Gender Analysis, sexual and gender based violence in the UN Fact Finding Mission on Venezuela
By Quiteria Franco
The United Nations Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela in its report published this Wednesday, September 16, “found reasonable grounds to believe that the Venezuelan authorities and security forces have planned and carried out serious human rights violations since 2014, some of which – including arbitrary executions and the systematic use of torture – constitute crimes of Against humanity,”
What is the United Nations fact-finding mission for Venezuela?
In resolution 42/25, of September 27, 2019, the Human Rights Council established an Independent Mission to Determine the Facts about the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela to investigate the following: 1) extrajudicial executions, 2) enforced disappearances, 3) arbitrary detentions and 4) torture and other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment since 2014, in order to ensure full accountability of the perpetrators and justice for the victims. The Human Rights Council requested the fact-finding Mission to report on its findings during an interactive dialogue at its 45th session, in September 2020.
The Mission investigated 223 cases, 48 of which are included as comprehensive case studies in the 443-page Spanish and 411-page English report presented in eight chapters. Additionally, the Mission examined 2,891 other cases to corroborate the patterns of violations and crimes.
The Mission identified highly coordinated patterns of violations and crimes in accordance with State policies and part of a generalized and systematic course of conduct, thus constituting crimes against humanity.
The state security forces in their multiple bodies, namely the National Police, local, regional and municipal police, GNB, CICPC, SEBIN, DGCIM, FAES are identified as the perpetrators of these crimes against humanity. Nicolas Maduro, Diosdado Cabello, Reverol and Padrino López as responsible for ordering, financing or ordering these human rights violations.
“The Mission found reasonable grounds to believe that the Venezuelan authorities and security forces have planned and carried out serious human rights violations since 2014, some of which – including arbitrary executions and the systematic use of torture – constitute crimes of Against humanity, ”said Marta Valiñas, president of the Mission.
Here I am going to focus only on chapter VI entitled Analysis of gender, sexual and gender violence; and within this chapter point II. Assessment of sexual violence perpetrated in the context of the Mission’s mandate, letter A. Homophobic and sexist insults during acts of violence investigated by the Mission.
The Mission stated that in Venezuela “Patriarchal roles and stereotypes emphasize the ideal woman as a mother figure within the domestic sphere, and sexualize young women outside this role. Stereotypes also apply to men through the continued prevalence of machismo, which demands an exaggerated masculinity rooted in a man’s role to defend his family, and, by extension, his homeland. Machista stereotypes weaponize homophobia and misogyny to discredit male opponents by insinuating their homosexuality or femininity, both of which connote weakness and defenselessness.These gender roles and stereotypes are reinforced during the perpetration of violence.”
The Mission investigated 45 incidents of sexual violence perpetrated in the context of violations and crimes documented in the report. The 45 incidents included 89 specific acts of sexual violence, as listed below. Many of the incidents involved multiple victims.3487 Of these incidents, nine occurred in the context of demonstrations, 34 occurred during the interrogation or detention of targeted dissidents or opponents, and two occurred during security operations.
Seventy-four percent of the incidents involved sexual violence against men, and 30% involved sexual violence against women.
The cases investigated and verified by the Mission are consistent with wider reporting trends on sexual and gender-based violence in Venezuela from 2014 to 2019, which still cannot be considered exhaustive, due to the likelihood of underreporting. Revictimization by public and judicial officials, lack of support for victims during accountability processes, lack of trust in law enforcement and prosecution services, and fear of reprisals, often stemming from explicit and implicit threats were all factors likely to contribute to underreporting.
Mission investigations indicate that the use of sexual violence as a repressive technique during coercive circumstances such as arrest and detention is pervasive, and perpetrated by a number of different security services without adequate investigation, prosecution or sanction.
The acts of sexual and gender-based violence documented by the Mission included:
Rape, using body parts or objects (three confirmed instances)
- Threats to rape individuals, or have others rape them (19 confirmed instances, multiple victims during group detentions)
- Threats of rape or other gender violence against victims’ female loved ones (five confirmed instances)
- Sexual violence, including e.g. groping of breasts, buttocks and genitals, spanking (ten confirmed instances)
- Forced nudity, including for prolonged periods (23 confirmed instances, multiple additional victims during group detentions)
- Targeted violence against genitals (male and female), breasts or abdomens (female), including targeted beatings or the delivery of electric shocks (24 confirmed instances).
- Invasive and unnecessary body searches (male and female) of detainees or visitors (five confirmed instances, multiple additional victims)
Seven incidents involving multiple victims occurred when GNB or PNB officials arrested demonstrators. In these incidents, officials used sexual violence to punish demonstrators for their participation in protests. These incidents included the rape of at least two male protesters and the sexual assault of several female protesters.3495 Additionally, GNB and PNB officials threatened to rape both male and female arrestees, including members of the LGBTI population.3496 For example, a witness arrested in 2014 told the Mission that GNB officials held a transgender woman protester with the male detainees, threatening to rape her when she went to the bathroom.
- Homophobic and Sexist Insults during Acts of Violence Investigated by the Mission
The Mission documented at least 18 cases, generally with multiple victims, in which SEBIN, DGCIM, GNB, PNB and FAES officials used homophobic and sexist insults against both male and female individuals while perpetrating acts investigated by the Mission, including sexual violence.
These acts occurred during home raids, arrests, interrogations and detention. In several particularly violent episodes, officials attacked the masculinity of male victims during acts of rape or other severe sexual violence, equating being a “filthy” “traitor” with male homosexuality and weakness.
Expressions of femininity and male homosexuality are considered culturally incompatible with military and police identity,3498 and DGCIM, in particular, used machista concepts of masculinity to humiliate and degrade military dissidents during interrogation. Additionally, the Military Justice Code continues to criminalize homosexual acts, and punish them with imprisonment and dismissal from the armed forces.3499 A witness told the Mission that a female official who regularly asphyxiated detainees would say things like, “these are men who claim to be commandos, let’s see what kind of wood they’re made from.”
A civilian detainee told the Mission that an officer told him that since he was a mariquita (faggot), they would only apply 220 volts of electricity rather than 440, before applying electric shocks to his naked body.3501 One military detainee told the Mission how DGCIM officials would subject new prisoners to a ‘game’ called “breastfeeding”. They beat naked detainees with a bat with the word “teta” (tit) written on it. Officials also attached the bat perpendicularly to a wall and pushed the naked men backwards towards it, with the aim of anally penetrating them.
In other cases, DGCIM and SEBIN officials attacked men’s social identity by threatening to rape or otherwise harm their female relatives.3503 One man told the Mission that these threats made him feel guilty and ashamed he had not done enough to protect his family.
Likewise, officials punished women for participating in demonstrations or otherwise behaving in ways that departed from patriarchal gender expectations. For example, during the arbitrary detention of a 13-year-old girl in Zulia in 2017, PNB officers groped her breasts, crotch and buttocks, while calling her a whore for “hanging around so many men” in the protest that day.3505 A GNB official held a gun to a woman’s head during a protest in Táchira in 2014 while another told him to “Kill that bitch.” Officials poured vinegar onto her face and beat her, calling her a bitch and a “guarimbera hija de puta” (protesting daughter of a whore).3506 In SEBIN custody, a guard accused a woman of behaving promiscuously for talking with her male friends during visiting hours, and punished her by removing her visitation rights.
The Mission also documented cases in which security officials insulted mothers, wives and girlfriends, blaming them for the execution of their male relatives, or for other acts of violence.
By weaponizing gender roles and stereotypes during the perpetration of the violations under consideration in this report, State officials generated additional severe physical, psychological and moral harm to victims. This discriminatory rhetoric seemed to echo homophobic and sexist statements by high-ranking public officials during the period under review.
- Additional cases of violence witnessed by detainees
Some men and women interviewed by the Mission witnessed acts of sexual and nonsexual violence perpetrated against women detained for non-political reasons.
In SEBIN El Helicoide, the women’s cell was located directly under an office used by SEBIN officials to torture detainees, from which the women could hear what occurred in the office above. Several women who had been detained there described the range of torture they regularly overheard against both men and women, including beatings, electric shocks and asphyxiation with plastic bags.3510 On one occasion, SEBIN officials asked the women if they had any extra bags, which they then used to asphyxiate victims.3511 They also saw the battered detainees as they were brought through the hallway into the detention area after the abuses.
Two witnesses told the Mission about an incident which occurred in December 2015 in which they overheard the rape of a female detainee in the office above them.3512 They told the Mission they heard an official tell the woman to “turn over” or “get on your knees”, because it was her “turn”. They then heard her cries of pain. One witness had to move to another area of the cell because she could not bear to listen. The victim was later brought into the women’s cell, where she confirmed that she had been raped. One witness described that hearing a woman being raped was like torture for all the women in the cell.
- Access to justice
Most of the women and men whose cases are mentioned here chose not to make complaints for fear of reprisals, stigmatization, and distrust in the legal system.3514 The young man raped by a GNB officer in February 2014 complained publicly and officially about the violence perpetrated against him and the other detainees. Rather than providing victim support or undertaking an effective investigation, the Attorney General made public statements discrediting him and casting doubt upon his accusations. His case was widely discussed in traditional and social media, causing him and his family significant retraumatization.3515 It is possible that this discouraged many subsequent victims of sexual violence from reporting.
Members of the LGBTQI population who spoke to the Mission said additional barriers kept sexual minorities from filing complaints about state officials.3516 One advocate of LGBTQI rights stated, “In Venezuela, we are afraid to make formal complaints. This fear is even stronger when you are homosexual. You will not go to a prosecutor’s office and tell them you were tortured for being homosexual. That process signifies revictimization. You know they will make fun of you. As a lesbian woman, as a gay man, even more so if you are transgender.”
This chapter of the report of the United Nations Fact-finding Mission provides painful examples of what we presented to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 2015 during the 154th period of sessions, during our appearance we denounced Nicolás Maduro and other members of his government as promoters of a homophobic state that was exacerbating patriarchal vices such as machismo, homophobia that could be very harmful to Venezuelan society. By then we requested paying attention to this negative trend. Subsequently, we made the same complaint in United Nations in 2015 and 2016, within the framework of the evaluation of Venezuela on compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and during the Second Cycle of the Universal Periodic Review.
As mentioned by the Mission, it is presumed that there are many more victims who refrain from reporting out of fear, shame or distrust. It is good to recognize the courage of each victim, I hope that one day we can achieve justice and reparation for each and every one of the victims of these dark times for our country.