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Motion to Urge the Government of Venezuela to Immediately End All Unlawful Acts of Violence and Repression Against Civilians - Debate Adjourned

Hon. A. Raynell Andreychuk, pursuant to notice of June 10, 2014, moved:

    That the Senate of Canada take note of the ongoing tensions in the Bolivarian Republic of

Venezuela, and that it urge the Government of Venezuela to:

          1. immediately end all unlawful acts of violence and repression against civilians, including the

              activities of armed civilian groups, and

          2. commit to meaningful and inclusive dialogue centred on the need to:

                    (a) restore the rule of law and constitutionalism, including the independence of the

                         judiciary and other state institutions;

                    (b) respect and uphold international human rights obligations, including the freedoms of

                         expression and the press; and,

                    (c) take swift and appropriate measures to curb inflation, corruption and lawlessness,

                         and to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all Venezuelans.

That the Senate of Canada further encourage all parties and parliamentarians in Venezuela to:

                    1. encourage their supporters to refrain from violence and the destruction of public and

                        private property; and,

                    2. commit to dialogue aimed at achieving a political solution to the current crisis and its

                        causes.

She said: Honourable senators, since early February Venezuela has been seized by an intense and

violently political struggle. The unrest was sparked by the attempted rape of a student in the city

of San Cristóbal. The attack ignited long-standing grievances over deteriorating security conditions

across Venezuela. The severe police response to the protesters provoked an even stronger reaction.

More students joined the protest movement as it spread to other cities. Eventually they were joined

by non-students. As the protests spread, the list of grievances grew. They include corruption,

inflation, food shortages and lawlessness in Venezuela.

 

On February 12, thousands of people took part in a demonstration in the Venezuelan capital,

Caracas. The protest turned violent. At least three protesters were killed, and scores were arrested.

Among them was the leader of the Popular Will party, Leopoldo López. López was accused of

murder, inciting violence, damaging property and arson. The homicide charge was dropped after

video footage emerged of security forces firing on unarmed protesters, but López is now standing

trial on the other charges. If found guilty, he could spend 10 years in jail. As Amnesty International

put it, the charges brought against Mr. López ‘‘smack of a politically motivated attempt to silence

dissent in the country.’’ 

The effect has been quite the opposite. As Mr. Lopez sits in the Ramo Verde military jail, the

protests continue.

 

On Thursday, May 8, the Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade

heard from another opposition leader: Maria Corina Machado became a member of Venezuela’s

National Assembly in 2010. She made international headlines in March when she was ejected from

Venezuela’s National Assembly. The move followed her appearance before the Permanent Council

of the Organization of American States.

 

Panama had yielded its speaking rights to Ms. Machado to allow her to brief the organization on the

situation in her country. Such practice is not uncommon to the OAS. However, the National

Assembly of Venezuela ruled that this amounted to an acceptance by Ms. Machado of another

country’s post. It ruled that she had breached Venezuela’s Constitution and voted to revoke her

parliamentary immunity.

 

Ms. Machado has since addressed the foreign affairs committees of the European Parliament, the  

Senate of Brazil and most recently the Senate of Canada. I invite all senators to read her testimony,

which confirms reports about the deteriorating human and civil rights situation in Venezuela.

Some 42 people have been killed in the protests since February 12. Most of the casualties have been

protesters. Others have been members of the security forces.

 

Contrary to attestations by the Venezuelan government, however, there is little evidence that the 

protesters have been responsible for any of the deaths. Several hundreds of people have been

injured; thousands have been arrested, including the mayors of two cities. One mayor was sentenced

to 10 months in jail after he refused to dismantle protesters’ barricades. The other is to serve a year

in prison on charges of civil rebellion and conspiracy. Others arrested include three air force

generals accused of ‘‘plotting an uprising’’ against the government. These have

become common accusations.

 

President Nicolas Maduro has repeatedly sought to discredit the protesters as ‘‘fascists,’’

‘‘saboteurs’’ and ‘‘profit-hungry corrupt businessmen.’’ He claims they harken exclusively from

the middle and upper classes. He accuses them of trying to overthrow his government with the

support of Colombia and the United States.

 

On May 28, President Maduro made similar accusations against Ms. Machado. He accused her of

being behind a plot to assassinate him and to orchestrate a coup with the assistance of the United

States envoy to Colombia.

 

Just today, Venezuela’s Attorney General issued three further arrest warrants in that alleged plot.

Those wanted for questioning are: Diego Arria, a former presidential candidate and United

Nations ambassador; Pedro Burelli, former external director of the state oil company Petroleos de

Venezuela; and Ricardo Koesling, a lawyer who has been a strong critic of the government. The

accusations appear part of a cynical pattern aimed at discrediting the opposition.

 

Campaigns of disinformation have benefited from an increasingly restrictive media environment in

Venezuela: Television programs have been censored; stations been obliged to carry government

announcements; Internet and social media have been interrupted; and journalists have been attacked

and their equipment seized. The Association of Foreign News Correspondents in Venezuela has

denounced ‘‘assault, abuse, harassment, threats and theft’’ against media workers. Reporters

Without Borders cites similar concerns. It notes that Venezuela is ranked one hundred and sixteenth

out of 180 countries in its World Press Freedom Index 2014.

 

Clarity on the day-to-day situation in Venezuela is difficult to obtain, but that should not prevent the

world from speaking on behalf of accountability, justice, the rule of law and human rights.

 

In early March, a group of United Nations human rights experts did just that. These experts said:

                    We are deeply disturbed by the allegations of multiple cases of arbitrary detention of

                    protesters. Some were reportedly beaten and in some cases severely tortured

                    by security forces, taken to military facilities, kept in incommunicado detention, and

                    denied access to legal assistance.

The experts also addressed the lack of media freedom:

                    Ensuring full protection to journalists and media workers covering the difficult period

                    experienced by the country today is crucial. . . . The reconciliatory dialogue that is so

                    deeply needed in Venezuela is not going to take place if political leaders, students,

                    media groups and journalists are harassed and intimidated by the authorities.

 

On April 4, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights expressed similar concerns:

                    The information received indicates that there continue to be serious allegations

                     concerning infringements on the rights to life, humane treatment, and personal liberty

                     in the context of the demonstrations; the right to peaceful protest; and the right to

                     freedom of expression. In particular, information was received on alleged attacks by

                     armed civilian groups on demonstrators in several cities in the country.

It later added that:

                    The IACHR has also received information on alleged acts of torture and maltreatment

                     in the context of the demonstrations, and in the hearing the organizations alleged that

                     people who had been detained were not receiving adequate medical care. The Inter-

                     American Commission expresses its deep concern over the situationin Venezuela, and

                     at the same time encourages the State tomove forward with a process of dialogue to

                     find a peaceful way to resolve the current situation, with full respect for human rights.

 

On May 5, Human Rights Watch released a report on the results of a fact-finding mission to

Venezuela. The report is entitled Punished for Protesting: Rights Violations in Venezuela’s

 

Streets, Detention Centers, and Justice System. It offers a detailed account of the abuses committed

by government officials, security forces and the judiciary.

 

According to José Miguel Vivanco, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch Americas Division :

                    . . . the scale of rights violations we found in Venezuela and the collaboration of

                    security forces and justice officials in committing them shows these aren’t isolated

                    incidents or the excesses of a few rogue actors. Rather, they are part of an alarming

                    pattern of abuse that is the worst we have seen in Venezuela in years.

 

Here in Canada, the Minister of Foreign Affairs has issued several statements expressing alarm

over the violence and urging dialogue. Our colleagues in the other place expressed similar concerns

in a motion passed unanimously on February 28.

 

In early April, President Maduro announced the creation of a truth commission to investigate

incidents of violence since the protests began. He also announced the creation of a human rights

council to protect and uphold human rights in Venezuela. An announcement soon followed that the

Attorney General was investigating 145 alleged human rights violations by security forces.

Seventeen security officials were said to be in detention, of which two were suspected cases of

torture.

 

In early April, ambassadors from the Union of South American Nations and a senior Vatican

member moderated exploratory talks between some opposition leaders and government. These

were positive first steps. However, many in Venezuela do not feel that these are impartial or

inclusive processes. Venezuelans have grown suspicious of state institutions. According to Human

Rights Watch, many such institutions have been complicit in numerous violations:

                    . . . members of the Venezuelan attorney general’s office and the judiciary in many 

                    cases ‘‘knew of, participated in, or otherwise tolerated abuses against protesters and

                    detainees, including serious violations of their due process rights.’’

 

Many Venezuelans doubt that the government is willing to make real concessions. For example,

opposition members at the talks called for the disarmament of pro-government civilian groups and f

or amnesty for arrested opposition leaders and protesters. But little progress on these demands has

been achieved, and the talks are now stalled.

 

Meanwhile, Venezuela remains deeply polarized, and the situation is polarizing the region. Urgent

steps are needed to bridge the divide that separates the Venezuelan government from a growing and

increasingly disenchanted number of Venezuelans.

 

As the people of Venezuela continue in their struggle not only for political change but also for the

basic necessities of life, it is incumbent upon us to stand in defence of international principles of

human rights and civil rights. Difficult compromises are urgently needed to restore peace, stability

and individual freedoms, rule-based democracy, political inclusiveness and basic human well-being in

Venezuela.

 

I therefore urge you, honourable senators, to support the motion. The safety and well-being of

Venezuelans is paramount. The safety and well-being of Venezuelans is central to a durable and

rights-respecting solution to the crisis that is now so urgently needed.

 

I would ask senators to look at the motion. It is a facilitating motion to urge both sides to renounce

violence, to look at peaceful means to bridge the divide in order that Venezuela return to a

functioning government and democracy where all of the people of Venezuela can thrive, turn to

peaceful discussion and ensure the streets are safe.

 

Now is the time to act, and I would ask that we encourage this dialogue and ask all parties to desist

from violence. I would ask for your support for this motion.

 

(On motion of Senator Fraser, debate adjourned.)