US State Department Accuses Venezuela of Having Poor Human Rights Record

The US State Department released its annual report on human rights and said that Venezuela was "backsliding," charging it with a recent increase in abuses. VP Rangel and others countered that the reportlacks credibility, due to the U.S.' own human rights situation.

Caracas, Venezuela, March 1, 2005—The U.S. State Department released its annual human rights report yesterday criticizing Venezuela, among other countries, on a wide array of fronts. The nineteen pages of the report dedicated to Venezuela paint an overall bleak picture, describing the human rights situation as “poor, despite attempts at improvement in a few areas,” and claiming that conditions have “deteriorated during the past year.” 

“The Country Reports on Human Rights Practices” evaluates the human, civil, political, and workers’ rights in 196 countries and are submitted annually by the U.S. State Department to the U.S. Congress. The report quotes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, according to which human rights include “freedom from torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, from prolonged detention without charges, from disappearance or clandestine detention, and from other flagrant violations of the right to life, liberty and the security of the person.”

According to the report, “President Chavez, officials in his administration, and members of his political party consistently attacked the independent media, the political opposition, labor unions, the courts, the Church, and human rights groups. Many government supporters interpreted these remarks as tacit approval of violence; they then threatened, intimidated, and physically harmed at least dozens of individuals opposed to Chavez during the year.”

The Chávez administration was also criticized for allegedly having “conducted illegal wiretapping of private citizens and intimidated political opponents.” The report went on to denounce that national authorities “had increased their control over the judicial system” and voiced concerns that the government was “interfering in the administration of justice.” The report also charged that the “police and military committed unlawful killings of criminal suspects.”

During a briefing after the release of the report, the Acting Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL), Michael Kozak, also criticized the new Law for Social Responsibility for Radio and Television and the new Supreme Court law.  “When one sees that a media law is approved in order to intimidate and curb journalists in a country, when one sees the exertion in order to form a Supreme Court favorable to the government and things like that, these are not positive occurrences,” he affirmed.

According to Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, “The US government is less and less able to push for justice abroad, because it’s unwilling to see justice done at home,” adding, “Governments facing human rights pressure from the United States now find it easy to turn the tables… Washington can not very well uphold principles that it violates itself.”

Venezuela’s Vice-President José Vicente Rangel said the U.S. lacks moral authority to criticize Venezuela’s human rights record.
Credit: Archive

In response to the State Department’s assessment of Venezuela’s Human Rights situation, Venezuelan Vice President José Vicente Rangel issued a communiqué in which he dismissed the report as just “more lies, more falsifications, more hypocrisy,” against Venezuela. “The report on human rights produced by the U.S. State Department lacks validity. This is a deliberately manipulated report that forms part of the policies promoted by the White House throughout the world. Additionally, the United States claims to be able to judge other countries in the world on such delicate topics as this,” pronounced Rangel. 

After expressing regret that a topic of great importance such as human rights was being used for political purposes, Rangel asserted that “the United States does not have moral authority to discuss the topic of Human Rights.”

According to Rangel, the United States is the nation that violates human rights more so that any other nation in the world. The Vice President gave several examples of these violations, including, “the murders of thousands of people, children, women, senior citizens, as is happing in Iraq, Afghanistan, where the torture of prisoners has been confirmed; in concentration camps in Guantanamo, in the deprivation of due process, in the laws contradictory to basic principles of rights such as the Patriot Act.”

Rangel added that the United States has “even gone so far as to develop plans for the physical elimination of heads of states or political leaders contradictory to the policies of Washington.”

According to Venezuela’s Human Rights Ombudsman, Germán Mundaraín, the State Department report is part of a larger strategy of the Bush Administration, intended to groom international opinion with the end goal of influencing the next Human Rights Conference, which will take place in Geneva. Mundaraín contends that “the report tries to condemn certain states and absolve others” but “fails to examine itself.”

Larry Birns, the director of the Council on Hemisheric Affairs said the State department report was “propaganda”.
Credit: VTV

“This is a political document that was required by the Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Roger Noriega, in order to be able to say that Venezuela is an example of abuse and violation of human rights,” noted Larry Birns, the director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA) in Washington, adding that “although there is no evidence as an investigative report should have; it is only political propaganda.”

The human rights group Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) also criticized the State Department’s analysis, not only of Venezuela, but also inconsistencies were pointed out in the data on Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, and Haiti. In Colombia, for example, politically motivated killings had increased, but the reporta claims that the Colombian government had made progress in human rights. In the opinion of WOLA Deputy Director Kimberly Stanton, “[P]olitical considerations are evident in some of the findings.  The credibility of the reports depends on consistent, objective analysis.  This year U.S. government policy priorities are affecting the evaluation of the data in some cases.”

Geoff Thale, also of WOLA, added that, “U.S. credibility on the human rights front has been greatly damaged by torture scandals, and by the detention policies in place in Guantanamo… The State Department should redouble its efforts to report strictly in keeping with national and international human rights standards, and minimize the effects of ideology.”

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