A Demand to Stop the Violence and Guarantee the Expression of the Popular Will

Some of Venezuela's most important human rights group issued the following press statement in the wake of the recent wave of violence that has gripped the country.

March 1, 2004

The human rights organizations signing below, on the occasion of the violence occurring in various areas of the capital and in some areas in the interior of the country for the past three days, want to declare the following:

With regard to the right to demonstrate, to life, to liberty, and to the integrity and security of citizens –

  1. We express our pain and solidarity with the relatives of the victims of violence that began this past February 27, 2004, and which has cost the lives of at least three persons, causing mourning on both sides of the political spectrum, and which has produced numerous wounded. We demand from the institutions that administrate justice an adequate investigation and a sanction against those who are responsible.
  2. We condemn the disproportionate use of force on the part of the National Guard and of the Directorate of Intelligence and Protection Services (DISIP) in the context of the control of the recent demonstrations. We condemn the Metropolitan Police (MP), the police force of the state of Miranda, and the police forces of the municipalities of Chacao and Baruta, among others, for their direct participation in the placement of barricades in other events that disturb the public order and for their omission in their duty to guarantee citizen security. We reiterate that the corps of citizen security cannot constitute armed wings subordinated to political interests, as this goes against the right to citizen security and these and other actions must be duly investigated and sanctioned.
  3. In the face of the delicate situation caused by the disturbance of the public order in the past few days, the inexistence of a democratic policy of public security has become evident and, along with this, the state’s incompliance with the sentence of the Inter American Court for Human Rights on the events of February 27, 1989, in which it was ordered that the state should adjust its plans for confronting disturbances of the public order in accordance with the exigencies of the respect of and the protection of human rights, following the principles of necessity, proportionality, and rationality in the use of force, as these are consecrated in the Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Functionaries in Charge of Enforcing the Law, as mandated by the UN in its resolution 44/162 of December 15, 1989.
  4. We condemn the use of firearms on the part of demonstrators who support or oppose the national government, which has been denounced in the wake of the recent demonstrations. We remind all actors who are in conflict that the right to demonstrate, as consecrated in article 68 of the constitution, implicates an exercise of this right “in peace and without weapons.” In this sense, a demonstration stops being peaceful when blunt objects are used to attack other persons, public functionaries, or public or private installations or when people participate who are armed. In all of these cases, one would be in the presence of crimes that should be duly prevented or sanctioned.
  5. We demand the immediate liberty of those who were arrested while exercising their right to peacefully demonstrate and the strict respect for the procedural guarantees of those who were detained while committing a crime, in the context of the demonstrations. In no manner can the beating or mistreatment of arrested and unarmed or defenseless individuals be tolerated. Also, in no way can the security corps act anonymously. This means that the use of ski masks that make the identification of security functionaries difficult are inadmissible. Those who do use these place themselves at the margins of legality. The cases in which security functionaries act in violation of these principles and consecrated in internal legal frameworks must be investigated and sanctioned.
  6. We request of the mass media that they promote mutual tolerance and that they refrain from publishing anonymous advertisements and calls to violence, just as the articles 19 and 20 of the International Agreement Civil and Political Rights indicate.

With respect to the right to democratic participation:

  1. We demand that the National Electoral Council (CNE) acknowledges the popular will in the process of revising and checking of the signatures of the different petitions for recall referenda. The selected mechanism must be fast, transparent, and must guarantee no valid signature is excluded and no false signature is endorsed.
  2. We demand the immediate and full restitution of the electoral referee, since the fracture of that institution makes the process slower and less reliable.
  3. We demand that both parties in the conflict respect the electoral referee’s decisions and the institutional processing of any inconformity or claim against its decisions.
  4. We exhort the people and its leaders to express their legitimate political ideas in a peaceful manner, with respect for diversity, plurality, and participation and democratic institutions, discarding bellicose speeches and attempts to politically instrumentalize the National Armed Forces.
  5. Finally, we remind that the current political crisis is expression of a wider structural crisis, which includes poverty, discrimination, and inequity with regard to the enjoyment of human rights as its main sources. Thus, as we have pointed out several times before, besides the need for minimal agreements that allow for the democratic administration of differences with regard to the projects of the country, there must be a consensus regarding the urgent need to extend citizenship to the traditionally excluded sectors of society.


    • Center for Human Rights of the Law Faculty of the Catholic University Andrés Bello (Cddhh-UCAB) (Centro de Derechos Humanos de la Facultad de Derecho de la Universidad Católica Andrés Bello)
    • Center for Peace and Human Rights of the Central University of Venezuela. (Centro para la Paz y los Derechos Humanos de la Universidad Central de Venezuela)
    • Learning Community Centers (Cecodap) (Centros Comunitarios de Aprendizaje)
    • Foundation Justice and Peace of Petare (Fundación Justicia y Paz de Petare)
    • Venezuelan Program of Education-Action in Human Rights (Provea) (Programa Venezolano de Educación-Acción en Derechos Humanos)
    • Network of Support for Peace and Justice (Red de Apoyo por la Justicia y la Paz)
    • Jesuit Service for Refugees Venezuela (Servicio Jesuita para Refugiados Venezuela)

Translated from Spanish by Gregory Wilpert and Yosvany Deyá Martinez