Human Rights Watch Oral Statement at the 16th Session of the Human Rights Council
March 8, 2011

(Geneva) - Human Rights Watch would like to thank the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) for its Opinion 20/2010 on the arbitrary detention of Judge María Lourdes Afiuni of Venezuela.

The decision to prosecute Judge Afiuni for upholding Venezuelan and international law is a blow to the rule of law in Venezuela. Immediately after Judge Afiuni's arrest in December 2009 for allowing the conditional release of an individual whose detention had been considered arbitrary by the WGAD, President Hugo Chávez publicly called her a "bandit" and said she should be sentenced to 30 years in prison. The trial proceeded on several charges, including corruption, even though prosecutors explicitly stated that Afiuni had not received any payment or promise of payment. The judge who will try her has openly supported President Chávez, stating that he "would never betray ... [his] Commander because [he] take[s] the Revolution in [his] blood."

Judge Afiuni was held in deplorable conditions in a violent women's prison in Caracas for over a year, where she has repeatedly been insulted and threatened by other inmates. There is no separation between unconvicted and convicted prisoners, including some who were tried before her. In addition, Judge Afiuni did not receive adequate medical treatment during her detention. Due to health problems, she was authorized house arrest on February 2, 2011, but she must comply with weekly presentations before authorities and may not communicate with the national and international press.

Judge Afiuni remains arbitrarily detained, and now forcibly silenced, in her house. Given the context of her detention, and the dramatic erosion of judicial independence in Venezuela, it is very difficult to expect that she will get a fair trial.

We acknowledge the important role by the WGAD and respectfully urge it to keep monitoring closely the case of Judge María Lourdes Afiuni and to press the government of Venezuela to drop all charges against her.