WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas

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17 Feb 2023 | Joint Statement

93 Venezuelan and regional organizations sign open letter to President Gustavo Petro

(Caracas, February 16, 2022). First of all, please receive our best wishes for success in your administration. Your aspirations for peace, more and better democracy, as well as the full enjoyment of human rights for all Colombians are also ours. Any step in that direction will have the support and applause of the different social and community organizations that make life in Venezuela and in other countries of the region.

The purpose of this communication is to express our concern for the possible approval of the “Law for the Control, Regularization, Performance and Financing of Non-Governmental and Related Organizations”, presented last January 24, 2023 in the National Assembly and approved in the first discussion without the document being made available to the public, in violation of the Venezuelan Constitution for the formation of laws. In the presentation made in the Parliament by Deputy Diosdado Cabello, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) were stigmatized and criminalized in a generalized manner. The existence of a preliminary list of 62 NGOs was mentioned, pointing them out as “party fronts”, “enemies” and “traitors to the homeland”, and specifically naming a few organizations, among them the Venezuelan Program for Human Rights Education Action (Provea), an organization with 34 years of work in the country. In a version obtained unofficially, since the draft is not accessible on official websites, different provisions of this law violate the right to freedom of association and assembly: It declares the “non-existence” not only of NGOs, but also of almost all previous forms of non-profit associations, subjecting them to a new legal regime, for which a series of disproportionate requirements must be met and which have no legitimate objective. The draft contains many provisions with vague and imprecise terms, which may be interpreted discretionally by the authorities. It establishes a regime of disproportionate sanctions that include suspension or dissolution and confiscatory fines, in addition to civil and criminal liabilities for money laundering and terrorist financing offenses. The pattern of using regulations to place critical and independent organizations outside the law has been used in other authoritarian contexts in the region.

We would like to warn that the approval of this legal initiative will mean the suspension of the right to free association and assembly in Venezuela. Those largely affected will be the people who receive free assistance and accompaniment in the defense of their violated rights, as well as humanitarian aid throughout the country. The illegalization of these organizations, on the other hand, will force their members to leave the country by force, as has recently happened in Nicaragua. In addition, their hundreds of beneficiaries will no longer be able to count on the humanitarian support they have been receiving. Both situations will significantly increase the number of asylum and refugee applications in neighboring host countries. It will also irreversibly weaken democracy. Given the influence that your government has over the Venezuelan authorities, we appreciate any efforts on your part to ensure that:

  • The current process of approval of the bill, including its reform or any other legal norm in the legislative agenda that goes in a similar direction, be dismissed, encouraging that, in accordance with the Venezuelan Constitution and the international human rights treaties signed by the Venezuelan State, the right to the free constitution, operation, performance and formalization of all forms of association be recognized and facilitated in accordance with the current provisions of the Civil Code and the international standards of the right to freedom of association.
  • Respect the limits of the States to establish norms that affect the right to freedom of association and the standards of a free and safe environment of civic space in international human rights treaties, guaranteeing its essential contents of freedom and the autonomy of individuals to associate, of associations to carry out their purposes and of society to have associations to participate in matters that affect it, without prior authorization, restrictive requirements or abusive and unfounded interventions of denial or suspension of the right, not admissible in free and democratic societies, unduly invoking reasons of public interest, such as national security or sovereignty.

Your government is heir to the mobilization and organization of thousands of Colombians who wish to leave the conflict behind and build a country of opportunities and rights without discrimination of any kind. These are the same principles that we wish for our country and that motivate the daily work of the organizations, initiatives and activists who subscribe to this communication. We thank you for your attention to this letter and cordially bid you farewell.


To access the complete the complete letter including the signatories, click here