IACHR Press Office
Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and its Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression are concerned about efforts to pass a bill that restricts citizen participation and the defense of human rights in Venezuela. Both institutions call on the State to not ratify this initiative and to protect the freedom of association of civil society organizations.
On January 24, the National Assembly held a first debate on a bill to audit and regularize the operations of non-governmental organizations and other similar institutions and to oversee their actions and funding. The bill is now pending a second vote, which is yet to be scheduled. This bill not only restricts the activities that may be carried out by these organizations, but also enables State authorities to unilaterally dissolve all organizations who, by the State's own criteria, engage in political activities or otherwise undermine national stability or Venezuela's institutions.
The bill's introduction into the National Assembly included stigmatizing references to 62 civil society organizations, who were described as "enemies," "traitors," and "front operations for political parties."
This is not the first government initiative aimed at controlling and curbing the work of civil society organizations, restricting liberties like freedom of expression, freedom of association, and the right to get involved in matters of public interest. The IACHR and its Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression rejected Venezuela's international cooperation bill in 2022 and administrative directive 001-2021 in 2021. Organizations who are active in the defense of human rights face a hostile environment in Venezuela, where smear campaigns, stigmatization, and harassment are rife in retaliation for this activity.
Freedom of association is a crucial tool to fully and capably defend human rights. States must therefore have competent institutions in place to enable these organizations to register without facing disproportionate and arbitrary restrictions of their freedom of association. 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 prevent, delay, or restrict the creation and operations of these organizations.
This implies that any information requested from these organizations should not violate the confidentiality these organizations need to operate. Registration must be fast and simple and require only the documentation needed to obtain appropriate information. Regulations concerning the registration and operations of associations must not be presented using vague or ambiguous language that entails a risk that the rules can be interpreted to restrict the right to freedom of association or to afford significant discretionary powers to the regulator.
The Commission and its Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression call on Venezuela to refrain from adopting legislation and regulations of any kind that arbitrarily restrict the right to freedom of association and freedom of expression and the right to get involved in matters of public interest. The Commission and its Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression further urge the State to take measures aimed at restoring democracy and the rule of law.
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 all democratic systems.
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.