Venezuela was the first state in the world to abolish the death penalty in 1863.
In July 2015, the government initiated the OLP, a security operation carried out by military and civilian forces. The government states that its objective is to eliminate armed groups linked to Colombian paramilitaries and fight against criminal gangs.
According to the Attorney General’s Office, 245 people died in 2015 during the implementation of the OLP. HRW and PROVEA estimate that excessive force was used in an overwhelming majority of cases; 125 of the deaths are considered extrajudicial executions.
Deaths in detention
In a report published in 2011, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) considered Venezuelan prisons to be the most violent in the continent. A total of 6,581 inmates were killed between 1999 and the first half of 2015, either by guards or other inmates.
There has been a progressive decrease in the number of violent deaths in prison since 2012: that year 591 inmates were murdered, compared with 506 in 2013 and 309 in 2014. The OVP recorded 109 violent deaths in the first half of 2015.
In its annual report for 2013, PROVEA notes that 12.7% of the deaths that occurred that year involved high levels of violence “using various methods such as shooting, stabbing, dismemberment and hanging, and with reports of cases in which photos of the deceased were circulated on the internet (social networks). Cases are reported in which the wounds of the inmates reveal the torture to which they are subjected by other inmates.”
The same report concludes that 45% of the deaths resulted from disputes between inmates; 33% from confrontations after intervention by the guards; 9% from quarrels among prisoners due to the correctional facility being taken over; 6.5% from attempted escape; 4.5% from violation of an internal regulation (money lending/borrowing, robbery, murder of a visitor), and 2% from other reasons (overdose, illness, accident).
On 2 December 2014, 48 inmates of Uribana prison (Lara State) died and dozens were hospitalised due to poisoning. The official report notes that inmates were taken to the infirmary and ingested various medications. However, relatives and human rights organisations suspect that it was the staff who supplied poisoned water to the inmates. The director of the prison was detained for his alleged responsibility in this incident1.
Nineteen people died and 11 were wounded in a fire on 31 August 2015 in the Tocuyito prison (Valencia). The cause of the fire has not yet been accurately determined. Of the 19 victims, 10 were women who were visiting inmates and had stayed overnight in the prison, although this is prohibited.
The OVP denounced the presence of four mass graves in the Venezuelan General Prison (Penitentiaría General de Venezuela, PGV) in October 2016. Buried there were inmates killed for not paying the “causa” (cause) to the leader of the prison, a weekly “tax” of 2,500 Venezuelan bolivars (around 4 euros, relative to a minimum salary of 20 euros). The inmates stated: “They break the floor, they put the bodies in, they put lime on them and they cover them again with cement2.”
In 2009, the OVP submitted the case of the forced disappearance of Francisco Guerrero Larez, held in the PGV, to the United Nations Committee Against Torture (CAT). The Committee condemned the Venezuelan State in 2015 for this disappearance3.
The most recent grave was used to bury the 11 people who died after a grenade exploded during birthday celebrations for the prison leader on 14 September 2016. The “pranes” (colloquial name given to prison leaders), fearing government action, decided to buy lime and bury the corpses45. It is estimated that during the violent events in the PGV, which lasted from September to October 2016, 39 people died, due to either illness or violence (cf. Collective movements).
The lack of medicine and food, both inside and outside the prisons, has led to a considerable increase in the number of deaths in 2016 due to illness and malnutrition. It is difficult to estimate how many people have died for these reasons over the last year because access to information is limited.
As of October 2016, at least nine people had died of tuberculosis in the PGV6.
At Polichacao Police Station, at least two people died of malnutrition during 2016.
On 8 September, detainees at the Táchira police headquarters seized control of the compound, abducting two officials and nine female visitors. Some weeks later, with authorities unable to gain control of the situation, Juan Carlos Herrera died dismembered at the hands of his fellow inmates. “The information we have—from one of those who was with him—is that around 40 people caught my son [and another inmate, ed.], stabbed him, hung him up to bleed and gave him to the prisoners to eat. […] They hit those who did not participate. They took off their fingers, broke their legs, pierced their lungs and beat them on the head with a hammer. What those people experienced there was atrocious and disastrous,” his father told reporters. The perpetrator of this crime is Dorancel Vargas Gómez, “El Comegente” (“the People Eater” in English), a person with paranoid schizophrenia condemned in 1999 for cannibalism and declared not criminally responsible. Six Táchira state police officers were arrested and brought before the Public Ministry on 11 October7.
Denuncian 4 fosas comunes en cárcel de los llanos venezolanos, El Estímulo, 19 October 2016 (in Spanish) ↩
United Nations, Committee Against Torture, Decision of the Committee against Torture under article 22 of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (fifty-fourth session). 15 May 2015. CAT/C/54/D/456/2011 ↩
El Estímulo, op. cit. ↩
Funcionarios del Cicpc hallan restos humanos dentro de la PGV, Caraota Digital, 14 November 2016 (in Spanish) ↩
Apresan a 6 Politáchira por caso de secuestro y canibalismo, El Estímulo, 13 October 2016 (in Spanish) ↩
Number of deaths
Ill-treatment and violence
Acts of torture and ill-treatment within prisons are rarely reported, despite the frequency with which they occur.
In prisons under the control of armed gangs, most of the perpetrators of these acts are other inmates. The absence of institutional authority and the presence of firearms and drugs often lead to scores to settle and clashes between groups.
There were 6,417 inmates wounded between 1999 and the first half of 2015, with a peak between 2011 and 2012, with 2,589 people injured.
In response to the El Rodeo II riot in June 2011, which lasted for 20 days and left 25 people dead, the executive branch of the government decided to create the Ministry of Popular Power for Corrections (Ministerio del Poder Popular para Asuntos Penitenciarios, MPPAP) in order to regain control of the country’s prisons. This entity later became the Ministry of Popular Power for Correctional Services (Ministerio del Poder Popular para el Servicio Penitenciario, MPPSP).
The pran of the PGV, Franklin Masacre, is known to be a bloodthirsty leader1. During the second half of 2016, several reports came to light of inmates having limbs amputated for failing to pay him the weekly causa or violating an internal regulation2. Mass graves have also been discovered containing the remains of dozens of inmates killed on his orders.
In the prisons where the MPPSP is implementing the New Prison Regime, relatives of prisoners regularly report ill-treatment and torture. The guards inflict corporal punishment and prolonged solitary confinement on the inmates to punish those who do not comply with the rules. The OVP complained that the women in the female wing of the Uribana prison have endured the use of tear gas and pellets and the shaving of their heads while in solitary confinement.
Statements by international bodies
Eight prisons are currently placed under precautionary measures by the IACHR: Monagas Detention Centre (“La Pica”); Capital Region Penitentiary Centre, Yare I and Yare II; Capital Judicial Confinement Centre, El Rodeo I and El Rodeo II; Penitentiary Centre of the Central Occidental Region (“Uribana Prison”); Aragua Detention Centre (“Tocorón Prison”); Ciudad Bolívar Judicial Detention Centre (“Vista Hermosa”), and Andina Region Penitentiary Centre (CEPRA)3.
A report by the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, submitted to the Human Rights Council in March 2015, states that the Venezuelan government does not adequately investigate or punish allegations of torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. According to alternative reports sent by Venezuelan NGOs to the CAT, of the 5,000 complaints that have been lodged in the last decade, only 12 have resulted in an official being sanctioned4.
During the Universal Periodic Review of 2014, the CAT called for investigations into the 185 allegations of torture and cruel treatment that occurred that year in the context of social protests. The victims reported having been burned, electrocuted and threatened with death by security forces to obtain confessions.
De una banda en Catia La Mar a pran de la PGV, así nació “Franklin Masacre”, El Pitazo, 22 October 2016 (in Spanish) ↩
IACHR Rules of Procedure Art. 25: “[In situations of seriousness and urgency,] the Commission may, on its own initiative or at the request of a party, request that a State adopt precautionary measures. Such measures…shall concern serious and urgent situations presenting a risk of irreparable harm to persons or to the subject matter of a pending petition or case before the organs of the inter-American system.”
Venezuela violó derecho internacional al no prevenir tortura,* La Verdad,* 3 November 2015 (in Spanish) ↩
Arbitrary or secret detention
According to PROVEA, with data from the MPPRIJP, more than 8,000 people were arbitrarily detained between 13 June and 13 October 2015 within the context of the OLP. These people were detained for between 10 hours and 45 days.
In 2014, there were 3,570 arbitrary detentions, 400 of which were of minors. Most of them occurred within the context of the protests, organised between February and May 2014, against food and medicine shortages, insecurity and inflation.
According to PROVEA, 134,333 arbitrary detentions were registered between 2010 and 2011, mainly within the context of the Bicentennial Public Security Programme (DIBISE).