(May 10, 2022). Foro por la Vida, a Venezuelan coalition of human rights organizations, rejects the International Cooperation Bill (ICB) that is currently being discussed in the National Assembly. This project poses severe restrictions to the activity of civil society organizations and is a threat to their work for the benefit of Venezuelan society.
The ICB especially criminalizes solidarity with the Venezuelan popular sectors that are the primary beneficiaries of international cooperation and affects the development, essence, and independent activities of the various organizations working in the country.
Civil society organizations contribute to society, especially to the most vulnerable people. This work includes the accompaniment of the victims of human rights violations, training and education actions, fostering of social development, and promotion of sports, science and health. Instead of restrictions, civic space urgently needs respect and protection by national authorities.
Earlier in 2006, an ICB was passed in first parliamentary discussion, which conditioned access to international cooperation funds. Subsequently, its discussion was proposed again in 2010 and 2015.
On each of these occasions, the ICB has violated the Venezuelan Constitution and international standards on the right to freedom of association, participation, non-discrimination, due process, and legal reserve. This bill seeks to establish international cooperation under the power of the national government by attempting to define the areas of the “National Development Plan” while imposing on civil society organizations additional requirements to existing public controls through extensive registration, audits, delivery of information and sanctions of illegalization mechanisms.
Organizations that comprise the Foro por la Vida coalition question several aspects established by the bill. In the first place, it excludes human rights as a legitimate area of cooperation and threatens civil society organizations with mandatory registration in the “Integrated System for the Registration of Non-Governmental Organizations” (Article 18), by virtue of which they must provide “to the competent authorities, as well as to any citizen who requests it, information and data on its constitution, statutes, activities carried out, origin, administration, and destination of its resources (…)”. The bill assumes the illegality of the organizations’ activities by requiring them to submit all their information to the State.
Secondly, article 11 grants the National Executive the power to create a “special technical body” in charge of “gathering, providing and managing resources that come from or are destined for international cooperation activities.” This control legitimizes the disposition of the civil society organizations’ funds and their allocation at the government’s discretion.
Additionally, article 26 incorporates sanctions that may lead to the “definitive elimination” of Non-Governmental Organizations, foundations, or non-profit, public or private associations that, at the discretion of the Executive, “directly or indirectly, promote or participate with other associations, organizations, governments or international organizations, in the application of unilateral coercive measures against the Republic”. The bill thus criminalizes the action of civil society organizations and stigmatizes them in their possible interactions with other international community countries or entities.
We warn of the great damage that this bill could produce to civil society organizations in the context of the closure of civic space. In accordance with article 11 of the ICB, the Executive could change at its discretion the regulations by which it establishes the guidelines and policies of international cooperation, which would aggravate the operating conditions.
Therefore, it is worrying that the regulation uses vague language to limit freedom of association, expression, political participation, and equality before the law. In fact, these restrictions would affect the most vulnerable citizens, who are the main beneficiaries of civil society organizations.
Despite preserving a structure that protects the guarantee of human rights, the bill is a reissue of the thesis of the internal enemy that deprives the Venezuelan population of the resources and mechanisms of international protection in the midst of the complex humanitarian emergency.
Undermining the activity of civil society organizations means depriving victims of human rights and the most vulnerable sectors of access to justice, reparation and solidarity.
Finally, the organizations integrating into the Foro por la Vida coalition demand respect and guarantees for the work of civil society organizations and the rights of the victims and the people most in need in the country.
The following NGOs subscribe:
- Acción Ciudadana Contra el SIDA (ACCSI)
- Centro de Derechos Humanos de la Universidad Católica Andrés Bello
- Centro Gumilla
- Centro para la Paz y Derechos Humanos de la Universidad Central de Venezuela
- Comisión de Justicia y Paz de la Conferencia Episcopal Venezolana
- Comisión de Justicia y Paz de la Conferencia Venezolana de Religiosas y Religiosos (CONVER).
- Comité de familiares de víctimas de los sucesos de febrero y marzo de 1989 (COFAVIC)
- Comité Pro Defensa de los Derechos Humanos Familiares Víctimas del Estado Falcón (COPRODEH)
- Espacio Público
- Observatorio Venezolano de Prisiones (OVP)
- Oficina de Derechos Humanos del Vicariato Apostólico de Puerto Ayacucho
- Justicia y Paz Cáritas Los Teques
- Programa Venezolano Educación – Acción en Derechos Humanos (PROVEA)
- Servicio Jesuíta de Refugiados
- Vicaría de Derechos Humanos de la Arquidiócesis de Caracas
You will find here the legal considerations on the ICB (SPA)