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Human Rights Activist and Legal Scholar Imprisoned in Venezuela


Rocío San Miguel. Photo credit: NBC News


Rocío San Miguel, a human rights activist, lawyer, and scholar, was detained by Venezuelan authorities on February 9 at the airport of the capital city, Caracas. For four days after her arrest, neither her whereabouts, nor those of some of her family members who were detained alongside her, could be confirmed. The early days of San Miguel’s arrest followed the pattern of forced disappearances, not uncommon in Venezuela.[1] On February 13, San Miguel’s lawyers confirmed that she was under arrest and was being held at the Helicoide prison, which is notorious for its history of brutality, mistreatment, and high number of political prisoners.[2] Venezuelan authorities announced that she was being held under charges of treason, conspiracy, and terrorism.[3]

 

Having previously held academic positions at institutions like The Metropolitan University at Caracas and the Central University of Venezuela teaching law and human rights, San Miguel is now heading the non-governmental organization “Citizen Control” (Control Ciudadano), which reports on human rights issues such as police brutality and extrajudicial killings by the armed forces. Rocío San Miguel also specializes in international law, and has been a critic of the Venezuelan government and its lack of commitment to upholding human rights, especially in relation to the Rome Statute.[4] The Rome Statute is the treaty that established the International Criminal Court, which is tasked with investigating and prosecuting individuals suspected of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and crimes of aggression. Venezuela ratified the treaty on June 7, 2000.

 

Members of the international community have spoken out against the arrest of San Miguel. United Nations Human Rights Office condemned the arrest in a statement made over the social media platform X, suggesting the possibility that the arrest constitutes a case of forced disappearance.[5] In response to this statement, the Venezuelan government shut down the local office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and told staff to leave within 72 hours.[6] The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights also denounced the decision in a public statement on social media.[7]

 

In recent years, academics who have spoken out against the authoritarian regime in Venezuela have been similarly repressed. Cases include that of Santiago Guevara, who was arrested on March 3, 2017 under charges of treason and incitement to rebellion, after writing opinion pieces on economic and political conditions in Venezuela in a Spanish newspaper.[8] The level of academic freedom in Venezuela is amongst the lowest in the region, ranking the third-worst country after Nicaragua and Cuba in the Academic Freedom Index of the Varieties of Democracy Institute.

 

Endangered Scholars Worldwide (ESW) is deeply concerned about the state of human rights and academic freedom in Venezuela. We join the members of the international community in the condemnation of the arrest of Rocío San Miguel. ESW further calls upon the Venezuelan government to immediately release San Miguel and end the prosecution and persecution of critical voices including academics.


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