Venezuela: End stigmatisation and reprisals against human rights defenders


Venezuela must live up to its obligations as member of the UN Human Rights Council and stop defaming human rights defenders who interact with international mechanisms, ISHR said today following an address by the President of the Venezuelan National Assembly attacking ISHR and its partners. 

Este artículo también se encuentra en español aquí.

(Update, 22 July 2015) - A group of United Nations and Inter-American human rights experts deplored today the attempts to discredit and intimidate human rights defenders on Venezuela’s State-controlled television, in retaliation for their human rights activities and cooperation with UN and regional human rights bodies.

'It’s high time to pull the plug on this shameful and televised harassment of rights activists in Venezuela,' the experts said. 'We condemn what has become a clear pattern to intimidate and defame human rights defenders for merely promoting human rights in their country and for engaging with international and regional human rights bodies.'

The statement by the experts - including Michel Forst (UN Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders), David Kaye (UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression), Maina Kiai (UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly and of association), José de Jesús Orozco (Inter-American Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders), and Edison Lanza (Inter-American Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression) - came after ISHR staff and partners were attacked on Venezuelan State television and submitted complaints in this regard to the UN's human rights mechanisms.


(Geneva, 2 July 2015) - Venezuela must discharge its obligations as member of the UN Human Rights Council and stop defaming and attacking human rights defenders who submit reports and give testimony to the UN, the International Service for Human Rights said today.

The call came after the President of Venezuela's National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, attacked the legitimacy of human rights defenders who had come to Geneva to provide the Human Rights Committee with information about Venezuela's compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The comments were made live on national television (see video at 2.05.30) and also questioned the role of ISHR in training the activists last year, specifically naming ISHR staff and Board members.

‘Venzuela's campaign of defamation and stigmatisation of human rights defenders and democracy activists must end,' said ISHR Director Phil Lynch.

'As a Member State of the UN Human Rights Council and a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Venezuela has an obligation to respect the rights to freedom of expression and association, to cooperate fully with the UN human rights mechanisms, and to provide a safe and enabling environment for human rights activists. For such a high-level official to seek to defame and de-legitimise the work of human rights defenders is wholly incompatible with these obligations,' Mr Lynch said.

Mr Cabello read reports from anonymous informants regarding the movements and activities of the activists in question, accusing them of ‘conspiracy’ and ‘attacks’ against the State, whilst also stigmatising respected defender Feliciano Reyna by recounting his recent migratory record and accusing him of owning a million dollar business in Panama.

The Vice-President of the legislature also produced a photo of a training carried out by ISHR staff Ben Leather and Eleanor Openshaw in Caracas last December, accusing them of working to undermine the Venezuelan State, and sought to imply that ISHR Board member and head of the Colombian Commission of Jurists, Gustavo Gallon, was somehow unduly influence by the US. A synopsis of the accusations was later posted on the programme’s website (English and Spanish).

‘These honourable, dedicated and highly respected human rights defenders have only one interest’, said ISHR’s Ben Leather, ‘namely respect for human rights in Venezuela. They have come to Geneva to provide first-hand information to the UN Human Rights Committee about the human rights situation in Venezuela and to discuss how the Venezuelan authorities might better guarantee the rights of their people. To suggest otherwise is dangerous and irresponsible’.

This is not the first time in which Venezuelan defenders have been subjected to high level stigmatisation and defamation following international activities. In March, Mr Cabello accused activists of using the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights to demonise Venezuala for political reasons. The use of State media to question and threaten activists has been constant for months.

‘Venzuela's efforts to dissuade human rights defenders from engaging with international human rights mechanisms only strengthens ISHR's commitment to support defenders' in those efforts and to hold Venezuela to account for its obligations and these reprisals,' Mr Lynch said. ‘The individuals and organisations named by the Assembly President are working tirelessly to guarantee the universal protection of rights both at home and through the international system of which Venezuela aspires to be a part. We expect both the State and the system to take measures to protect them’.

ISHR has submitted information on these cases of reprisal to the Chair of the UN Human Rights Committee and the President and Bureau of the Human Rights Council.

For more information contact ISHR’s Ben Leather,


  • Latin America and Caribbean
  • Human rights defenders
  • Reprisals and intimidation
  • United Nations
  • Human Rights Committee (CCPR)
  • UN Human Rights Council
  • Venezuela