On July 12th, 2021, the Deputy and former president of the National Assembly of Venezuela, Freddy Guevara, was the victim of a forced disappearance after being arbitrarily detained for more than 55 hours by the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN), for alleged links with extremists and Colombian paramilitary groups. The arrest of Deputy Guevara is at a critical moment when the number of coronavirus cases continues to increase and where the economic, political, health and food crisis, which has generated millions of displaced people and thousands of deaths in the country, continues to wreak structural, institutional, political and social havoc.
The legitimacy crisis that the country is experiencing was expected to culminate in 2015 when parliamentary elections were held and where the opposition achieved historic results after obtaining a majority in the National Assembly after 16 years of Chavista government. However, since Nicolás Maduro took office after the death of Hugo Chávez, the policies implemented by the regime have undermined and curtailed democratic principles and institutions and the rule of law. Opponents have been systematically imprisoned, protesters violently repressed, civilians tried in military courts, and forced disappearances and torture are regularly carried out, among other serious human rights violations. On several occasions, the PGA has spoken out about these attacks against legislators, citizens and the serious democratic setback that the country is experiencing.
Currently, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has two preliminary examinations open in Venezuela. The first, Venezuela I, began on February 8th, 2018 after the referral of the situation to the Prosecutor’s Office by a group of States Parties to the Statute, namely Argentina, Canada, Colombia, Chile, Paraguay and Peru, for alleged crimes against humanity committed since 2017. The second, Venezuela II, was remitted by the Government of Venezuela on February 13th, 2020 in accordance with its prerogatives as a State Party, for alleged crimes against humanity committed in its own territory. On July 5th, 2021, the ICC Prosecutor’s Office rejected the challenge to judicial control filed by Maduro’s regime as inadmissible and premature, and it is expected that the investigation into serious human rights violations will continue its course.
The preliminary examinations initiated by the former ICC prosecutor, Ms. Fatou Bensouda, highlight the seriousness of the situation the country is going through and the urgent need to take more timely measures to reestablish the democratic system guarantor of the fundamental rights of all people in the country. The PGA recalls that it is the duty of the Venezuelan authorities to investigate and prosecute those most responsible for the commission of atrocious crimes to avoid perpetual impunity.
Likewise, the PGA highlights that the arbitrary detention of Dip. Guevara is not only a violation of his parliamentary immunity, as established in Article 200 of the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, but also a violation of his right to the presumption of innocence and due process.
The PGA calls on the Venezuelan authorities to guarantee the rights of Deputy Guevara and proceed with his immediate and unconditional release. Likewise, we urge the authorities to protect the integrity and life of Dep. Guevara and that of the President of the National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, who has also suffered acts of harassment, threats and intimidation.
Now that Venezuela is at the gates of vitally important negotiations, sponsored by the Kingdom of Norway, to seek a comprehensive agreement that provides the necessary conditions to hold Presidential, parliamentary and regional elections, it is an opportune time for countries from the region and the EU to put pressure on the regime to release all political, civil and military prisoners who have been incarcerated for expressing their ideologies and opposing the the regime.