Mérida, 1st May 2014 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuela’s National Human Rights Council met for the first time yesterday and set priorities for the institutional defence of human rights in the country.
The Council was created last month by President Nicolas Maduro in response to a recommendation by the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), which visited Venezuela to assess the situation of violent opposition unrest and the state’s response to control it.
The Council has fifteen members, including relevant government ministers, other institutional figures, parliamentarians, and representatives of national human rights NGO’s.
“This is a body to coordinate public institutions with non-governmental human rights organisations that have a role in the defence and protection of human rights,” said Vice President Jorge Arreaza to press yesterday.
During the Council’s first meeting three working groups were created to focus on different priorities. The first of these groups will design a national plan to protect “the diverse human rights of Venezuelans beyond [only] the penal ones”. In this sense the Council will help advise and design governmental human rights policies.
The second group will reevaluate forms of compensation and redress to victims of the opposition’s short-lived coup against the Chavez government in April 2002.
Meanwhile the third group will set up links with social movements and local human rights NGO’s. It will be led by the government’s peace commissioner as well as the Latin American Foundation for Human Rights and Social Development, and the Support Network for Justice and Peace NGO.
The Council’s formation follows a new Truth Commission, currently being established to investigate “all” violent acts committed during opposition disturbances this year. Originally proposed by Nicolas Maduro, the Commission will include pro-government and opposition parliamentarians, as well as “respected” civil society figures.
The nearly three months of opposition protests, riots and militant street barricades, which began in early February and have now largely ebbed away, left 41 dead and over 600 wounded. Victims included government supporters, opposition activists, other civilians and members of security forces.
The Attorney General’s office is investigating 145 cases of possible human rights violations by security forces during that period, two of which the office indicates could qualify for possible torture under custody. The Attorney General, Luisa Ortega Diaz, said on Tuesday that those responsible for any such acts would be duly punished.
One Venezuelan NGO, the Penal Forum, claimed yesterday that the number of reported cases qualifying for torture is 80, and that the Attorney General’s office has the details of these cases.
The Penal Forum has also rejected the formation of the Truth Commission, arguing that “these bodies cannot be formed by politicians or members of political parties”.
For his part, VP Jorge Arreaza said yesterday that the National Human Rights Council was not formed to replace the role of human rights NGO’s, but rather to “support” their work.