International Convention on
the Elimination of All Forms
of Racial Discrimination
16 January 2013
Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
Consideration of reports submitted by States parties under article 9 of the Convention
Nineteenth to twenty-first periodic reports of States parties due in 2010
Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela*,**
[9 July 2012]
I. Introduction 1–14 3
II. Information on articles 2 to 7 of the Constitution 15–244 6
A. Article 2 15–121 6
B. Article 3: Legislative measures to condemn racial segregation and
apartheid 122 31
C. Article 4: Adoption with immediate and positive effect of legislative,
judicial and administrative measures designed to eradicate all incitement to,
or acts of, racial discrimination 123–142 31
D. Article 5: Programmes, plans and projects to eradicate racial discrimination
with guarantees of equality in the enjoyment of human rights 143–197 35
E. Article 6: Measures taken to assure to everyone effective protection and
remedies, through the competent national tribunals, against any acts which
violate his rights 198–207 45
F. Article 7: Effective measures taken in the field of education, teaching,
culture and information to combat prejudices which lead to racial
discrimination 208–244 47
III. Replies by the Venezuelan State to the Committee’s observations 245–383 54
A. Follow-up to paragraph 14 of the concluding observations 247–257 54
B. Follow-up to paragraph 15 of the concluding observations 258–267 56
C. Follow-up to paragraph 16 of the concluding observations 268–272 58
D. Follow-up to paragraph 17 of the concluding observations 273–358 58
E. Follow-up to paragraph 18 of the concluding observations 359–361 74
F. Follow-up to paragraph 19 of the concluding observations 362–366 75
G. Follow-up to paragraph 20 of the concluding observations 367–374 76
H. Follow-up to paragraph 21 of the concluding observations 375–379 78
I. Follow-up to paragraph 23 of the concluding observations 380 79
J. Follow-up to paragraph 24 of the concluding observations 381–383 79
1. In accordance with its obligation as a State party to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination,1 and pursuant to article 9 of the Convention, the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela hereby submits, in a single document, its 19th, 20th and 21st periodic reports. The general recommendations made by the Committee during its consideration of previous reports2 have been taken into account in the preparation of this report. Contributions were sought from bodies established by the State for the purpose of giving effect to the provisions of the Convention in Venezuela.
2. The defence of human rights is central to our Constitution, informing a public policy that is developed in programmes and projects and promoted by all branches of Government, which represents a significant step towards the construction of a more democratic, participatory and proactive society. In furtherance of this goal and committed to continuous self-evaluation of the provisions of national legislation and international agreements signed in defence of human rights, the Venezuelan authorities submit the following report.
3. The Preamble to the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela3 begins by establishing the goal of a multi-ethnic and multicultural society that, through the recognition of human rights, is committed to the consolidation of a just State that ensures equality without discrimination or subordination of any kind, in accordance with the principles of non-intervention and the self-determination of peoples.
4. The Constitution provides that the State must guarantee “to all persons, in accordance with the progressive principle and without discrimination, the enjoyment and exercise of inalienable, indivisible and interdependent human rights” (art. 19) as well as the right to the free development of their personality, subject only to the limitations deriving from the rights of others and public and social order (art. 20). It likewise states that all persons are equal before the law and that: “No discrimination based on race, sex, creed or social standing shall be permitted, nor, in general, any discrimination with the intent or effect of nullifying or encroaching upon the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on equal terms, of the rights and liberties of every individual…” (art. 21), according to the human condition the dignity it merits. Part III on Duties, Human Rights and Guarantees furthermore includes an open clause on human rights, which stipulates that the “recitation of rights and guarantees contained in this Constitution and in international instruments concerning human rights is not to be understood as negating others inherent to individuals, not expressly mentioned in such recitation. The absence of a law regulating these rights shall not adversely affect the exercise thereof” (art. 22).
5. The Constitution additionally grants constitutional rank to human rights treaties, covenants and conventions signed and ratified by Venezuela (art. 23) and establishes that the international relations of the Republic serve the ends of the State as a function of the exercise of sovereignty and the interests of the people (art. 152). It provides that the Republic shall promote and encourage Latin American and Caribbean integration in the interests of advancing toward the creation of a community of nations, defending the region's economic, social, cultural, political and environmental interests (art. 153).
6. The Venezuelan State has formulated public human rights policies, with the emphasis on protecting particularly vulnerable groups: indigenous persons and those of African descent, the elderly, women and children and adolescents, in order to guarantee and protect their rights in areas such as social security, housing, education, nutrition, recreation and culture. It has therefore endeavoured to establish standards for their protection, with the emphasis on a fundamental ethical and moral reform of a social structure that include the population. The aim of the Venezuelan State can thus be seen to transcend the international obligation to submit reports to international bodies and to focus on continuing to strengthen the global human rights agenda by promoting changes within the governmental bodies responsible for guaranteeing and defending those rights, placing special emphasis on citizen’s participation in all its forms, as the main means of integrating a concept until recently the preserve of academics and scholars.4
7. From the start of the colonization process in Venezuela, discriminatory actions were centred not only on the indigenous population, native to these lands, but also on persons of African origin who were abducted from their own territory and brought to this continent by force to serve with the native population as the slave work force of the Spanish, where their lives and human rights were deemed to be of no value. They were enslaved in cocoa and sugar cane plantations and similar undertakings by the ruling class of the time, consisting of the prosperous owners of productive enterprises, white men who in many cases also held political and legal office within the State.
8. In this historical context, racial discrimination was wielded as an ideological tool, serving as a pretext for excluding increasingly large sections of society. A “powerful” social class in this way constantly disparaged the needy and the poor, as well as indigenous peoples and those of African descent, regarding them as racially inferior and mentally backward, attitudes invariably reflected in an arsenal of ethnically pejorative terms. In areas where the State was rarely present or active, indigenous peoples, Afro-descendant communities and other groups subject to discrimination were left to their fate, deprived of the consideration and rights due to them as Venezuelan citizens, while the State objectively absolved itself of any responsibility for these groups. In Venezuela the abolition of slavery occurred between 1836 and 1876.
9. Vulnerable groups, such as children, women, indigenous people, Afro-descendants, the disabled and persons with chronic or terminal illnesses, were on the whole regarded as second-class citizens; they formed the large mass of men and women excluded from society. There were also those who roamed the streets, who had made the streets their home, the group of forgotten men and women. They had no place in the society of the time.
10. In the last decades of the twentieth century, as a consequence of government policy, a deep-seated social inequality came to the fore, reflected in the polarization between a privileged minority controlling the productive process and a marginalized majority, not so different ethnically from the privileged one, condemned to poverty, unemployment, exclusion and increasing social vulnerability, revealing a social crisis in the Venezuela of the time that could no longer be hidden. The culmination of this crisis was the 1998 elections, when the electorate paved the way for an alternative process representing a break with a shameful past.
11. The outcome of this electoral process was the National Constituent Assembly, endorsed by the Venezuelan people in the referendum held in April 1999. A wide-ranging discussion and consultation process subsequently took place on the drafting of a new Constitution, which was adopted under the Constituent Referendum held on 20 December of the same year. The 1999 Constitution embodies a new model of popular participation and social inclusion.
12. The Constitution contains important safeguards against any situation that harms or discriminates against citizens, with particular reference to population groups that did not previously enjoy protection by the Venezuelan State. The State’s aims are essentially directed towards the defence and development of the individual, regarded as a complete human being worthy of respect. Granting power to the people and implementing constitutional provisions for social inclusion conducive to a more equal and fair society necessarily entailed replacing by peaceful electoral means an oligarchic political class responsible for almost two hundred years of indifference, discrimination and neglect of the social rights of the majority of Venezuelans. The results of these measures are already starting to change the face of the nation.
13. Venezuela has decided to combine three reports in one, the previous one having been examined in August 2005 and the following one having been due in January 2008, which left insufficient time to act upon the Committee’s concluding observations and undertake an evaluation on the same scale as that contained in the present report. This is the goal we have set ourselves in this document covering the period 2005–2011, one marked by restructuring and the establishment of new national bodies enabling the Committee’s observations to be put into effect. In July 2011, in accordance with the Committee’s guidelines, our country also submitted the common core document, which forms an integral part of the reports of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and contains general information on the country’s territory and population as well as on the overall legal framework for the protection of human rights.
14. The following institutions participated in the preparation of this report:
Presidential Commission for the Prevention and Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and Other Distinctions in the Venezuelan Education System.
Ministry of People’s Power for the Interior and Justice:
Identification, Migration and Alien Affairs Service.
Ministry of People’s Power for Science and Technology:
Strategic Office for the Monitoring and Evaluation of Public Policies.
Ministry of People’s Power for the President’s Office:
Directorate of Monitoring and Control;
National Institute of Statistics.
Ministry of People’s Power for Defence;
Ministry of People’s Power for Prison Services;
Ministry of People’s Power for Public Health;
Ministry of People’s Power for Foreign Affairs;
Ministry of People’s Power for Communication and Information;
Ministry of People’s Power for Women and Gender Equality;
Ministry of People’s Power for Planning and Finances;
Office of the Attorney-General of the Republic.
(b) Citizen’s branch:
Office of the Ombudsman
(c) Legislative branch:
National Assembly. Subcommission on Afro-descendant Legislation, Participation, Guarantees, Duties and Rights
(d) Judicial branch:
Public Defender’s Office
II. Information on articles 2 to 7 of the Constitution
A. Article 2
1. Special and concrete measures taken to guarantee and protect human rights
15. The Venezuelan State has a duty to investigate, punish and compensate human rights violations through the competent national or international judicial authorities, in accordance with the judicial procedures established in Venezuela’s legal order (art. 19). The Constitution provides for the protection of human rights, in strict accordance with the principle of non-discrimination (art. 19).
16. Under article 280 of the Constitution, the Office of the Ombudsman is responsible for promoting, protecting and monitoring the rights and guarantees established in the Constitution and international human rights treaties as well as the legitimate interests, both collective and diffuse, of the citizens protected and defended by this institution, particularly when they have been violated.
17. The commitment of the Venezuelan State to combating racial discrimination was made clear in the presentation of its 18th periodic report to the Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.5 In its evaluation of the report, the Committee highlighted as positive aspects: recognition of the rights and principles contained in the Constitution, especially those relating to the multi-ethnic and multicultural nature of Venezuelan society; article 21 and the chapter establishing the rights of indigenous peoples; federal and State legislation recently adopted by the State; the creation of specialized institutions to combat racial discrimination; representation of the indigenous community in the National Assembly; special courts to settle conflicts in accordance with the traditions and customs of indigenous peoples; ratification of ILO Convention No. 1696 concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries (1989); and progress in the interaction between the Government and social organizations representing persons of African origin.
18. In the period 2005–2010, the policy measures initiated by the Venezuelan State to eliminate racial discrimination in the country were based on:
(a) The forging of citizenship with a social content, based on social rights and express recognition of the subjects of those rights, ensuring that the population as a whole can exercise those rights without any form of discrimination on the basis of age, sex, religion or social, ethnic or any other condition;
(b) The search for equity as the supreme objective of the economic and social order with a view to ensuring the universality of rights and a fair distribution of wealth;
(c) The recovery of the public domain as the context for the exercise of a genuine democracy based on the “participation of all in keeping with the interests of all, ensuring that individuals, families, social groups and communities become the social architects of their own development”;
(d) The subordination of social policy and its embodiment in programmes and projects to the criterion of wholeness, uniting the efforts of the different government sectors to ensure that the various institutions coordinate their actions in the search for solutions to the most pressing social problems;
(e) The search for social inclusiveness to prevent Venezuela from reverting to a nation in which income, resources and opportunities are systematically and disproportionately concentrated in one section of the population.
19. All these objectives are based on the Economic and Social Development Plan for 2001–2007, which established guidelines for the universal and equitable enjoyment of social rights and for improving the distribution of income and wealth and strengthening social participation and decision-making on public issues. These goals were reinforced with the introduction of the Simón Bolívar National Project, the Nation’s First Socialist Plan 2007–2013,7 which in its new phase develops and consolidates the affirmative policies promoted by the Venezuelan State.
(a) Indigenous peoples
20. Chapter VIII of the Constitution is devoted to the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, including guidelines for the recognition of indigenous peoples and communities, their natural resources, their right to ethnic and cultural identity, comprehensive health care, their own economic practices, ownership of their intellectual property and political participation – rights recognized for the first time in the history of Venezuela.
21. The Constitution recognizes for the first time the existence of the indigenous peoples and communities, with their own forms of social, political and economic organization, their cultures, conventions, customs, languages, religions, habitat and lands, and guarantees their right to bilingual intercultural education, health care and other human rights. To this end, the State has promoted recognition of the ownership of their ancestral lands, the construction of dwellings according to their customs, work credits and comprehensive health-care programmes that include the construction of health centres close to their communities.
22. This is the reason for the emphasis placed on the adoption of legislation favouring those human rights relating to social security, housing, education, culture and protection of the family and vulnerable groups. Venezuela has accordingly signed and ratified regional integration instruments that make full provision for activities designed to realize the social and economic rights of the groups in question. The Southern Common Market (Mercosur), the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) and Petrocaribe8 are clear demonstrations post-2000 of the concern to incorporate the social dimension and respect for human rights in this integration agenda.9
23. The Ministry of People’s Power for Indigenous Peoples10 has lead responsibility for government policies to promote and strengthen the ancestral traditions of the indigenous communities as a way of disseminating policies shaped collectively at the grassroots level in response to the most urgent immediate, short-term and medium-term needs of the native peoples and communities.
24. The habitat of the indigenous populations and communities is dependent for its development on the guidelines issued by the Ministry of People’s Power for Indigenous Peoples, which promotes mechanisms for indigenous participation and activities that include: ensuring the coherence, consistency and compatibility of the plans and programmes implemented by its constituent bodies and agencies; fostering and strengthening the various forms of organization of the indigenous peoples; facilitating the training and proactive participation of the indigenous peoples and communities in meeting their collective needs; promoting and ensuring the establishment, development and activation of the indigenous communal councils and social auditing bodies in keeping with their traditions and customs; reinforcing the ancestral practices of the indigenous peoples and communities in harmony with their habitat and lands; maintaining and updating the system for registering the indigenous population and communities; fostering the empowerment of the indigenous peoples and communities through existing institutions; promoting exercise of the right of indigenous people’s power and its organizations to be consulted on local or communal issues liable to affect them directly or indirectly; establishing machinery to introduce a system for protecting and enhancing the status of the country’s indigenous peoples and communities and their traditional knowledge; cooperating and coordinating with other vice-ministerial offices to implement joint activities for the development and benefit of the communities concerned.11
25. The organizational structure of this Ministry provides for the creation of eight vice-ministries which differ from traditional structures headquartered in Caracas in that their chiefs are located in those places where their responsibilities are exercised, their decisions being submitted for consideration by the responsible Minister. The Vice-Ministries of People’s Power for Indigenous Peoples comprise the Vice-Ministry for Urban Areas operating in Caracas, for the Communal Territory of Sierras, Cerros and Ríos de la Selva Amazonica, for the Communal Territory of Caños, Bosques and Raudales del Amazonas, for the Communal Territory of Valles, Sabanas and Tepuyes, for the Communal Territory of Sabanas and Morichales Llaneros, for the Communal Territory of Península, Desierto and de Aguas, for the Communal Territory of the Sierra and Cordillera Andina and for the Communal Territory of Delta, Montañas, Costas and Manglares, all of which support and work jointly with the corresponding communal councils for the benefit of the communities concerned.
26. Recognition of indigenous peoples and communities. The Indigenous Peoples and Communities Act is an important advance in being aimed at developing and guaranteeing the rights of indigenous peoples recognized in the Constitution and in the international treaties, agreements and conventions signed by the Republic. It recognizes the indigenous peoples as rights-holders with regard to their habitat and as legal persons; it establishes mechanisms complementary to the Indigenous Peoples Habitat and Lands, Demarcation and Protection Act; it guarantees the right to a safe and healthy environment and to participation in the management, administration and conservation of natural resources within the habitat; it recognizes traditional forms of existence and traditional economies; it establishes a prohibition on the transfer and unjustified relocation of indigenous populations and, when such actions are exceptionally considered necessary, provides that they may only be carried out with the full consent of those concerned.
27. In this connection, article 119 of the Constitution contains three important points with reference to indigenous lands:
(b) The need for shared responsibility between Government and the indigenous peoples in the matter of demarcation (direct indigenous participation);
(c) The right of indigenous peoples to collective ownership of their lands, which is inalienable, not subject to the law of limitations or distrait, and non-transferable.12
28. In addition to the constitutional provisions and in accordance with international agreements concerning indigenous rights, Venezuela has ratified the aforementioned Act adopting ILO Convention No. 169, which provides that signatory governments must recognize the importance for indigenous cultures of their relationship with the land, and in particular the collective nature of that relationship (arts. 13.1 and 14). The translation of these constitutional provisions into practice rests on two basic concepts: (a) the ancestral heritage, representing the cultural link that by way of the rights of forebears is equivalent to the historical inheritance transferable from generation to generation within indigenous peoples and communities; (b) the traditional heritage, representing the forms and practices of land use and ownership corresponding to the cultural patterns specific to each indigenous people and community, without the requirement of continuity in time and space.13
29. The legal framework thus comprises, among other things, the Indigenous Peoples Land Demarcation Act,14 which was the first legal instrument specifically designed to systematize and regulate the formulation, coordination and implementation of public policies on the demarcation of the country’s indigenous habitat and lands and to guarantee the right of indigenous communities to collective ownership.
30. The participation of indigenous communities in matters concerning their habitat became effective with the promulgation of the Indigenous Peoples Land Demarcation Act. This gave rise to the National Commission on the Demarcation of the Habitat and Lands of the Indigenous Peoples and Communities,15 with its corresponding regional demarcation commissions and technical teams, such as the advisory body responsible for coordinating the demarcation procedure, presided over by the Ministry of People’s Power for the Environment and composed of eight representatives, one for each of the following Ministries of People’s Powers: the Environment, Petroleum and Mining, Commerce, Culture, Education, Defence, Foreign Affairs, and the Interior and Justice; and a representative of the Simon Bolívar Geographical Institute of Venezuela, attached to the Ministry of the Environment. It also includes eight indigenous representatives of the States in which their communities are located, namely: Anzoátegui (Cumanagoto), Bolívar (Arawak, Macuchu, Pemón, Sanema, Umak or Anitani and Wapishana), Monagas (Chaima), Delta Amacuro (Warao), Sucre (Chaima), Amazonas (Baniva, Bare, Jivi, Kurnipako, Mako, Piapoka, Piaroa, Punave, Yavorana, Saliva, Narekena, Yanomani, Yekuana and Yeral), Apure (Cuibas, Pumé or Yaruro) and Zulia (Añú or Paraujano, Bari, Yukpa, Japrería and Wayúu), belonging to three linguistic families: Arawak, Caribe and Chibcha; and, as permanent invited member, a representative of the Ministry of People’s Power for the Interior and Justice.16
31. As from the end of 2010, the Venezuelan State has granted land to indigenous ethnic groups in the context of policies of inclusion and social equality and of respect for their ethnic traditions and differences. The following ethnic groups have benefited from these collective land titles, namely Kariña (Anzoátegui and Monagas); Pumé, Jivi, Cuiva (Apure); Warao (Delta Amacuro, Monagas and Sucre) and Yukpa (Zulia),17 corresponding to an area of some 1,000,000 hectares.18
32. The current demarcation process is taking place in particular among the peoples located in the States of Bolívar, Amazonas and Monagas and among the Yukpa communities (Neremu-Kashmera, Tokuco and Toromo) and the Barí and Japreria ethnic groups, located in the Sierra de Perijá in Zulia State.19 The exercise is based on article 23 of the Indigenous Peoples and Communities Act: “The State recognizes and guarantees the original right of the indigenous peoples and communities to their habitat and to collective ownership of the lands traditionally occupied by them from ancient times”.
33. The Indigenous Peoples and Communities Act recognizes the right of indigenous peoples to participate in the preparation, implementation and monitoring of policies affecting or benefiting them, ensuring their broad and effective participation in all national, regional and local bodies; their conventions and customs will be taken into account in the election of indigenous representatives to the National Assembly and other bodies; a special system is stipulated for issuing identity documents; provision is made for the strengthening of indigenous cultures through the implementation of bilingual intercultural education based on their needs, the promotion of their cultural values and the use of their own names; all Government programmes are required to be adapted to the specific aspects of their culture; space is guaranteed in the mass media to dissemination of their cultural values; and the activity of religious organizations is prohibited without the prior consent and authorization of the indigenous communities concerned.
34. The relaunching in 2007 of the Guaicaipuro Mission,20 under the Ministry of People’s Power for Communication and Information, formalized and channelled in institutional terms projects on the demarcation of indigenous lands. To this end, the Presidential Commission for the Guaicaipuro Mission, first established in 2003, intensified its efforts with the help of various state bodies21 and the broad participation of the social missions and communal councils. Its achievements have included institutional integration, the restoration of indigenous languages,22 the construction of Bolivarian schools23 and the establishment of computer centres.24
35. The Guaicaipuro Mission has been strengthened by the provisions of the Indigenous Peoples and Communities Act,25 recognizing the lands traditionally inhabited by the indigenous peoples from ancestral times as well as land-use rights. It also provides for the inclusion of the indigenous peoples and communities in the consultations necessary when drawing up plans and projects concerning those lands. The establishment of indigenous municipalities and the recognition of traditional medicine and intellectual property are other novel aspects of this Act, together with the right to political participation, the use of indigenous languages and collective ownership.
36. Concerning the identification of indigenous persons,26 article 56 of the Constitution expressly recognizes the right of every individual to a personal identity, while article 1 of the Identification Act seeks to “…regulate and guarantee the identification of all Venezuelans living in or outside the country in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela”. Chapter III of this Act, entitled Identification of Indigenous Persons, is devoted to guaranteeing this right, which under article 11 involves taking into account the sociocultural organization of the different indigenous peoples and communities through a procedure for issuing identity cards characterized by “simplicity, no cost, transparency, equality, rapidity, social responsibility, publicity, non-discrimination and efficiency”.
37. Under article 12 of the Identification Act, “indigenous children and adolescents shall be included in the civil register by their parents, their representatives or those responsible for them”. However, those not born in hospital can be included in the civil register without the production of a birth certificate issued by a hospital authority. Instead, the registration can take place in the presence of two adult witnesses belonging to the indigenous community concerned, who must state the precise place, hour, day and year of birth as well as any other circumstance relevant to the registration process. This same procedure is followed where an indigenous person of adult age is not included in the civil register and so does not possess an identity document.
38. Article 7 of the Partial Regulation of the Identification of Indigenous Persons Act27 stipulates that, when entering indigenous children and adolescents in the civil register in keeping with the law, the relevant authorities “… shall respect the indigenous family names, given names and toponomies and shall in no case modify, alter or change them…”; and where an error of transcription has occurred or where an entry has been altered, the same official who drew up the record must make the correction immediately as expressed by the mother, father or indigenous representative.
39. Article 14, entitled respect for indigenous languages and dress, refers to the fact that both the birth certificate and the identity card or other identity documents of persons belonging to indigenous peoples and communities must be issued in Spanish and in the language of the people or community concerned, respecting the family names and given names specific to their languages. They are not be obliged to be photographed in clothing different from that corresponding to their conventions, customs and traditions.
40. Provision is made in article 15 of the Identification Act for the creation of the Indigenous Identification Service. This stipulates that the Government, through a branch of the Ministry responsible for identifying the Republic’s inhabitants and in coordination with the body responsible for civil affairs, shall establish a permanent identification service to facilitate the collective issuing of identity cards to the communities concerned.
41. In this connection, the Venezuelan State through the Identification, Migration and Alien Affairs Service28 is implementing the National Plan for issuing identity cards to all the country’s indigenous communities through mobile units established jointly with the Venezuelan Air Force and with Ministries and governors and mayors offices concerned with indigenous affairs.29
42. From 2004 to 2010, the Venezuelan State through the Identification, Migration and Alien Affairs Service issued identity cards to a total of 335,105 indigenous persons nationally, including 160,764 women and 174,381 men.30 The Service’s work was boosted by the introduction of the Identity Route for Native Peoples, with important consequences for the exercise of right to identity of the peoples concerned through the issuing of identity cards. The reasons for the importance of the issuing of identity cards for ensuring the human right to identity was explained to the indigenous population, using translators31 in the case of persons only speaking their own language.
43. Finally, it should be noted that, in accordance with article 1 of the Identification Act, the identity card constitutes the main form of identification in civil, commercial, administrative and legal proceedings and in all those cases where it is required by law to be shown. It is issued free of charge and its use is personal and non-transferable.
44. Register of Indigenous Peoples and Communities. In 2001, the National Institute of Statistics conducted its thirteenth housing and population census. This included for the first time a census of indigenous communities, which was taken using two methods: the general housing and population census, in which 543,348 people identified themselves as belonging to indigenous peoples; and a census of those who thought of themselves as belonging to distinct ethnic groups, who represented 2.3 per cent of the overall population, grouped in 613 communities. According to the Indigenous Peoples and Communities Act, there are 40 indigenous peoples identified as living in our country.32 The largest geographical concentrations of indigenous peoples are to be found in Venezuela’s border States of Apure, Amazonas, Bolívar and Zulia, and in Delta Amacuro. A smaller number are to be found in the States of Sucre, Monagas and Anzoátegui; and there are also small separate indigenous groups in the Republic’s capital as a result of domestic migration and migrations from the Andean region. Less numerous indigenous groups are to be found in the States of Sucre, Monagas, Anzoátegui and Trujillo; and there are other small groups of indigenous people in the national capital as a result of internal migration and migration from the Andean region.
45. Persons of African descent, like indigenous peoples, have been integrating themselves gradually in political, economic, social and cultural life in Venezuela, forming part of a national system free from discrimination, racism or xenophobia.33 The Presidential Commission for the Prevention and Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and Other Distinctions in the Education System was established on a permanent basis34 in 2005, and comprises various State institutions and members of Afro-Venezuelan organizations, including: the Ministry of People’s Power for Education, which chairs the Commission; the Ministry of People’s Power for Culture; the Ministry of People’s Power for Communication and Information; the Vice-Ministry for African Affairs of the Ministry of People’s Power for Foreign Affairs; the Autonomous Institute of the National Council for Children’s and Adolescents’ Rights,35 the National Institute for Women, the National Council for Education, Culture and Indigenous Languages, the National Council for the Disabled; the Ombudsman’s Office; the Public Prosecution Service and the National Assembly’s Subcommittee on Legislation, Participation, Duties and Rights of Peoples of African Descent.
46. In keeping with its mandate, the Presidential Commission prepared an Action Plan structured around various commissions in the fields of culture, education, legal affairs and communications. The main activities pursued since its establishment include: running an office located in the headquarters of the Ministry of People’s Power for Education to which people considering themselves the victims of discrimination or excluded can submit complaints; reviewing the curricular structure of the Venezuelan education system; reviewing the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, with a view to furthering recognition of the moral, political and social contributions of people of African origin; promoting a register of the socio-economic location and status of people of African origin in the country, with the aim of formulating more clearly defined public policies; demanding on behalf of the community concerned that the Ministry of People’s Power for the Interior and Justice establish a new statistical register on the number of Afro-descendant prisoners in Venezuelan jails; organizing among the legislative bodies the proposal to draft the current Racial Discrimination Act,36 and, finally, organizing training sessions with the Department of Intercultural Education of the Ministry of People’s Power for Education and promoting the unrestricted inclusion of persons of African descent in all sectors of society. It should be noted that all the benefits and guarantees in the human rights field in Venezuela, with regard to health care, housing, education, social services, nutrition and sanitation, are enjoyed by the population as a whole without exclusions of any kind, which obviously takes in persons of African descent.
47. The Venezuelan State, through the Ministry of People’s Power for Culture, has promoted inclusive policies that recognize the indigenous peoples and Afro-descendant communities as a way of reaching out directly to them and fostering interculturality. Article 27 of the Education Act37provides for the mainstreaming of intercultural education, offering free access to programmes based on the native cultures of indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples and communities.38 Two Offices attached to the Ministry of People’s Power for Culture were established for this purpose. The Indigenous Communities Liaison Office was created with the purpose of “proposing and facilitating machinery aimed at integrating the indigenous communities” and establishing the necessary links to coordinate with platforms of the Ministry of People’s Power for Culture, educational zones, communal councils, indigenous organizations and regional and local authorities responsible for indigenous affairs.39
48. The Liaison Office for Communities of African Descent is the first government entity in Venezuela whose main aim is to serve as a link between high-level ministerial decision-makers and Afro-descendant communities and collectives. It seeks to safeguard the cultural rights and proactive role of the Afro-descendant population as collective rights-holders in the management of the national cultural development agenda, serving as a link between public and private organizations of African descent and society in general in order to promote the recognition, self-recognition and social visibility of the former. The Liaison Office for Communities of African Descent, together with the National Institute of Statistics, has promoted the Subcommittee on Peoples of African Descent, which provided major support for the Presidential Commission for the Prevention and Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and Other Distinctions in the Education System in the preparation and submission of the draft curriculum guidelines aimed at preventing and eliminating all forms of racial discrimination and promoting respect for cultural diversity. The Subcommittee responsible for statistics on the Afro-descendant population, forming part of the Presidential Commission, likewise played an active role in the dissemination and incorporation of this variable in the planning of the new National Population and Housing Census.40
49. The Liaison Office for Communities of African Descent has established an ongoing dialogue between the communities, culture workers and the authorities to coordinate strategies for strengthening communities of African descent socially and culturally, with the aim of promoting and disseminating on equal terms the traditional expressions, new talents and artistic groups linked to Afro-descendant culture.
50. In 2008, the Subcommittee on Legislation, Participation, Duties and Rights of People of African Descent was established within the Standing Committee on Indigenous Peoples of the National Assembly and contributed to the drafting of the Racial Discrimination Act. Between 2009 and 2010, numerous events were organized with the active participation of 342 social organizations consisting of organized communities, social movements, communal councils and representatives of indigenous and Afro-descendant communities so that all could discuss, analyse and propose elements for inclusion in the Racial Discrimination Act. Other participants included technical teams from the National Assembly, relevant state bodies and representatives of Government and the citizen’s, electoral and judicial branches.41
51. Afro-descendant organizations and National Assembly legislators. Representatives of the Afro-Venezuelan network, the legislative body and Government authorities with responsibilities in the field met in 2008 to assess progress in the preparation of proposals on various draft laws essential to the inclusion of the Afro-Venezuelan population and to respect for their rights. This was a very important initiative involving grassroots participation in the cause of combating racial discrimination in all its forms.
52. In 2005 the National Assembly declared 10 May to be National Afro-Venezuelan Day,42 and its Standing Committee on the Family, Women and Youth subsequently devoted several sessions to evaluating the People’s Power for Youth Act under its mandate concerning the establishment of the National Commission of the People’s Power for Youth, set up in August 2010. Participants in these sessions included representatives of indigenous peoples and those of African descent as well as institutions such as the Pan American Health Organization, the Ministry of People’s Power for Communes and Social Protection and the National Council of the Disabled, reflecting the interest in the effective involvement of all young people from various State sectors and bodies in the defence of their rights.43
53. With the aim of coordinating the country’s youth organizations, the National Institute of People’s Power for Youth planned and staged sectoral meetings that included the First National Convention of Indigenous Youth and the First Meeting of Young Afro-descendants, with the help and participation of representatives of 11 States at national level.44
54. An international initiative by Venezuela to highlight its public policies on the topic was the event organized by the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas, namely the Tenth Summit of the Member Countries of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America – Peoples’ Trade Agreement (ALBA-TCP), (ALBA-TCP),45 together with the indigenous and Afro-descendant authorities and in the presence of the Heads of State of the ALBA Member Countries,46 with the aim of initiating an international dialogue on interculturality and multi-nationality conducive to the generation of initiatives through the exchange of experience.47
55. Office of the Ombudsman. This institution made a series of general recommendations to various government bodies stemming from the Durban Programme of Action, in keeping with its constitutional and legal mandate and consistent with its function of making the necessary requests and observations to the relevant bodies for the effective protection of human rights.48 It has also promoted activities in support of various aspects of Afro-descendant human rights, including roundtables on sexual and reproductive education with a gender emphasis, organized under the auspices of the Ministry of People’s Power for Education in association with UNICEF and with the participation of various State bodies, the school population and social communities. It likewise planned the development of training activities in the area of sexual and reproductive education for teachers in the towns and communities concerned as well as reproducing related contents in the Canaima project. In 2010, the Office of the Ombudsman also promoted the creation of the Offices for the Defence of the Educational Rights of Indigenous Persons and Afro-descendants with a cultural emphasis, in association with the Directorate of Intercultural Education of the Ministry of People’s Power for Education.49
(c) Children and adolescents
56. The Constitution establishes the main bases in this regard in Title III, chapter V, article 78 in prescribing the creation of a national umbrella system for the comprehensive protection of children and adolescents. This constitutional mandate finds expression in article 117 of the Child Protection Act, which conceives the national system as a set of organs, entities and services intended to ensure the effective enjoyment of rights and guarantees through the design, coordination, integration, orientation, supervision, evaluation and control of all child-protection policies, programmes and measures of public interest at national, State and municipal levels, as well to monitor compliance with the duties established under this Act.
57. In accordance with article 19 of the Child Protection Act, the State bodies and entities and social organizations constituting this national system are: the Ministry of People’s Power with Responsibility for the Comprehensive Protection of Children; the Children’s Rights Councils; the Child Protection Councils; the Child Protection Tribunals; Social Appeal Tribunal of the Supreme Court; the Attorney General’s Office; the Ombudsman’s Office; the Public Defender’s Office; offices for the care and defence of children, communal councils and other forms of people’s organization;50 and the Neighbourhood Mothers Mission established in 2008. The promulgation of the Child Protection Act represents a cornerstone in the safeguarding of children’s rights, application of the Act being overseen by the Autonomous Institute of the National Council for Children’s and Adolescents’ Rights.51
58. Venezuela possesses a gender-focused regulatory framework designed to overcome inequality and discrimination in different areas and forms, with its origin in the relevant constitutional provisions. There has also been a trend towards gender mainstreaming in the country’s legal and administrative system, apparent in the Act on Women’s Right to a Life Free from Violence,52 the amendment to the Child Protection Act,53 the Family and Parenthood Act, the Act amending the Criminal Code, the Equal Opportunities for Women Act, the Act on the Promotion of Breastfeeding, and the Racial Discrimination Act. Article 51 of this Act increases by one third the penalties for racial discrimination where the offence is committed against children, women, the elderly, the sick or the disabled. The Labour Act and the amended Working Safeguards, Conditions and Environment Act likewise constitute legal and administrative guarantees by the Venezuelan State that equality before the law with regard to women’s rights will be real and effective, the provisions in question having entailed a range of specific protective measures too numerous to describe here.
59. The Venezuelan State has implemented policies and measures to safeguard the human rights of women as a vulnerable group, subject on racial or ethnic grounds to multiple forms of discrimination, with a view to promoting their empowerment. The establishment in 2009 of the Ministry of People’s Power for Women and Gender Equality54 represented a turning point in the strengthening of the national mechanism for advancing the cause of women, serving as the focal point for gender policy in our country. It oversees the National Institute for Women and its regional branches, the National Office for the Defence of Women’s Rights,55 the Women’s Development Bank and the “Josefa Joaquina Sánchez” Neighbourhood Mothers Mission Foundation, and provides support at State and municipal level for women and women’s shelters.56 The National Institute for Women has been the vehicle for implementing advisory policies and the ongoing promotion of women’s rights aimed at fostering a culture of equality and non-discrimination towards women and children while promoting the empowerment of women of indigenous and African origin through training in self-recognition.
60. The Women’s Development Bank, a micro-financing institution providing impoverished women with non-financial and financial services, has promoted policies favouring women of indigenous and African origin, who have been given preferential support for developing their productive projects such as the Warao Handicraft Productive Project in the Pedernales and Tucupita municipalities in Delta Amacuro State.57 The Neighbourhood Mothers Mission, a body promoting the inclusion of women living in extreme poverty, included among its financial beneficiaries in 2010 a total of 98,373 women, 1028 of whom were indigenous mothers granted inclusive care.58
61. Policies guaranteeing women’s rights are to be found in women’s prisons, which since 2000 have adapted their infrastructures to enable detainees to enjoy sexual rights or intimate visits, which abolishes the discrimination that previously existed with respect to male detainees.59
(e) Immigrants and foreigners
62. The Venezuelan State emphasizes that its territory is open to all foreigners and that they enjoy the same civil rights as all Venezuelans. Rules on their admission and expulsion, and the corresponding restrictions and limitations, are governed by the Aliens and Immigration Act,60 drafted with a gender focus, and its regulations;61 the significance of this provision is that it replaces the outdated and unconstitutional Aliens Act of 1937 by treating foreigners appropriately, in accordance with the Refugees and Asylum Seekers Act.62 The Special Regulation on the Border Security Zones governing frontier movement permits, and the Regulation on the Regularization and Naturalization of Aliens residing in the country,63 have enabled some 1 million people to become naturalized and reflect the priority given to the well-being of the individual in the design and implementation of State policies. The Ministry of People’s Power for Labour and Social Security contributes to the implementation of the provisions in question, in keeping with the requirements of dignity, fair and equitable treatment, no cost, timely and adequate response and transparency and rapidity in the processing of regularization or naturalization requests.64
63. The Aliens and Immigration Act also establishes equality with nationals in the exercise of rights, safeguarding the existing legal and constitutional restrictions but placing the emphasis on protection of the alien’s right to effective judicial oversight, thereby guaranteeing his or her human rights.65 It is to be noted that the Act is consistent with the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, who are given the same standing in the exercise of their rights as any national.66 The Organized Crime Act categorizes crimes such as human trafficking and the illicit traffic in migrants, offences often associated with refugee requests.67
(f) Asylum seekers and refugees
64. On 19 September 1986, the Venezuelan State deposited with the United Nations the instrument of ratification of the Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees, which authorized the establishment in Caracas of an Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Given that this Protocol partially amends the content of the Convention concerning the Status of Refugees, Venezuela automatically became a party to the Convention; in 2001 it consequently promulgated the Refugees and Asylum-Seekers Act, whose precepts are to be interpreted in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Protocol concerning the Status of Refugees, the American Convention on Human Rights, the Convention on Territorial Asylum, the Caracas Convention on Diplomatic Asylum and other provisions contained in related international instruments ratified by the Republic, ensuring that in case of doubt the interpretation and application of any provision will favour the enjoyment or exercise of the rights of the person seeking refuge or asylum.68
65. Through the Refugees and Asylum-Seekers Act, the National Commission for Refugees was established with the aim of providing better protection for its users, and three strategic units were installed at the Venezuelan frontier, namely the Apure, Táchira and Zulia Offices, so that persons entering the country through these border areas could have speedy access to refugee request facilities. The National Commission for Refugees has also promoted the creation of regional technical secretariats in the States liable to receive refugee requests and these work in close cooperation with the Identification, Migration and Alien Affairs Service and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to respond promptly to the cases submitted.69 Article 22 of the Refugees and Asylum-Seekers Act also states that: “Refugees shall enjoy in the territory of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela the same rights as foreigners, subject to the restrictions stipulated in the Constitution and other laws of the Republic”.
(g) Disabled persons70
66. Article 81 of the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela states: “All persons with disabilities or special needs have the right to the full and autonomous exercise of their capacities and to integration within their family and the community. The State, with the mutually supportive participation of families and society, shall ensure respect for their human dignity, equal opportunities and satisfactory working conditions, and shall promote their training, education and access to employment appropriate to their condition, in accordance with the law. The right of the deaf and speech-impaired to express themselves and communicate through sign language is recognized”. The allocation of State resources is the responsibility of the National Council for the Disabled, which is in charge of authorizing or re-authorizing help and technical assistance.
67. Disabled people have the right to education, through properly equipped institutions or in specialized schools, staffed by an adequate number of trained personnel, providing cultural and sporting activities and vocational training. Other benefits granted by this Act include the right to housing, easy access to buildings, land, port and airport terminals and public transport, travel discounts, and special vehicle plates. The duty-free import of technical equipment, apparatus, utensils, instruments, materials and any useful and necessary technological product or resource conducive to personal, family or social integration are further possible benefits granted by the Venezuelan State to disabled persons, who also have the right to free entry in the public register.
(h) Persons with HIV/AIDS71
68. The goal of halting and reversing the incidence of HIV/AIDS has been achieved in Venezuela under the National HIV/AIDS Strategic Plan72 through a steady increase in the budget for the National STI/AIDS Programme, which has made it possible to extend the coverage of comprehensive treatment for people with HIV.73 In addition to the financing of projects, preventive education, communication and information activities have been carried out, aimed at young schoolchildren, the sexually exploited and the homosexual population. Efforts are also being made in the areas of AIDS prevention, diagnosis and treatment, the prevention of mother-to-child transmission, universal precautions and post-exposure prophylaxis through information campaigns on topics such as delaying the start of sexual relations, promoting the use of contraceptives, practising safe sex, combating violence against women, preventing mother-to-child transmission and educating school children and adolescents.74
69. Care for persons infected with HIV-AIDS has been extended through, among other things, universal free access to anti-viral medicines to combat opportunistic infections and other sexually transmitted infections, laboratory testing reagents, birth kits and nutritional supplements. The National Blood Bank Programme is responsible for ensuring that proper analysis takes place of the blood units reaching the Blood Banks.75
70. This free treatment extends to prisons, where the population receives similar benefits and where efforts are also made to prevent mother-to-child infection through rapid tests carried out routinely during the first three months of pregnancy.76 In its sustained effort to guarantee human rights and in accordance with article 502 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, the Venezuelan State is open to the possibility of granting immediate procedural benefits to detainees with symptoms of HIV/AIDS infection.77