© Ricardo Arispe

Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of)
Latin America & Caribbean

Human rights defender's story: Olnar Ortiz Bolívar from Venezuela

Olnar is an indigenous human rights defender from Venezuela coming to Geneva to deliver important messages to the international community for the preservation of the Amazon and ancestral lands.

Who is Olnar Ortiz Bolívar?

Olnar is a member of the Baré indigenous community from the Venezuelan Amazon. He is a lawyer and he works to defend the rights of indigenous communities in Venezuela. He provides legal assistance to victims of human rights abuses in their claims for justice and remedy. 

As a human rights defender, Olnar works to publicly raise awareness at the national and international levels of the systematic human rights violations occurring in indigenous territories. He also advocates for the preservation of the Amazon and the environment.

He spoke to ISHR about his experiences defending the rights of Indigenous communities in Venezuela, the risks he faces for doing so, and his vision of a more inclusive society for his country.

Local context

As Venezuela is facing a multidimensional political, social and human rights crisis, with no separation of powers and weakened protections of basic rights and fundamental freedom, the voices of human rights defenders speaking out against abuses are  increasingly seen as a threat by perpetrators and the Maduro regime. 

In this context, Olnar faces serious risks for his activism. These include harassment, assassination or kidnapping by State officials or by illegal armed groups that operate with the State and are involved in extractive mining operations or drug trafficking schemes in ancestral territories.

Those risks have been recognised by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) which issued a resolution to grant precautionary measures in favour of Olnar, with the belief that he has been facing a serious and urgent risk of suffering irreparable damage to his rights.

What does Olnar want for the environment and indigenous communities?

Olnar wants to protect the human rights, land rights and livelihoods of indigenous communities, and to preserve the ecosystems upon which they depend. To achieve this, he seeks to put an end to the catastrophic environmental degradation of the Amazon.

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Environmental damage is already reaching truly catastrophic heights in the Amazon, with large areas of land devastated and rivers contaminated by mercury and other chemicals that are harmful to the biosphere and to human beings.
Olnar Ortiz Bolívar

He is also fighting to ensure his community can continue to live in their ancestral homes without being forcibly displaced as a result of the pressures of extractive industries or the threat of drug trafficking groups, both of which are encroaching on their lands. 

Olnar also strives for defenders to work in a safe and enabling environment and thus wants to push back against the Venezuelan authorities’ sustained effort to criminalise the work of human rights defenders and independent civil society, particularly those who, like him, act in support of indigenous communities, as well as the threat posed by criminal groups. Indigenous activists and defenders have been repeatedly targeted over recent years in Venezuela: over 30 indigenous leaders or environmentalists have been assassinated between 2013 and 2022, including 11 that were reportedly killed by members of the Venezuela military.    

How can the United Nations human rights system support Olnar’s claims?

In 2019, the Human Rights Council established the Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) on Venezuela to assess alleged human rights violations committed in the country since 2014. The mission’s mandate was renewed in 2022 for another two years. 

Olnar has worked directly with the FFM to document systematic cases of violations of the rights and freedoms of indigenous peoples. He considers this mechanism to be very important, as it not only records allegations of violations but can also contribute to establishing legal responsibilities for perpetrators, while offering a level of protection to members of indigenous communities that would come forward to speak about abuses committed in their lands. However, many of them are unaware of the Mission, partly because the Venezuelan government has restricted the FFM from entering the country.

He told ISHR about what role he thought the FFM could play in ensuring the rights of indigenous groups are respected in Venezuela, hoping the body would be able to examine and expose the many ways in which his community and other indigenous peoples are being put under pressure.

In March 2023, Olnar came to the Human Rights Council in Geneva to carry the voices of those communities, advocating for the preservation of the Amazon and ancestral lands.