On March 31, 2017, Bolivarian National Guard (GNB) soldiers reportedly clashed violently with students participating in a march, protesting a controversial ruling by the Supreme Court to restrict the legislative powers of the National Assembly. Andrés Oliveros and Rafael Álvarez, both students from the Central University of Venezuela, were reportedly detained during the march.
On March 29, the Supreme Court issued a ruling through which it indefinitely assumed the National Assembly’s legislative functions, ostensibly based on accusations that members of opposition parties had been elected to the body improperly. The ruling sparked major controversy in Venezuela and abroad, with critics charging that it would provide President Nicolas Maduro with unchecked executive power. Protests erupted in Caracas almost immediately in response to the ruling.
In the early morning of March 31, at least 50 students from the Central University of Venezuela set out on a march to the Supreme Court to protest the ruling. Reports indicate that GNB soldiers on the scene used violent force in an effort to disperse the students, as well as journalists covering the protest. GNB soldiers reportedly detained Mr. Oliveros and Mr. Álvarez, along with a journalist during the protest.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the use of force and detention of students in an apparent attempt to retaliate for 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.