Venezuela legalizes use of lethal weapons by the national armed forces against protesters
An internal ruling made by the Venezuelan Ministry of Defense, published on Tuesday, January 27, in state newsletter Gaceta Oficial, legalizes the use of lethal weapons by the national armed forces (FANB) against protesters.
Resolution 008610, signed by General-in-Chief and Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino López, establishes the “use of force, with a firearm or any other potentially lethal weapon” as the last resort to “prevent disorder, support the legitimately constituted authority, and counter all aggression, immediately confronting it with the necessary measures.”
Article 68 of the Constitution, however, stipulates: “The use of firearms and toxic substances to control peaceful demonstrations is prohibited.”
The new measures also specify that a new Public Order Manual for state security services will be created within the next three months to facilitate training and prevent abuses. However, the new rules on the use of force are to be applied “immediately.”
Under Venezuelan law, the Defense Ministry does not have the authority to override or ignore the Constitution and the norms contained therein. María Esperanza Hermida, coordinator for enforcement in Venezuelan NGO (Provea) argued that the measure violates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), as well as transferring competencies to the military which are the preserve of the civil police.
In an interview with the PanAm Post, Jose Vicente Haro, a Venezuelan university professor of constitutional law, said that restricting or limiting the application of human rights is a measure that can only be discussed in the National Assembly, as a bill subject to modification that must be approved by two-thirds of legislators, as outlined in Article 203 of the Constitution.
Haro also explained that Article 23 of the Constitution establishes that all human-rights treaties signed and ratified by Venezuela have an overriding constitutional character, taking precedence over any law or resolution issued by the Venezuelan state.
Criminalization of a Right
Hermida raised further concerns about the scope for interpretation contained within the Defense Ministry’s ruling that lethal force could be used to “support the legitimately constituted authority.” For the Provea activist, protests by their essence are a complaint against the authorities, meaning that any demonstration against the government could be dispersed with live ammunition.
Hermida explained that the great majority of the 9,286 protests that took place in 2014 — the highest figure yet in Venezuela — didn’t become violent until state security forces attempted to disperse them. As such, she argued, stipulating in a quasi-legal text that simply expressing anti-government sentiments could be constituted as aggression is to criminalize the right to protest.
She mentioned that several recent precedents reinforce a authoritarian trend within government policy. One recent law on Organized Crime and Terrorism permitted Venezuelan judges to classify peaceful marches as terrorist activity. Legislation creating a so-called Protection System for Peace similarly established a week ago that all citizens must report activity responsible for “destabilization” to the authorities, something which Hermida describes as encouraging the formation of vigilante groups.
“The next massacre, the next Caracazo, the next Bassil Dacosta, could be legal. The military want to accelerate violence and sow fear. They’re going to kill people, and they’ll do it ‘within the laws’ that they themselves approve,” online Venezuelan activist Luis Carlos Díaz wrote on Facebook.