March 28, 2018 / 3:57 PM / 25 days ago

Parliamentary body demands Venezuela halt 'harassment' of opposition MPs

GENEVA (Reuters) - The world body linking national parliaments called on authorities in Venezuela on Wednesday to halt “harassment” of opposition MPs and efforts to undermine and usurp the powers of the opposition-led National Assembly.

The opposition in 2015 won a broad majority in the legislative elections, but President Nicolas Maduro’s allies on the Supreme Court stripped it of many of its powers and systematically shot down every piece of legislation it approved.

Maduro last year led the creation of a legislative superbody called the Constituent Assembly, which has no formal checks on its powers. Its creation led many countries around the world to describe Maduro as a dictator, a charge he dismisses as part of a campaign against him by the United States.

The Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), whose general assembly in Geneva this week was attended by 147 parliamentary delegations, recognises the National Assembly and not the Constituent Assembly.

In a statement, the IPU’s Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians denounced “the scale of ongoing efforts, with apparent immunity, to repress opposition members and undermine the integrity and autonomy of the National Assembly of Venezuela.”

It had received credible and serious allegations of human rights violations affecting 57 Venezuelan parliamentarians from the coalition of the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD). “Since March 2017, close to 40 parliamentarians were attacked with impunity by law enforcement officers and pro-government supporters during demonstrations”, it said.

In Caracas, Venezuelan authorities did not respond to a request for comment.

Last week the International Labour Organization (ILO) launched a commission of inquiry into complaints that Venezuela is violating standards including freedom of association and workers’ rights to organise.

“In Venezuela these days, they are moving from crisis to crisis,” Martin Chungong, IPU President, told a news briefing.

“The legitimately elected parliamentary institution is being subverted - the National Assembly that was elected by the people - is being subverted by an institution that is not largely recognised internationally, the Constituent Assembly,” he said.

The Venezuelan delegation to the IPU assembly was composed of parliamentarians from the National Assembly.

“Many of them expressed the concern that when they return to Venezuela they might be arrested at the airport on account of their participation in this meeting,” Chungong said.

“So far, I think that the Venezuelan authorities have not gone that far as to really arrest systematically members of parliament,” he added. “But given what is happening in the country, you cannot rule that possibility out.”

Reporting and writing by Stephanie Nebehay; additional reporting by Girish Gupta in Caracas; editing by Richard Balmforth

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