see every day in my country."

Mr. Alcaly said he was saddened to see Venezuela suffering from what he called a violation of fundamental principles:

“There are ways to maintain order, but without killing people and putting people in jail, without putting politicians out, without torture, and this is why we fought in Latin America for democracy.”

The human rights abuses in Venezuela could weaken the country’s fragile rule of law and fuel further political protest. As Amnesty International says, the Chavez government’s “lack of impartiality threatens to strengthen the culture of impunity that has accompanied human rights abuses for many years in Venezuela.”