125. Venezuela ratified the Convention on 29 June 1991. It made the declarations provided for under articles 21 and 22 on 21 December 1993, and has not formulated any reservations or additional declarations.
126. Venezuela is also a State party to the InterAmerican Convention to Prevent and Punish Torture.
127. The initial report was submitted with several years’ delay and does not provide sufficient information on the practical application of the Convention. The Committee appreciates the assurance given by the State’s representative that these shortcomings will be overcome and that the next report will be submitted on time and in the appropriate form.
128. A large and wellqualified delegation was present for the introduction of the report. The head of delegation updated and elaborated on it in his statement and through documents made available to the members of the Committee; responses were given to members’ observations and questions. This procedure facilitated a more detailed examination, a better understanding of the report and a frank and constructive dialogue, for which the Committee is grateful.
2. Positive aspects
129. In a declaration of principle, the head of the delegation expressed his Government’s determination to be increasingly strict in the area of human rights.
130. The Code of Penal Procedure, which will enter into force shortly, contains very positive provisions that make good the deficiencies of the existing Code of Criminal Procedure; these deficiencies are identified as being highly conducive to the practice of torture and to shortcomings in its investigation and punishment. The full implementation of the new provisions should contribute to the eradication of torture in Venezuela.
131. The Government intends to submit for approval by the Legislature a bill to prevent and punish torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, in order to give effect to the provisions of the Convention in domestic law.
132. The state of emergency in force since 1994 has been terminated in the frontier districts and the restrictions on constitutional guarantees have accordingly been removed.
133. The Act intended to combat violence against women and the family has entered into force; and the Organizational Act for the Protection of Children and Adolescents has been approved, and will enter into force next year. Both laws are intended to improve the protection of two particularly vulnerable social sectors who frequently fall victim to discrimination, abuse or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.
134. Training initiatives have been taken for law enforcement and prison personnel and have been developed with support from foundations and nongovernmental organizations; these are described in the part of the report relating to article 10 of the Convention. The Public Prosecutor’s Office has taken the initiative of organizing a national programme of workshops to acquaint medical professionals with recent scientific developments in the investigation of torture, in particular torture that leaves no visible or obvious marks.
3. Factors and difficulties impeding the application of the Convention
135. The marked contrast between the extensive legislation on matters addressed by the Convention and the reality observed during the period covered by the report would appear to indicate insufficient concern on the part of the authorities responsible for ensuring the effective observance of the Convention.
4. Subjects of concern
136. The high number of cases of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment that have occurred since the Convention’s entry into force; they have been perpetrated by all the State security bodies.
137. The failure of the competent organs of the State to fulfil their duty to investigate complaints and punish those responsible, who generally enjoy impunity; this encourages repetition of the conduct in question. Not until the report was submitted was the Committee informed of the imposition of administrative penalties, but it has not been informed of any judicial conviction for the offence of torture.
138. The continued existence in the Penal Code, the Armed Forces (Organization) Act and the Code of Military Justice of provisions exempting from criminal responsibility persons who act on the basis of due obedience to a superior; these provisions are incompatible with both article 46 of the Constitution and article 2, paragraph 3, of the Convention.
139. The nonexistence of effective procedures for monitoring respect for the physical integrity of detainees in prisons, both civilian and military.
140. The overcrowding in prisons, where capacity is exceeded by over 50 per cent, the lack of segregation of the prison population, the fact that almost two thirds of prisoners are awaiting trial and the endemic violence rampant in Venezuelan jails mean that prisoners are permanently subjected to forms of inhuman or degrading treatment.
141. The prompt consideration, discussion and approval of the Bill relating to torture, whether it takes the form of a separate law or is incorporated in the provisions of the Penal Code.
142. The legislation in question must provide for the hearing and trial in the ordinary courts of any charge of torture, regardless of the body of which the accused is a member.
143. During the consideration and discussion of the Bill relating to torture, the Executive and the Legislature should request and bear in mind the opinions of national non-governmental organizations for the defence and promotion of human rights, whose experience in looking after victims of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment may help to perfect this legal initiative.
144. In the process of drafting a new constitution a provision should be included which grants constitutional status to human rights treaties ratified by the State and their selfexecuting nature, as has been recognized in the decisions of the Supreme Court of Justice.
145. In addition, the new constitution, through such provisions as may appear appropriate, should strengthen the legal conditions for the protection of personal security and integrity and for the prevention of practices that violate such security and integrity.
146. In connection with article 3 of the Convention, which stipulates that a person may not be expelled, returned or extradited to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture, the Committee considers that, for the purposes of the improved consideration of the advisability of applying this provision to a particular case, it would appear appropriate for questions of passive extradition to be considered at two instances, a procedure which characterizes the Venezuelan judicial system.
147. On the same question, it is recommended that the State should regulate procedures for dealing with and deciding on applications for asylum and refugee status which envisage the opportunity for the applicant to attend a formal hearing and to make such submissions as may be relevant to the right which he invokes, including pertinent evidence, with protection of the characteristics of due process of law.
148. Repeal of rules providing for exemption from criminal responsibility on the grounds that the person concerned is acting in due obedience to a superior. Although these rules are contrary to the Constitution, in practice they leave open to judicial interpretation provisions which are incompatible with article 3, paragraph 2, of the Convention.
149. Continue the human rights training initiatives for State law enforcement officials and prison personnel, and extend them to all police and security forces.
150. Establish a governmental programme aimed at the physical, psychological and social rehabilitation of torture victims.