The Constitution and Human Rights
The Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, enacted by popular referendum in 1999, includes important advances in the area of human rights. (A version of the constitution in English can be found here.) Those advances are outlined in the following articles:
Article 2: “Venezuela constitutes itself as a Democratic and Social State of Law and Justice, which holds as superior values of its legal order and actions those of life, liberty, justice, equality, solidarity, democracy, social responsibility and, in general, the preeminence of human rights, ethics and political pluralism.”
Article 23: “The treaties, pacts and conventions relating to human rights which have been executed and ratified by Venezuela have a constitutional rank, and prevail over internal legislation, insofar as they contain provisions concerning the enjoyment and exercise of such rights that are more favorable than those established by this Constitution and the laws of the Republic, and shall be immediately and directly applied by the courts and other organs of the Public Power.”
Indigenous groups and communities are formally recognized in Venezuela’s 1999 Constitution. The 1961 Constitution did not include the official use of indigenous languages, while the 1999 Constitution not only recognizes them, but elevates them to the level of the nation’s cultural heritage and of humanity.
Article 9: “Spanish is the official language. The use of native languages also has official status for native peoples, and must be respected throughout the territory of the Republic, as constituting part of the cultural heritage of the Nation and humanity.”
Article 119: “The State recognizes the existence of native peoples and communities, their social, political and economic organization, their cultures, practices and customs, languages and religions, as well as their habitat and original rights to the lands they ancestrally and traditionally occupy, and which are necessary to develop and guarantee their way of life. It shall be the responsibility of the National Executive, with the participation of the native peoples, to demarcate and guarantee the right to collective ownership of their lands, which shall be inalienable, not subject to the law of limitations or distrait, and nontransferable, in accordance with this Constitution and the law.”
When the Constituent Assembly convened in 1999 to write a new constitution, women’s rights groups created a document articulating the proposals of women that fought all over the country against discrimination. Many of its proposals were included in the final text of the 1999 Constitution. In the constitution, Venezuelan women and their rights are present in language that is not gender-biased.
Article 21: “All persons are equal before the law, and, consequently, no discrimination based on race, sex, creed or social standing shall be permitted, nor, in general, any discrimination with the intent or effect of nullifying or encroaching upon the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on equal terms, of the rights and liberties of every individual.”
Article 88: “The State guarantees the equality and equitable treatment of men and women in the exercise of the right to work. The state recognizes work at home as an economic activity that creates added value and produces social welfare and wealth. Housewives are entitled to Social Security in accordance with law.”
Women’s participation in political life in Venezuela has grown enormously. In 2011, women held the top posts in three of the five branches of government. In the Electoral Power, Dr. Tibisay Lucena serves as president of the Electoral National Council. The Citizen’s Power is led by Attorney General Luisa Ortega, and the Supreme Tribunal of Justice is presided over by Dr. Luisa Estela Morales. More women have been elected to serve as deputies in Venezuela’s National Assembly than ever before.
Perhaps even more important is the role that women are playing Venezuela’s communal councils and social programs. Today, Venezuelan women have brought into the public arena themes that were before restricted to the private sector. They are passionately committed to the construction of a new social order of total equality and justice as expressed in the constitution.
Family and Children’s Rights
Likewise, the family, children and youth enjoy extensive rights in the 1999 Constitution.
Article 75: “The State shall protect families as a natural association in society, and as the fundamental space for the overall development of persons. Family relationships are based on equality of rights and duties, solidarity, common effort, mutual understanding and reciprocal respect among family members. The State guarantees protection to the mother, father or other person acting as head of a household.
Children and adolescents have the right to live, be raised and develop in the bosom of their original family. When this is impossible or contrary to their best interests, they shall have the right to a substitute family, in accordance with law. Adoption has effects similar to those of parenthood, and is established in all cases for the benefit of the adoptee, in accordance with law. International adoption shall be subordinated to domestic adoption.”
Article 78: “Children and adolescents are full legal persons and shall be protected by specialized courts, organs and legislation, which shall respect, guarantee and develop the contents of this Constitution, the law, the Convention on Children’s Rights and any other international treaty that may have been executed and ratified by the Republic in this field. The State, families and society shall guarantee full protection as an absolute priority, taking into account their best interest in actions and decisions concerning them. The State shall promote their progressive incorporation into active citizenship, and shall create a national guidance system for the overall protection of children and adolescents.”
Article 79: “Young people have the right and duty to be active participants in the development process. The State, with the joint participation of families and society, shall create opportunities to stimulate their productive transition into adult life, including in particular training for and access to their first employment, in accordance with law.”
Rights of the Elderly and the Disabled
It is important to emphasize that the elderly and the disabled are also included in the constitution’s legal framework.
Article 80: “The State shall guarantee senior citizens the full exercise of their rights and guarantees. The State, with the solidary participation of families and society, is obligated to respect their human dignity, autonomy and to guarantee them full care and social security benefits to improve and guarantee their quality of life. Pension and retirement benefits granted through the social security system shall not be less than the urban minimum salary. Senior citizens* shall be guaranteed to have the right to a proper work, if they indicate a desire to work and are capable to.”
Article 81: “Any person with disability or special needs has the right to the full and autonomous exercise of his or her abilities and to its integration into the family and community. The State, with the solidary participation of families and society, guarantees them respect for their human dignity, equality of opportunity and satisfactory working conditions, and shall promote their training, education and access to employment appropriate to their condition, in accordance with law. It is recognized that deaf persons have the right to express themselves and communicate through the Venezuelan sign language.”