VENEZUELA – Women’s human rights defender Vannesa Rosales arrested & charged

Vannesa Rosales is a feminist, teacher and social worker in the Pueblo Nuevo community of Mirada, where she has lived and worked for over eight years in many projects that have greatly benefited the local community. For example, she is part of the team that founded the Open Studies of the Politecnica Territorial University (UPTM), a programme focused on nursing, integrated health care, accounting in community management, the prevention of crime and criminology. She is also a member of a local initiative that supports women’s defence of sexual and reproductive rights, with an emphasis on advocating for the decriminalisation of abortion.

On 12 October 2020, officials from the Venezuelan Corps for Scientific, Penal and Criminal Investigations raided the house of Vannesa Rosales in Mérida. She was accused of obtaining information on and medication to cause an abortion for a 13-year-old girl who had become pregnant as a result of rape.

On 16 October 2020, a hearing was held at which the Prosecutor’s Office expressed the intention of pursuing the lesser of the crimes established in the Venezuelan Penal Code with respect to abortion, which carries a potential sentence of up to four years in prison. This charge would have enabled Vanessa Rosales to be released before and while the trial took place. However, the judge decided to charge her with more serious crimes related to illegal abortion. These carry a sentence in excess of four years; hence, defendants must be held in prison on remand before and during the legal process. She was charged with three crimes: conspiracy, association to commit a crime, and abortion induced by a third party. She was then placed in detention incommunicado in an isolated area. By law, although a preliminary hearing must be held within 15 days of such charges, that did not happen.

On 9 December, her lawyers requested that she be released under precautionary measures instead of being held in prison on remand. The preliminary hearing was set for 14 December, but it was then postponed and not rescheduled. On 22 December 2020, her lawyers filed a constitutional appeal before the Court of Appeals of Merida. They asked that the authorities comply with the rights and constitutional guarantees of the defendant, in particular that she be allowed to be free pending any legal process against her, and that she should face charges only based on her actions, not on her advocacy for women’s rights. A few days ago, it was reported that Vannesa was released from remand and would be able to remain at home until her trial, that she was no longer in prison.

Despite many recommendations by human rights bodies, including UN Women and UNICEF, to the government of Venezuela to reform its laws in line with international human rights law, Venezuela is still one of the 25% of countries that has not decriminalised or softened its legislation on the right to abortion or other women’s sexual and reproductive rights.

The group Front Line Defenders have urged the authorities in Venezuela to:

1. Drop the charges against Vannesa Rosales, as they believe she is being targeted solely because of her legitimate and peaceful work as a women’s human rights defender;

2. Take all necessary measures to guarantee that Vannesa Rosales’s treatment in detention adheres to the conditions established in the ‘Set of principles for the protection of all persons under any form of detention or prison’ ‘, adopted in Resolution 43/173 of the UN General Assembly of December 9, 1988;

3. Refrain from using preventive detention to violate the right to personal liberty and the presumption of innocence, which is commonly used to punish human rights defenders and journalists in Venezuela.

4. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Venezuela are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions, including judicial harassment.

On 8 January 2021, the Venezuelan NGO 100% Estrogeno published a statement calling for Vannesa Rosales’s trial to be just and in accordance with the law, in support of this defender of sexual and reproductive rights. The full statement can be found here in Spanish. It was signed by 96 Venezuelan groups, 88 groups in other Latin American countries and 19 regional and international groups. We hope to publish an English translation in the next newsletter.

SOURCES: Front Line Defenders, 23 December 2020 ; 100% Estrogeno