On February 12, 2020, unidentified individuals discharged tear gas during a master class at the Central University of Venezuela (UVC) Law School in an apparent effort to prevent students from discussing a court ruling’s impact on the university autonomy.
Once the tear gas was discharged, UVC’s Law School facilities were evacuated by security personnel, who reported no injuries. Regular academic activities resumed shortly thereafter.
Students at universities across Venezuela have held protests against Sentence 0324, an August 2019 ruling by the Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ), which, among other things, ordered UCV and other public universities to hold internal elections within six months; ordered universities to weigh votes equally across students, faculty, administrators, and staff; and suspended articles 31, 32, and 65 of the Universities Law, which specify that faculty and leadership appointments are voted upon by their respective peers. Students and administrators at UVC and across the country have rejected Sentence 0324 on the basis that the ruling threatens university autonomy and undermines already established university policy.
Six days after the first tear gas incident, on February 18, another round of tear gas was dispersed in the lower corridors of UVC’s Law School facilities, where the administrative offices are located. Students and faculty, along with Rector Cecilia García Arocha, evacuated the premises. The assailants apparently targeted the administrative offices in order to disrupt an executive leadership meeting. As of this report, perpetrators have yet to be identified in connection with the attacks.
Carlos Fernandez, Secretary of the Federation of University Centers of the UCV (FCU-UCV), alleged that both attacks were conducted by pro-government groups seeking to intimidate university officials, students, and faculty opposed to the TSJ’s ruling.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the use of violence against students and faculty apparently intended to restrict academic freedom and free expression—conduct that is expressly protected by international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Venezuela is a party. State authorities have an obligation to ensure the safety of students, to investigate attacks, and to hold perpetrators accountable. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, such acts undermine academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.