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Venezuelan defender Rocío San Miguel must be released

The Venezuelan human rights defender Rocío San Miguel was arbitrarily arrested on Friday at the airport, along with relatives. She must be released immediately and the rights of defenders in the country respected.

Human rights defender Rocío San Miguel who leads the NGO ‘Control Cuidadano’, was arrested on Friday along with relatives. She was later accused of participating in an attempted plot against the president, Nicolas Maduro, for which the Venezuelan authorities have provided no evidence. In an unusual move, the Attorney General, Tarek William Saab, issued a statement on the arrests, groundlessly accusing critics of the arrests as ‘undermining democratic Venezuelan institutions.’

Rocío San Miguel’s lawyer Juan González has said that her arrest and that of her relatives was: ‘a dire warning for those of us who have resolved to defend the human rights of people who are imprisoned or persecuted for political reasons, and also for those who document human rights violations in Venezuela.’

The UN’s Fact-Finding Mission on Venezuela, a body of experts mandated by the UN’s Human Rights Council to investigate alleged human rights violations committed in the country since 2014, issued a statement yesterday saying, ‘These are not isolated incidents, but rather a series of events that appear to be part of a coordinated plan to silence critics and perceived opponents.’

The Fact-Finding Mission investigations since 2019 have led them to conclude that in Venezuela there is a policy to threaten, attack and torture dissents, violations that likely amount to crimes against humanity.

‘The arrest of Rocío San Miguel and her relatives speaks to this policy ongoing. The detention of human rights defender Javier Tarazona – nearing 3 years – is another’, said ISHR’s Eleanor Openshaw. ‘These defenders must be released immediately.’

These arrests come during a pre-electoral period which has also seen the re-activation of the process related to a highly restrictive and much-criticised NGO bill at the start of this year. This is another sign of the government’s interest in restricting civil society’s ability to operate.

Over 200 Venezuelan NGOs have called for Rocío’s release. The detention of Rocío and her relatives has received widespread press coverage. 

‘The demands for the release of Rocío San Miguel, Javier Tarazona and all others arbitrarily detained must get louder and most insistent,’ said Openshaw.

The Human Rights Council sessions offer at least two opportunities to do so during the formal agenda: On 19 March, the High Commissioner will present an oral update informed by the conclusions and recommendations of his team in the country. The UN Fact-Finding Mission will provide an oral update on 20 March. Both of these updates will be followed by interactive dialogues.

‘States must take advantage of these sessions to reiterate their support to human rights defenders in the country and demand that their work be facilitated and protected’, said Openshaw.

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