IACHR and Its Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression Urge Venezuela to Not Pass International Cooperation Bill

June 8, 2022

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Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and its Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression urge the State of Venezuela to refrain from passing the International Cooperation Bill. The implementation of this piece of legislation could trigger arbitrary restrictions of the work of human rights organizations.

The International Cooperation Bill was introduced by the National Assembly's Standing Committee on Foreign Policy, Sovereignty, and Integration on May 4, 2022, and it is currently being debated. If it passes, the new law will ban, suspend, restrict, or dissolve all civil society organizations who "directly or indirectly promote the application of unilateral coercive measures against the Republic or are involved with other associations, organizations, or international institutions seeking that application."

The Commission and its Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression are concerned about the possibility that the bill's ambiguous language might enable subjective interpretations by the authorities (particularly when the activities of human rights organizations in the country are against the interests of the State) and arbitrary cancelations of organizations' legal status. Freedom of association is crucial to defend human rights.

States must have in place competent institutions to register organizations, whose guidelines to limit or restrict the operations of civil society organizations comply with international human rights law. States must avoid legal frameworks that are too broad or have been written in vague or ambiguous language and that grant excessive discretion to the authorities implementing them and might arbitrarily and disproportionately restrict the exercise of the rights to freedom of association and expression.

The bill also contemplates the creation of an integrated registry of non-governmental organizations, where registration would be mandatory. The IACHR notes that, while the obligation to ensure the right to freedom of association does not preclude regulating records, oversight, and monitoring of organizations within each State's jurisdiction, legal requirements must not, according to international human rights law, prevent, delay, or restrict the creation and operations of these organizations. As the Inter-American Court has noted, freedom of association must be ensured without intervention or pressure from public authorities that restricts, hinders, or alters the exercise of that right.

The IACHR is also concerned that "all citizens" can request information about organizations in the registry, particularly concerning details of their funding. The Commission has said in the past that requests for information based on "the public interest" might affect the confidentiality that organizations need to advocate for their causes.

The right to access funds in a context of international cooperation to defend and promote human rights is protected by freedom of association. The General Assembly of the United Nations, in its Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, has said that collecting donations and contributions from foreign governmental and intergovernmental organizations by individuals, groups, and institutions active in the promotion and protection of human rights is a legitimate practice.

Finally, the IACHR and its Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression note that this is not the first time that the Venezuelan State tries to restrict the operations of civil society organizations. In 2021, in Press Release 108/21, the IACHR and its Special Rapporteurship rejected an administrative provision that sought to get all non-profit organizations to register with Venezuela's National Office against Organized Crime and Financing of Terrorism. This is made worse by a hostile atmosphere for the defense human rights in the country, with repeated reports of smear campaigns, stigmatization, harassment, and criminalization targeting human rights defenders in connection with their activities. The IACHR and its Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression stress the State's obligation to ensure an environment that supports the defense of rights and that the work of human rights defenders is crucial for the consolidation of democratic societies and the rule of law. They therefore urge Venezuela to refrain from passing this bill.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

The Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression is an office created by the IACHR to promote the defense of the right to freedom of thought and expression in the Americas, considering the fundamental role that right plays in the consolidation and development of any democratic system.

No. 130/22

11:00 AM