On October 24, 2016, police violently clashed with students protesting the cancellation of a referendum to remove President Nicolas Maduro. At least 27 students were reportedly injured.
On October 20, Venezuela’s electoral authority announced that it had suspended a recall referendum against President Maduro, who has come under increasing criticism for threatening democratic systems and values. Students at universities across Venezuela organized demonstrations and marches on October 24 to protest the decision.
Students at the Central University of Venezuela (UCV) planned to march from campus to the Plaza Venezuela, in Caracas. Sources indicate that the march began peacefully, but a group of police officers stationed on the route to the plaza launched tear gas, used pepper spray, and shot buckshot at the students in an attempt to block their passage. 27 students were reportedly injured in the clashes.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the use of force against students in an apparent attempt to prevent the nonviolent exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association – conduct which is expressly protected under international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Venezuela is a party. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, such incidents have a chilling effect on academic freedom and institutional autonomy. State officials have a responsibility to protect academic freedom, freedom of expression, and freedom of association, and to refrain from interfering with these rights, so long as they are exercised peacefully and responsibly.