IACHR Takes Case Involving Venezuela to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights

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WASHINGTON. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) filed an application before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (I/A Court H.R.) in Case 12.814, Orlando Edgardo Olivares Muñoz and Others (Deaths at Vista Hermosa Prison), with regard to Venezuela.

The case concerns the extrajudicial executions of Orlando Edgardo Olivares Muñoz, Joel Rinaldi Reyes Nava, Orangel José Figueroa, Héctor Javier Muñoz Valerio, Pedro Ramón López Chaurán, José Gregorio Bolívar Corro and Richard Alexis Núñez Palma, when they were inmates at Vista Hermosa Prison in Ciudad Bolívar. Those executions were carried out by members of the National Guard during a raid at the prison on November 10, 2003. A further 27 inmates were injured and are also regarded as victims in this case.

The Commission concluded that the State had failed to adequately explain the deaths and injuries that happened under its watch in a way that might have defused its presumed international responsibility in such a context. Further, the IACHR established that many elements of the case, taken together and given the lack of appropriate investigation of events, indicate the use of illegitimate, unnecessary and disproportionate force. The Commission noted that the rights to life and personal integrity of the executed and injured victims had been violated.

The IACHR further concluded that the State is liable to the injured victims and to the families of victims who were killed for violations of those victims’ rights to a fair trial and to judicial protection. The Commission determined, among other aspects, that no thorough investigation had been conducted, that the autopsies that had been conducted were incompatible with the applicable international standards, that the context of the deaths had not been examined, and that investigation of those events—which remains pending—had not been timely. The Commission further stated that the families of executed victims had seen their right to psychological and moral integrity violated, given the suffering and the anxiety caused by the deaths of their loved ones in the circumstances described above, as well as their lack of access to truth and justice.

In the Merits Report, the IACHR recommended that the State of Venezuela provide comprehensive reparations, both material and immaterial, for the human rights violations declared in that report, including economic financial and compensation; provide physical and mental healthcare necessary for the rehabilitation of injured inmates and of relatives of the dead victims in an agreed upon manner, if they so wish; and continue to pursue a diligent, effective and timely criminal investigation to fully shed light on those events, in order to identify anyone responsible for them and to impose appropriate penalties for the human rights violations declared in the report. Further, the IACHR recommended that the Venezuelan State implement non-repetition mechanisms that contemplate the following aspects: ensuring that both the law and current practices deny the military access to penitentiary facilities to watch over inmates or to respond to alterations of law and order; and to take any measures necessary to ensure that—even in emergency situations—guards at detention facilities are civilians with adequate training to work in prisons, including the applicable standards regarding the use of force, in the terms described in the Merits Report.

The Inter-American Commission submitted the case to the Court’s jurisdiction on April 1, 2019. The State reported the repeal of the rule that enabled the military to guard detention facilities, but the IACHR received no information about the effective implementation of such a change in the rules. The Commission also received no information about compliance with all the other recommendations held in the report, particularly those concerning comprehensive reparations for the families of the victims and the need to investigate events and to prosecute and punish anyone responsible for them.

This case will allow the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to expand and consolidate its jurisprudence regarding States’ obligations that stem from their special duty to protect the rights of persons deprived of their liberty. In particular, the Court will be able to address the safeguards that need to be implemented when responding to alterations of public order in detention facilities, to ensure that the response—including any use of force—is in keeping with the duty to respect and protect the rights of persons deprived of their liberty and to prevent extrajudicial executions in such contexts. The Court will be able to assess whether the use of military forces to restore public order in the specific context of penitentiary facilities is compatible with the Convention. The Court will also be able to analyze more profoundly the standards to adequately explain the fate of persons held in the custody of the State and the direct implications of such standards for the duty of due diligence when investigating violent deaths of persons deprived of their liberty, particularly when such deaths happen at the hands of officers of the State.

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