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Friday, September 19, 2008

HRW Director José Miguel Vivanco Detained and Expelled for Denouncing Violations in Venezuela

CARACAS, Venezuela (September 19, 2008) Human Rights Foundation—The Venezuelan government’s expulsion yesterday evening of Human Rights Watch Americas Director José Miguel Vivanco and his colleague Daniel Wilkinson indicates the Chávez administration’s growing intolerance of the increased public exposure and scrutiny of human rights violations occurring within that country.

“The UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders compels the Venezuelan government to condemn, investigate, and punish promptly and thoroughly any attacks, threats, or intimidation of human rights defenders,” said Alek Boyd, Vice-President of Program of the Human Rights Foundation (HRF). “Venezuela has become a land of chaos, where it is the government that threatens, intimidates, detains, and forcibly removes two human rights defenders for denouncing human rights violations.”
On September 18, 2008, Vivanco and Wilkinson held a press conference in Caracas to publicize a 230-page report detailing the impact of the Chávez administration on the state of human rights in Venezuela. The report contains damning instances of violations of freedom of expression, political discrimination, attacks on organized labor, the elimination of judicial independence, and the overall degradation of human rights.
Vivanco and Wilkinson were detained by the Venezuelan intelligence service (DISIP), taken to the airport, and expelled from Venezuela. Vivanco is a citizen of Chile and Wilkinson is a citizen of the United States. Venezuelan Secretary of State Nicolas Maduro characterized Human Rights Watch’s behavior as “abusive and rude” and stated that Vivanco had violated Venezuelan sovereignty and law for criticizing human rights violations as a foreign national. Maduro also stated that Vivanco’s report was an aggression emanating from “agencies of the United States government” and that his expulsion should lead to “celebration in the streets for this act of sovereign will.”
Saul Ortega, a leading member of the Venezuelan Congress, stated that Vivanco is “a paid hit man who stands in front of the cameras, acting the part of a clown in service of the empire.”
HRF categorically rejects the behavior of the Chávez administration and calls on José Miguel Insulza, the Secretary General of the Organization of American States, to immediately condemn the actions of the Venezuelan government and activate the Inter-American Democratic Charter.
Earlier this year, Monica Fernandez, a Venezuelan jurist and human rights advocate, was the target of an assassination attempt the day after Venezuelan government television declared her an enemy of the state. Judge Fernandez suffered a gunshot wound while her fiancée was shot five times. The government declared the failed hit job a “car robbery” and ceased investigating. Judge Fernandez is HRF’s director of research in Venezuela.
HRF is an international nonpartisan organization devoted to defending human rights in the Americas. It centers its work on the twin concepts of freedom of self-determination and freedom from tyranny. These ideals include the belief that all human beings have the rights to speak freely, to associate with those of like mind, and to leave and enter their countries. Individuals in a free society must be accorded equal treatment and due process under law, and must have the opportunity to participate in the governments of their countries; HRF’s ideals likewise find expression in the conviction that all human beings have the right to be free from arbitrary detainment or exile and from interference and coercion in matters of conscience. HRF’s International Council includes former prisoners of conscience Vladimir Bukovsky, Palden Gyatso, Armando Valladares, Ramón J. Velásquez, Elie Wiesel, and Harry Wu.

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