San Jose and Washington D.C, March 2nd, 2012. Venezuela has failed in its obligation to protect the life of human rights defender Joe Luis Castillo González, who was murdered in August 2003. Joe Castillo was the General Coordinator of the Social Action and Human Rights office of the Vicariato Apostólico de Machiques (Apostolic Vicariate of Manchiques). He gave legal assistance to people seeking asylum and refuge in the border area and also worked as a human rights defender in struggles over land tenure. The attack that ended his life took place while he was driving his car in the state of Zulia, Venezuela, accompanied by his wife Yelitze and his one and a half year old son, Luis Cesar.
The attack was denounced by the victim´s representatives: the Human Rights Vicariate of Caracas, attorney Carlos Ayala and the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) in a public hearing today before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Costa Rica.
The hearing also exposed the vulnerability facing human rights defenders working in the border area between Venezuela and Colombia. Zulia state is known for its illegal activities, struggles involving farmers and indigenous people and a high presence of Colombian refugees, underlined expert Michael Reed. “Any investigation must take this context in to account”, he noted.
In her testimony before the Court, Yelitze Moreno denounced that her husband’s murder remains unpunished: "We have had no response from the authorities. In one of the visits we made to the prosecutor’s office, we found out that the case had been closed, and we found out just like that.”
In her closing arguments, Viviana Krsticevic, Executive Director of CEJIL, denounced that Venezuela hadn´t taken the appropriate protective measures for these circumstances: “Whenever there is a blatant risk, the State is called to protect those at risk, especially if they are human rights defenders.”
“The State didn’t apply any of the following measures that could have prevented this tragedy: a risk evaluation of vulnerable groups, the implementation of public policies in a context of systematic violence, national mechanisms for the protection of human rights defenders, awareness campaigns about the work of defenders…” noted Krsticevic.
The representatives also requested a diligent investigation into the facts to determine who is responsible. This call was echoed by Joe Castillo’s wife. With regards to her son she said: “He asked why his dad had been murdered but we still can’t answer him because we don’t know.”
The representatives of the victims requested that the Inter-American Court establish standards for the implementation of public policies that protect the work of human rights defenders in Venezuela, so that they can be used as a model for the rest of the continent.
The Court is expected to issue a judgment in the summer of 2012.
To watch the video of the public hearing click here: