VENEZUELA: Restrictions on the freedom of association persist

20/05/2021
Statement
en es

Paris-Geneva, May 11, 2021 – Although the administrative decision adopted in late February has been amended following intense pressure from Venezuelan civil society and international organisations, the text pertaining to terrorism financing, still places grave restrictions to the freedom of association. The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (FIDH-OMCT) urges the Venezuelan authorities to repeal the new administrative decision, as it does not comply with international human rights standards.

On May 3, 2021, the Venezuelan government issued a new administrative decision, replacing the decision of February 22, 2021 under the Organic Law against Organised Crime and Terrorist Financing (Ley Orgánica contra la delincuencia organizada y financiamiento al terrorismo, LOCDOFT) [1]. The first decision severely restricted the freedom of association in Venezuela, prompting 700 Venezuelan civil society organisations to publish a letter rejecting it. Pressure from Venezuelan and international organisations was successful in persuading the authorities to amend the decision. However, despite these amendments, NGOs’ rights to independence, freedom and autonomy remain limited under the new decision, in a context which is already hostile to local and international organisations operating in Venezuela.

Both decisions were intended to expand the remit of the Venezuelan National Office against Organised Crime and Terrorist Financing (Oficina Nacional Contra la Delincuencia Organizada y Financiamiento al Terrorismo, ONCDOTF), which was set up under the LOCDOFT. However, both the old and the new decisions exceed its competences [2] by imposing further registration requirements on non-profit organisations, in addition to those set out under the LOCDOFT.

The new decision still requires all non-profit organisations  among other natural persons and legal entities  to register with the ONCDOTF, a body which is attached to the Venezuelan Ministry of Interior, Justice and Peace. Non-profit organisations operating in Venezuela are still required to disclose information on their domestic or foreign donors, and to list the foreign partner organisations with which they collaborate. This affects NGOs’ right to funding, and criminalises their allied and partner organisations.

Furthermore, this administrative decision opens the door to making foreign funding illegal, thereby jeopardising the work of thousands of organisations. It also violates the principle of presumption of innocence and the principle of legality, as all civil society organisations now come under suspicion of committing crimes such as terrorism or of being vulnerable to these crimes because they are not subject to the control of a specific public body or regulated by a special law.

The Observatory reiterates that this new administrative decision is part of a concerted effort by the Venezuelan authorities to limit the creation of new organisations and to restrict the right to join existing ones by imposing administrative, legal and funding control barriers, thus reinforcing the criminalisation of the right to defend human rights.

The Observatory welcomes the Venezuelan government’s decision to revoke several of the contested measures contained in the original decision, while highlighting that it still represents a barrier to the freedom of association and right to freedom and independence of civil society organisations, and serves as a means of controlling and demonising these organisations. Controlling foreign funding and stigmatising organisations which receive funding poses a serious risk, not only to the sustainability of these organisations but also for the people who they protect.

The Observatory condemns the systematic stigmatisation of human rights organisations and urges the Venezuelan authorities to immediately repeal the new administrative decision and take the necessary measures to guarantee the right to freedom of association in Venezuela, in line with international and regional human rights standards.

Lastly, the Observatory calls on the Venezuelan authorities to publicly recognise the importance of the legitimate work carried out by human rights defenders and organisations in Venezuela.

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The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

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