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Venezuelan official disputes report on human rights abuses

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Venezuelan official: OAS panel's report is an attempt to "weaken democratic institutions"
  • Report was released by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
  • Report: Government often intimidates or punishes citizens based on political beliefs
  • Data actually show decline in rights violations, official maintains
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(CNN) -- Venezuela's top human rights official on Thursday disputed findings of a report issued by an Organization of American States commission, and accused the panel of unfairly distorting statistics to show a pattern of political repression and abuses by the government.

The report, released Wednesday by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, said Venezuela's government often intimidates or punishes citizens based on their political beliefs.

At a news conference in Caracas, Ombudswoman Gabriela Ramirez said the report "attempts, once again, to discredit and weaken the democratic institutions of the state," and accused the OAS of lacking impartiality, according to the official ABN news agency.

Ramirez accused the IACHR of taking some statistics out of context and using others selectively, which she said "takes away credibility and shows that bias of this organization," the news agency reported.

The data actually show, she said, that human rights violations in Venezuela have decreased, placing it among the region's top performers in this area.

Among the report's strongly worded conclusions is that "the commission considers alarming the number of cases of extra-judicial executions; torture; forced disappearances; death threats; abuse of authority; and cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment meted out by agents of the Venezuelan state."

The 319-page report says a lack of independence by Venezuela's judiciary and legislature in their dealings with leftist President Hugo Chavez often leads to the abuses.

"The report finds that not all individuals are ensured full enjoyment of their rights irrespective of their positions on government policies," the human rights panel said. "The commission also finds that the punitive power of the state is being used to intimidate or punish people on account of their political opinions. The commission believes that conditions do not exist for human rights defenders and journalists to be able to freely carry out their work."

Chavez's critics say his government represses political opponents and the expression of free ideas by jailing critics on trumped-up charges or pulling licenses for TV and radio stations and shutting down newspapers.

The report appeared to back many of those claims.

"The commission has identified that, while Venezuela continues to hold elections with great frequency, there are certain obstacles that impair opposition candidates' equal opportunity to be elected, as well as some limitations that check the exercise of power by popularly elected authorities, when they are not members of officialdom," the report states.

The report also says there is "the existence of a pattern of impunity in cases of violence, which particularly affects media workers, human rights defenders, trade unionists, participants in public demonstrations, people held in custody, 'campesinos' (small-scale and subsistence farmers), indigenous people, and women."

Read the IACHR report

The report gives credit to Chavez's government for observing citizens' rights with regard to economic, social and cultural matters. But that does not give the government permission to trample human rights, the panel said.

"The commission emphasizes that observance of other fundamental rights cannot be sacrificed for the sake of realizing economic, social and cultural rights in Venezuela," the report states.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is an autonomous panel created by the Organization of American States. The commission consists of seven independent members, elected by the OAS General Assembly, who act in a personal capacity, without representing a particular country.