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UN rights experts concerned over proposed Venezuela constitutional reforms

[JURIST] Three United Nations human rights experts joined together Friday to voice their distress over the effect planned constitutional reforms [JURIST report] in Venezuela may have on civil liberties and the rule of law in the country. Ambeyi Ligabo, Special Rapporteur on Freedom of opinion and expression; Hina Jilani, the UN Secretary-General's Special Representative on Human Rights Defenders; and Leandro Despouy, Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers [official websites] expressed their views on the proposals in a statement [text] released by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights:

We are concerned about some provisions of the constitutional reform that was approved by the National Assembly of Venezuela on 3 November 2007 and that will be subject to a referendum on 2 December 2007, in a context where the security of journalists and participants to public demonstrations against the reform is seriously undermined. ...

Furthermore, the constitutional reform might harm the independence of the judiciary, since it is proposed that the dismissal of the Supreme Court's judges would be decided by a simple majority vote of the National Assembly, instead of the two third majority as currently stated in the Constitution.

We call upon the Venezuelan government to firmly commit to the protection of the full set of human rights, safeguarding the institutional guarantees that ensure that democracy and the rule of law will be upheld at all times.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez [BBC profile] used a political rally in Caracas Friday to urge the country to approve the reform measures in the referendum vote [BBC Q&A] to be held this Sunday. Chavez advocated his position by saying the measures would return political power to the people of Venezuela and also used the event as a warning against outside influence from the US. He threatened to cut off oil supplies if the US attempts to disturb the voting process.

The rally came a day after thousands of protesters [JURIST report] had filled the streets of Caracas to voice their opposition to 69 constitutional amendments [JURIST report] proposed by Chavez. The proposed reforms would extend the presidential term from six to seven years, eliminate the limit on the number of terms a president may serve, bring the currently independent Central Bank under the control of the government, and give the government greater authority to expropriate private property without court approval. Mercopress has more. BBC News has additional coverage.

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