(co-hosted by the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and Red de apoyo por la Justicia y la Paz)
Overview by Juan Manuel Martinez Rojas, Research Associate PILPG NL
In 2017, 142 people died during the political violence caused by demonstrations in Venezuela against the government of President Nicolás Maduro.
The event consisted of the presentation of a report made by the Venezuelan NGO Red de Apoyo por la Paz y la Justicia. This organization has been present in the South American country for over 35 years promoting human rights and accompanying victims of political violence, especially armed forced violence.
The event started with a brief greeting from Haifa El Aissami, Ambassador of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela to the International Criminal Court. She introduced the general theme of the event and presented the NGO. Then, Ambassador Eduardo Rodríguez from the Republic of Bolivia stated that the side events taking place in the ASP have a plural nature and are enriching for the truth and the debate.
After the introduction to the event by the diplomatic chiefs from Venezuela and Bolivia, Soraya El Aschkar, member and founder of the Red de Apoyo por la Justicia y la Pazin Caracas,Venezuela gave a further presentation of the NGO highlighting its work for victims of police and military forces, including crimes like torture and arbitrary detentions. She started by presenting the report (main issue of the event) saying that in 2017 the NGO decided to start an exhaustive investigation in the period of violence that occurred between April 2017 and July 2017 in several Venezuelan towns. She claimed that the report focuses exclusively on fatal casualties and that the research is linked with memory and the rights to truth, justice and reparation. The objective is to recognize and make visible the victims caused by the politically motivated violence.
Then, she introduced the methodology used. She stressed that they began by researching all published reports done by private and official organisms about that period of violence. After that they got direct contact with families and victims and also had access to official data from Public Ministry, the Interior Ministry, the Secretariat of the Police force, the Ombudsman.
Óscar Ernesto Vásquez, historian and collaborator of Red de Apoyo por la Justicia y la Paz presented the contextual elements surrounding the casualties occurred in Venezuela during the period of protests in 2017. He mentioned a universe of 5.045 demonstrations. 600 of them (12%) were considered pacific and had not necessary intervention from any military or police force. 88% of them had to be dispersed by security forces because the risk they represented for life, public and private properties, right to transit, etc.
The demonstrations had different kinds: Marchs (2% of the dispersed ones), which had the biggest number of media broadcasting; concentrations (5% of the dispersed ones), 69% blockade of streets with barricades and violent actions (21% looting to private and public institutions). He mentioned that from 335 towns of the country, the victims happened just in some capital cities.
Then, Soraya talked again indicating that there were 142 mortal victims. 6% of them women and 93% men. The average age of the victims is 25 years old. Mostly students and workers. From the mortal victims, 47% didn’t participated in the demonstrations, 49% participated. And the principal cause of death was fire weapons. Also, non-conventional weapons, burnings, etc.
She established that the demonstrations had two types: Called publicly through political movements with visible leaderships and other demonstrations had no political responsible, they were pseudo-spontaneous. Most of the fatal victims died in demonstrations without public call. From the total, 68 people are killed by fire arm.
About the perpetrators, she sustained that 52 people died by security official forces (37% of the victims). And, 49% of the victims, that is to say, 70 people were killed by civilians, multitudes, etc. She claimed that some of them had no perpetrator due to traffic accidents, electrocution, etc.
She affirmed there were violence patterns life the use of military tactics for territorial control, which implied the blocking of main streets denying access for food, medicines, etc. Also, demoralization and destruction of the cities. She said that the demonstrators placed several obstacles and charged fees for mobilization. The report says that they occurred in 13% of the Venezuelan towns, most of them cities governed by the political opposition. There were other violent patterns like sieges against official forces or the use of non-conventional weapons such as mortars, which were provided by foreign and strange agents. There was excessive use of force by the official forces and use of violence against civilians.
According to the NGO, this situation can be explained by an insurgent intent confessed by the political opposition, despite the concurrent existence of genuine demonstrations against Maduro’s government. For Soraya there were political movements to create an international opinion in favor of a failed State. A State without the monopoly of the force and without the capacity to provide goods and services. In the encounters with the victims the NGO didn’t asked for political sympathies. Some of them were killed demonstrated against and in favor of the government. Also, some of them were killed because they were passing by. Impunity is the worst can happen to a nation, it has to be truth, justice and reparations. Justice has to be for all. The NGO’s goal is to visible victims and accompany them and a report for non-recurrence.
For Soraya, political conflicts have to be settled through politics not violence and each family deserves dignity, respect and reparation.
Ana Barrios, another member and founder of the NGO and professor talked about the aftermath of the violence. She said that 73% of cases are under investigation and 31 people have been charged for these deaths. She said that there is deep individual (permanent pain, failed life project, fear about future, 121 children are now orphans) and collective consequences (deep political polarization, social breakage). She insisted in the need of social backing for the victims to recover and rebuild their life: health, education, living. Indeed, guarantees of non-recurrence.
During the Q&A, Hugo Ceriza, from a Canadian cooperation agency, asked about victims’ rights and whether the NGO has any information of the progress and current state of the investigations. Soraya El Aschkar answered that 37% of the criminal responsible are currently identified and there are 38 detainees.
Carmen Elinde from the Central University of Venezuela asked about the sample of 142 victims and the methodology of the study.Soraya El Aschkar answered that 142 is the total of the universe of victims. She said they used all media reports, NGO’s reports, official data, for listing, crossing and victim by victim interviews. There are reports in which they do not include victims of electrocution, because they died in a general violent context.