Alert: State of emergency in Venezuela

Global civil society alliance CIVICUS is concerned about the negative impact of Venezuela’s “state of exception and economic emergency” on civil society freedoms. On 13 May 2016 President Nicolás Maduro issued a decree calling for  the state of exception on the basis that “extraordinary circumstances of social, economic, political, natural and ecological nature […] seriously affect the constitutional order, social peace, national security, public institutions and citizens of the Republic.” 

Notably, the decree alleges destabilization attempts by the political opposition, including “deliberate confrontation” by the national Legislature against public authorities with the “intention of overthrowing the government,” and “perverse schemes” distorting the Venezuelan economy, such as hoarding, boycott, usury, induced shortages and inflation.

“The Venezuelan President already has broad executive powers, and the vagueness and breadth of Decree 2323 will extend them further,” said Mandeep Tiwana from CIVICUS. “Much is left to discretionary interpretation to restrict the exercise of the freedoms of association and assembly, which according to its terms would become conditional to not being interpreted as destabilizing.”

An article within the decree allows the President to “instruct the Foreign Affairs Ministry to audit and revise agreements signed between national individuals or legal entities and foreign bodies or agencies for the execution of projects in the country, and to order the suspension of financing related to these agreements when its use for political or destabilization purposes is presumed.” Such measures would have immediate negative consequences in terms of the sustainability of civil society organisations that rely on international funding sources.

Several provisions of the decree threaten the freedom of assembly, including the President’s new power  to “enact and implement special public safety plans to ensure the maintenance of public order when facing destabilizing actions seeking to disrupt the internal life of the country or its international relations, allowing for strong responses in restoring peace, personal safety and the control of criminal behaviour by security forces.” Moreover, the decree assigns “monitoring and organization functions […] to maintain public order and ensure the security and sovereignty in the country” to both partisan groups and the military forces, well beyond the legal attribution of public order responsibilities to civilian law enforcement agencies. This worrying development stands in clear continuity with the process of “militarization” of politics and society that Venezuelan civil society organisations have repeatedly denounced.

CIVICUS has monitored several violations of civil society rights in Venezuela over the past few years, as attested by CIVICUS’ March 2016 submission to the United Nations Universal Periodic Review (UPR). In its submission, CIVICUS has highlighted concerns such as restrictive regulations, attacks and intimidation of human rights organisations and defenders; harassment and persecution of critical journalists and media outlets; and violations of the right to protest peacefully through attacks on and use of torture against demonstrators.

CIVICUS stands in solidarity with Venezuelan civil society facing unjustified restrictions on core civic space freedoms and urges Venezuela’s government to reconsider its aggressive stance toward civil society.