[JURIST] Thousands of protesters filled the streets of Caracas, Venezuela on Thursday to voice their opposition to 69 constitutional amendments [JURIST report] proposed by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez [BBC Profile]. The proposed reforms, which will be put to a national referendum on Sunday, would extend the presidential term from six to seven years, eliminate the limit on the number of terms a president may serve, bring the currently independent Central Bank under the control of the government, and give the government greater authority to expropriate private property without court approval. Earlier this month, the Venezuelan National Assembly approved [JURIST report] the reforms by a 160-7 vote, clearing the way for the two-part national referendum on December 2.
Chavez has touted the constitutional changes as necessary to advance Venezuela's socialist revolution, and planned to lead rallies for those in favor of the amendments on Friday. Human Rights Watch has warned that the reforms would violate international law [press release] by allowing the president to suspend due process guarantees during times of emergency. Opposition politicians have accused Chavez[JURIST report] of using the constitutional reforms to consolidate his power over Venezuela. Former Venezuelan Defense Minister Raul Baduel has also spoken out against the constitutional reforms [JURIST report]. AP has more. El Universal has local coverage, in Spanish.
11/30/07 – Human Rights Watch Thursday criticized the proposed constitutional amendments as threatening fundamental human rights. According to the HRW statement:
The proposed changes would eliminate the constitutional prohibition on suspending due process guarantees during states of emergency. They would also eliminate specific time limits on states of emergency, giving the president de facto power to suspend due process and other basic rights indefinitely.
Human Rights Watch is particularly concerned that these provisions could lead to suspension of fundamental rights in violation of international law, as the proposed amendments would also eliminate the requirement that such restrictions "meet the requirements, principles, and guarantees established in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the American Convention on Human Rights."