In 2015, the human rights situation in Venezuela was challenging.
There were some efforts by the state to improve this. In July, it announced a 2015-2019 Human Rights Plan, including proposals to reform the judiciary, prisons and security forces, to end discrimination, and to protect vulnerable groups. It also launched a Human Rights Commission to oversee the plan's implementation. In December, despite concerns over the lack of international election monitoring, Venezuela held peaceful parliamentary elections with the highest voter turnout ever recorded. The elections were won by the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) coalition. However, a continued political, economic and institutional crisis prevented wider progress.
During 2015, UN and regional human rights bodies expressed concern at the state of civil and political liberties and economic and social rights in Venezuela. There were wider concerns about institutional independence, transparency, and access to public information. Violence remained a central issue. There are an estimated 14 million illegal weapons in Venezuela. The high level of impunity has encouraged worsening criminality. Over 27,000 murders were reported in 2015.
Venezuelan society is politically polarised. This affects the work of the public sector, NGOs and other civil society organisations. Human rights defenders have reported intimidation and physical attacks. Local NGOs estimate that there are over 80 political prisoners in Venezuela (the government maintains there are no political prisoners, only politicians in prison) and that more than 800 people have fled the country for fear of persecution. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has demanded the release of prominent political leaders and has expressed serious concerns about respect for due process and the rule of law.
The UK's objective is to promote human rights and democracy in Venezuela, with a focus on working with all sectors of society to promote dialogue and reduce violence, strengthen democratic governance and civil society, and promote the rights of women and girls. The UK aims to work constructively to address our human rights concerns through public and private channels, including on areas of disagreement. The challenge has been to build consensus on action with the Venezuelan government. Since 2012, the UK has funded 22 human rights and democracy projects in Venezuela with local organisations and government institutions. These projects include protecting indigenous rights, supporting political dialogue and promoting electoral reform.
A worsening economic situation, increasing violence and escalating political confrontation increase the probability that conditions will toughen in 2016, making tackling human rights issues more difficult. Project work with civil society may also become more difficult. From January to June, the UK will lead the local EU Working Group on Human Rights and Democracy. We will also work with official and non-official entities in the run-up to Venezuela's second Universal Periodic Review at the UN Human Rights Council in October 2016.