July 17, 2012

The Courts

Re-Packing the Supreme Court

The 1999 Bolivarian constitution sought to address the major shortcomings of Venezuela’s judicial system. Decades of rampant corruption and political meddling had left the country’s judiciary dysfunctional and profoundly discredited. The drafters of the constitution hoped to salvage the judicial branch by creating a new Supreme Court and establishing essential protections for judicial independence, thus laying the groundwork for the judiciary to fulfill its crucial role as guarantor of the rule of law and protector of basic rights. 

A Decade Under Chávez documented how President Chávez and his supporters in the National Assembly squandered this opportunity by carrying out a political takeover of the judiciary in 2004, expanding the Supreme Court from 20 to 32 members and filling the new seats with government supporters.

In September 2010, President Chávez’s supporters in the National Assembly moved to extend this control. Five days after the legislative elections—in which the pro-Chávez majority in the National Assembly was reduced from close to 100 percent to approximately 60 percent of the seats[1]—they modified a key article of the 2004 court-packing law to accelerate the process for naming new justices. While the original article granted individuals “at least” 30 days to present nominations, the revised version states that they now have “no more than” 30 days.[2] (The legislators claimed they were merely correcting “errors” in the text of a reformed version of the law that had been published earlier that year.) [3]

With the new rules in place, Chávez’s supporters were able to appoint their allies to the Supreme Court before the new Congress was installed. In December 2010, they selected nine new justices, including several former legislators from Chávez’s political party, former high-level government officials, and former ambassadors appointed by the Chávez administration.[4] (To create the new vacancies, the Supreme Court also gave several justices authorization to retire before the conclusion of their constitutional 12-year terms.)[5]

The political control over the Supreme Court translates directly into control over lower courts as well, as the Supreme Court effectively controls the appointment and removal of lower court judges.[6]  Since 2000, Venezuela’s Judicial Commission—currently made up of six justices from the packed Supreme Court—has used its discretionary powers to appoint and remove hundreds of lower court provisional or temporary judges through mechanisms that lack basic due process safeguards.[7] (Moreover, even though the 1999 constitution mandated the creation of disciplinary tribunals to oversee the work of permanent judges, the Supreme Court exercised such disciplinary powers for over a decade, until the new National Assembly appointed judges to the disciplinary tribunals in 2011.)[8]

The Judicial Commission has granted stability of tenure to hundreds of provisional and temporary judges.[9] In theory, this reduction in the number of provisional and temporary judgeships is a positive development. However, these new positions were not won through open competitions, as required by the Venezuelan constitution, but rather through promotions of provisional and temporary judges who had been appointed at the full discretion of the Judicial Commission.[10]

The Record of the Supreme Court Since 2004

Since the political takeover of the judiciary in 2004, the Supreme Court and lower courts have repeatedly failed to fulfill their role as checks on arbitrary state action and guarantors of basic rights. 

A Decade Under Chávez documented this failure in various high impact cases prior to 2008—including the 2004 court-packing law, [11] the sweeping constitutional reform proposals promoted by Chávez in 2007, [12] the closure of Radio Caracas Television (RCTV) in 2007, [13] the government’s interference in the union elections, [14] and a range of other cases involving the erosion of basic human rights guarantees. [15]

Since 2008, the judiciary has continued to abdicate its role as a check on arbitrary state action. According to the respected nongovernmental organization Venezuelan Program of Education and Action in Human Rights (Programa Venezolano de Educación - Acción en Derechos Humanos, PROVEA), in 2009 and 2010 the Supreme Court rejected or failed to adopt a decision on the merits in 90 percent of the cases in which individuals challenged actions by President Chávez, the National Assembly, and other state institutions controlled by Chávez supporters.[16] Similarly, a comprehensive study by a Venezuelan scholar found that, during an 18-month period between 2007 and 2008, the vast majority of cases handled by the Supreme Court’s Political Administrative Chamber, the highest body to hear petitions against the state, were decided in favor of the government. In over 80 percent of the 293 rulings in which petitioners asked the court to annul a government decision, the court ruled against the petitioners.[17]

Rejecting the Principle of Separation of Powers

In recent years, justices on the packed Supreme Court have openly rejected the notion of the judiciary as an independent branch of government. Instead of serving as a check on arbitrary state action, they have espoused the view that the role of the country’s courts is to support the political agenda of President Chávez.

For example, at the public ceremony initiating judicial activities for 2011, the keynote speaker, Justice Fernando Torre Alba, declared that the judiciary has the duty to participate in the effective implementation of the government’s public policy to develop “a deliberate and planned action to carry out a Bolivarian and democratic socialism” and that the courts “must severely…sanction behaviors or correct judicial cases that undermine the construction of [this] Socialism.”[18]

Later that year, Supreme Court President Luisa Estella Morales declared publicly that President Chávez’s “direction, inspiration, and conception of the Republic is what constitutionally inspires…our activities.” Addressing the president—whom she referred to as “our leader”—she said: “Here are all your institutions, and we are firmly moving forward with the responsibilities that you have given us, which we will never betray, not now, not ever.”[19]

More recently, in May 2012, while addressing newly appointed judges at their swearing-in ceremony, the Supreme Court president exhorted them to understand their role as adjudicators in terms of “our revolutionary project and of the change that is taking place in Venezuela today.”[20]

(This view of the judiciary’s role has not been limited to the Supreme Court. As discussed later in this chapter, the provisional judge in charge of the case against Judge María Lourdes Afiuni publicly declared his loyalty to President Chávez on the website of the president’s political party.“I give my life for the Revolution,” he wrote, “I would never betray this process and much less my Commander.”)

The rejection of the principle of separation of powers has been incorporated into case law as well. In a July 2009 ruling, the Supreme Court dismissed the “so-called division, distinction or separation of powers” as “the instrument of a liberal doctrine” established to “ensure that the State remained limited to the protection of individualist interests of the ruling class.”[21] The court held that this principle should not be understood to necessarily require a “homogeneous, exclusive, or excluding distribution…of tasks [and] powers” amongst branches of government.[22]

Rejecting Binding Rulings by the Inter-American Court

The Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that the Venezuelan government is not obliged to implement binding decisions of the region’s most authoritative human rights body, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

In December 2008, for example, the Supreme Court rejected a binding judgment in which the Inter-American Court had ordered Venezuela to reinstate four judges who had been arbitrarily removed from their positions and modify the existing mechanisms for appointing and removing judges.[23] The Inter-American Court had found that the removals and existing mechanisms undermined judicial independence in the country. But the Supreme Court dismissed the Inter-American Court’s ruling as “inadmissible” on the grounds that it “violate[d] the Venezuelan state’s sovereignty.”

In the ruling, the Supreme Court went so far as to recommend that the executive branch renounce Venezuela as a signatory to the American Convention on Human Rights, a treaty to which Venezuela has been a party since 1977. Such a measure would mean renouncing the country’s commitment to upholding the region’s foundational human rights treaty and denying Venezuelan citizens recourse to the region’s principal human rights enforcement mechanism. 

More recently, in October 2011, the Supreme Court rejected a binding judgment in which the Inter-American Court ordered Venezuela to allow opposition politician Leopoldo López to run for political office.[24] As discussed below, López was one of hundreds of politicians—most of whom were from the political opposition—who had been prohibited from seeking elected office as a result of corruption charges for which they had never been formally charged or convicted by a court of law. The Inter-American Court held that this prohibition constituted a violation of the right to run for political office, established in the American Convention on Human Rights.[25] 

Again the Supreme Court argued that implementation of the Inter-American Court judgment would violate Venezuelan sovereignty.[26] In so ruling, the Supreme Court disregarded the basic principle of international law that states may not invoke provisions of domestic law to justify failing to meet their obligations under the treaties they have ratified in good faith.[27]

Ruling against the Independence of NGOs

In July 2010, the Supreme Court issued a ruling that barred a nongovernmental organization that received foreign funding from presenting a legal challenge to government policies.[28] The ruling also established that individuals or organizations receiving foreign funding could be prosecuted for treason.

The ruling came in response to an appeal brought by Súmate, a nongovernmental organization that identifies its main purpose as “promot[ing] democracy” in Venezuela, challenging the legality of the sweeping 2009 constitutional reform referendum. Súmate challenged the fact that electoral authorities had failed to comply with applicable law regarding the process to publicize the referendum before it took place. Nonetheless, the court ruled that it could not evaluate the constitutionality of a constitutional referendum before it was approved.

The court also held that Súmate had no legal standing to bring the challenge given that the nongovernmental organization was partially funded by the National Endowment for Democracy, which is itself funded by the US Congress.[29]

Even more problematically, the court held that “obtaining financial resources, either directly or indirectly, from foreign states with the intent of using them against the Republic, the interests of the people, political, social, economic, or other acts, could constitute…treason.”[30] The ruling specifically cites Article 140 of the Criminal Code, which establishes a 10 to 15-year prison sentence for anyone “who collaborates directly or indirectly with a foreign country or Republic…or provides or receives money from them…that could be used against the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, the integrity of its territory, its republican institutions, citizens, or destabilizes the social order.”[31] While treason laws are permissible under international law, they cannot be overly broad—either in form or application—so that they can be applied arbitrarily, in a discriminatory manner, or as retaliation for the legitimate exercise of internationally protected fundamental rights, including the rights to peaceful expression, association, and assembly. The article in the Venezuelan Criminal Code on treason and the Supreme Court’s ruling do not comply with these basic safeguards.

As discussed further in the chapter on human rights defenders, the Supreme Court ruling could have serious negative implications for defenders in Venezuela who (like other defenders throughout Latin America) rely on foreign funding to finance their work. Under this ruling, they could be disqualified from bringing legal challenges to abusive state policies. Worse still, many are facing criminal complaints brought by supporters of President Chávez, and those complaints could now lead to criminal prosecution for alleged treason.

The Supreme Court’s ruling in this case runs counter to Venezuela’s obligation to refrain from imposing arbitrary limitations on the ability of nongovernmental organizations to solicit and receive funds for their activities. The United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders specifically states that “[e]veryone has the right, individually and in association with others, to solicit, receive and utilize resources for the express purpose of promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms through peaceful means.”[32] And, according to the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IACHR), civil society organizations may legitimately receive money from foreign or international NGOs or foreign governments to promote human rights.[33]

Ruling against Government Transparency

In November 2008, the nongovernmental organization Public Space (Espacio Público) asked the Comptroller General’s Office for information regarding the salaries earned by members of its staff, including the comptroller general himself. The office denied the request, claiming that releasing this information would entail “an invasion of the privacy of public officials, which would violate the rights to honor and privacy.”[34] Public Space appealed this decision to the Supreme Court.

The right to seek, receive, and impart information—recognized in the American Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights—encompasses a positive obligation of states to provide access to official information in a timely and complete manner. This obligation can only be overridden under circumstances clearly defined by law, in which the release of information could undermine the rights of others or the protection of national security, public order, or public health or morals. The Model Law on Access to Information—which was approved by the OAS General Assembly in June 2010—specifically states that every individual has the right to request information “without having to justify the reasons” for asking for it. It also states that the salaries of high-level officials, and the salary scales of all government officials, should be proactively disseminated by governments.[35]

Nonetheless, in July 2010, the Supreme Court rejected Public Space’s appeal on the grounds that “information regarding the salaries of public officials is part of the officials’ privacy” and that Public Space “did not demonstrate how the requested information would be useful for citizen participation in favor of transparency.”[36] In the ruling the Supreme Court also established additional restrictions on access to official information that are inconsistent with international norms regarding the right to information. These restrictions include requirements that requests for information from government offices must explicitly state the reasons for requesting such information and the purposes for which it will be used, and that the amount of required information should be proportionate to the use the party making the request would give to it, without specifying who would make such determination.[37] These overly broad and onerous requirements impose a burden on the individual to justify why he or she should be entitled to information, rather than placing the burden on the authorities to justify why certain information should be legitimately withheld. Furthermore, the restrictions open the opportunity for arbitrary and discriminatory determinations to be made.

Upholding Prior Censorship

In November 2010, the Supreme Court upheld state censorship of a series of political advertisements that criticized legislation being promoted by the Chávez government.[38] The proposed legislation sought to define, establish, and regulate the existence of “social property” in Venezuela. The advertisements included six 30-second spots in which ordinary citizens—including a housewife, a taxi driver, and a young woman working in a family-owned bakery—describe the effort they put into acquiring their property and conclude by committing to “defend” that property should someone try to take it away from them.[39]

In July 2009, the National Telecommunications Commission (Comisión Nacional de Telecomunicaciones, CONATEL) ordered TV and radio stations to stop broadcasting the spots immediately on the grounds that the ads “contain[ed] messages that could cause anguish, fear, and unrest in the population, which could encourage group actions to alter the public order that could threaten the security of the nation.”[40] CONATEL also prohibited the broadcast of any “similar” advertisements in the future.[41] Diosdado Cabello, then CONATEL’s director, publicly justified the decision on the grounds that “it is a crime to undermine the mental health of the population with this type of campaign.”[42]

The Center to Disseminate Economic Knowledge for Liberty (Centro de Divulgación del Conocimiento Económico para la Libertad, CEDICE), one of the nongovernmental organizations that prepared the campaign, appealed CONATEL’s decision to the Supreme Court, arguing it constituted prior censorship and infringed on their right to free speech.

Under international human rights law, a blanket ban on advertisements criticizing an official legislative proposal constitutes an unreasonable restriction on the right to free speech. As described in the last chapter of this report, Article 13 of the American Convention explicitly prohibits prior censorship. The Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression, adopted by the IACHR in 2000, explicitly prohibits “[p]rior conditioning of expressions, such as truthfulness, timeliness or impartiality,” and states that “[p]rior censorship, direct or indirect interference in or pressure exerted upon any expression, opinion or information transmitted through any means of oral, written, artistic, visual or electronic communication must be prohibited by law.” The declaration also states that “restrictions to the free circulation of ideas and opinions, as well as the arbitrary imposition of information and the imposition of obstacles to the free flow of information violate the right to freedom of expression.”

Nonetheless, the Supreme Court rejected the appeal, upholding CONATEL’s decision on the grounds that these spots “could affect democracy, peace, and human rights” and “could generate situations that could affect the general interest.” The court held that the right to free speech is “not absolute, and instead is limited by constitutional values and principles,” and that CONATEL had correctly restricted a “particular interest” to protect a “public” one.[43]  (Additionally, the court decided that CEDICE did not have standing to represent the right of Venezuelans to have access to information and that, being an organization and not a human being, it had no right to free speech.)

Upholding Presidential Power to Establish Crimes by Decree

The Inter-American Court has previously advised that basic rights should only be limited by a law issued by a legislative branch as opposed to one imposed through decree by the head of state.[44] Yet, in December 2010, the National Assembly authorized President Chávez to unilaterally establish crimes as part of an “enabling law” that granted him broad powers to legislate by decree for 18 months on a wide variety of issues during this period.[45]

In March 2011, Chávez used this authority to decree the reinstatement of a crime—involving the misappropriation of bank funds—that had been removed from a banking law by the National Assembly the previous December.[46] Shortly after the president’s decree, the Attorney General’s Office requested that the Supreme Court determine whether it could bring charges under the new legal provision against two men who had originally been charged under the old legislation (before the latter had been modified). The Supreme Court ruled that the prosecution could indeed proceed under the new provisions decreed by President Chávez.[47]

The reasoning offered by the Supreme Court to justify this ruling demonstrated a disturbingly cavalier attitude toward international human rights norms. The court maintained that the removal of the crime from the old law in December had been an illegitimate action on the grounds that—according to the court—banking crimes are “crimes against humanity” and thus could not be decriminalized. The court argued that, “an obligation to prosecute and sanction those responsible of crimes against humanity derives from general principles of international law.”[48]

International law does indeed oblige states to prosecute crimes against humanity. Yet the internationally recognized concept of “crimes against humanity”—which is clearly defined in multiple international instruments—does not cover banking crimes.[49]

Upholding the Government's Power to Impose Mandatory Broadcasts  

The Chávez government has for years made extensive use of its power to require private media to broadcast government spots and presidential speeches.[50] According to information provided by the Center for Communications Studies of the Catholic University Andrés Bello to the IACHR, “between February 1999 and July 2009, the Venezuelan communications media transmitted a total of 1,923 blanket presidential broadcasts, equivalent to…52 days of uninterrupted broadcasting of presidential messages.”[51] 

In 2007, Globovisión filed an appeal with the Supreme Court after the government required it to air several mandatory broadcasts between one and four times per day for a period of 10 to 30 days. One of the spots that was required shows images of the national flag and subsequent images of protestors with the national flag upside down, played along with audio of a song that says, “Those who turn around the Venezuelan flag are not good Venezuelans. They are villains who do not love Venezuela.”[52] Another spot celebrates the construction of a viaduct as an accomplishment of the Chávez administration, presenting smiling workers who praise the “progress [of] the Bolivarian Revolution.”[53]  Globovisión argued that the obligation to air these messages for free imposed excessive restrictions on its right to free speech. (It also alleged a violation of its right to “economic freedom.”)

Under international human rights norms, a government can require private media to broadcast official statements when these statements include information of general interest—but for such interference to be justified it must have a legitimate purpose, and the contents of the message should be necessary and proportionate to fulfill that aim. According to the IACHR, “the information that the president transmits to the public through blanket broadcasts should be that which is strictly necessary to serve urgent informational needs on subjects of clear and genuine public interest and during the time that is strictly necessary to transmit such information.[54] Moreover, according to the commission, [p]ermitting governments the unlimited use of independent communications media, under the justification of informing citizens about every issue related to the functioning of the state or about different issues that are not urgent or necessary and that the citizenry can obtain information about from other sources, leads to, in practice, the acceptance of the right of governments to impose upon the communications media the content that they must broadcast.[55]

Nonetheless, in May 2011, after a four-year delay, the Supreme Court rejected Globovisión’s appeal.[56] In a single paragraph, absent of any thorough analysis of the content of the mandatory messages, the court held that there was no violation of the right to free expression, and that failing to air these messages would “violate the people’s right to be informed about important issues and achievements of the state.” (In another brief paragraph, the court also held that Globovisión had not suffered any economic damage for having to air these messages, and that its obligation to air them was its “social duty toward the State and the people.”)

CONATEL has subsequently cited the Supreme Court’s ruling to order Globovisión to air additional mandatory broadcasts celebrating purported accomplishments by the Chávez administration.[57]

Ruling against the Right to Run For Office

In August 2008, the Supreme Court ruled that the decision by the Comptroller General’s Office to temporarily disqualify individuals accused of corruption from running for public office—before they were formally charged and convicted of a crime—was constitutional and compatible with the American Convention of Human Rights. This practice, however, violates the right to run for public office.

Under Venezuelan law, the comptroller general has discretionary powers to “suspend the responsible individual from his position without pay for up to 24 months…or to remove the individual from office…and…to bar the individual from occupying any public office for up to 15 years...”[58] As of May 2012, approximately 800 individuals had been politically disqualified by the Comptroller General’s Office, barring them from taking public office for one to fifteen years.[59] (At this writing, approximately 300 remained politically disqualified.)[60]

In 2005, Leopoldo López, a prominent opposition leader, and four other politicians who had been blocked from running for office by the Comptroller General’s Office on grounds of alleged financial improprieties appealed their cases to the Supreme Court.[61] In August 2008, two months before regional elections in which López was seeking to run for mayor, the Supreme Court rejected the appeal, holding that the comptroller general’s power to disqualify individuals did not violate their due process rights.[62] The following day, in a separate ruling, the Supreme Court held that these disqualifications were constitutional and compatible with the Inter-American human rights system.[63]

Yet, when the Inter-American Court subsequently examined the case, it found just the opposite. In a September 2011 judgment, the Inter-American Court ruled that López’s political disqualifications violated his right to seek election to public office.[64] The American Convention stipulates that a law may regulate political rights “only on the basis of age, nationality, residence, language, education, civil and mental capacity, or sentencing by a competent courtin criminal proceedings.”[65] The court found that none of these requirements had been met, and that López's disqualification constituted an undue restriction of his right to run for public office.[66]

Nonetheless, the following month, the Supreme Court refused to order that the Inter-American Court ruling be implemented. Supreme Court President Luisa Estella Morales stated in a press conference that the ruling was “impossible to execute” as it would require “backtracking” on Venezuela’s fight against corruption. She also said that while López could run for office, she could not comment on whether he would eventually be able to take office if elected because “the court cannot comment on events that have not occurred.”[67] She also stated that individuals who were politically disqualified by the comptroller could not hold public positions that require managing public funds.[68]

López, who had announced his presidential candidacy the previous year, stated in January 2012 that he would withdraw and would no longer participate in the opposition primaries. [69]

Ruling against the Independence of Lower Court Judges

The Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld case law stating that provisional and temporary judges may be removed from office at the sole discretion of the Judicial Commission of the Supreme Court, despite the fact that this undermines judicial independence.

A Decade Under Chávez documented how the Judicial Commission of the packed Supreme Court had summarily fired hundreds of judges who lacked security of tenure, extending the impact of the 2004 court-packing law to the entire judiciary. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the United Nations rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers have stated that these discretionary removals of judges run counter to Venezuela’s international human rights obligation to ensure judicial independence and increase the risk of undue interference in the judiciary.[70]

In response, the packed Supreme Court has repeatedly sought to justify giving its Judicial Commission such broad discretion by pointing out that provisional judges had not participated in the public competitions required to enter the judiciary and by stating that temporary appointments are necessary to keep the judiciary functional while it undergoes ongoing structural reform. However, neither explanation justifies the subjective and discretionary manner in which the choice of judges to remove or appoint was made. The 1999 constitution provides for a process of public competitions through which judges can be appointed, which could have been used. Such a framework provides the potential for objective, independent appointments to be reached. Instead, this process was circumvented to empower the Judicial Commission unfettered choice in the selection of judges.

For example, in the case of Yolanda del Carmen Vivas Guerrero, whose appointment as provisional judge in the state of Mérida was revoked in June 2005, the court ruled that, while tenured judges can only be removed or sanctioned after receiving an oral public hearing with full due process guarantees, provisional judges can be summarily fired at the discretion of the Judicial Commission.[71] This decision was cited as supporting precedent in subsequent rulings.[72]

Judge María Lourdes Afiuni

On December 10, 2009, Judge María Lourdes Afiuni was arrested after she authorized the conditional release of Eligio Cedeño—a prominent critic of President Chávez—who had been in prison awaiting trial on corruption charges for almost three years.[73]

Venezuelan law places a two-year limit on pretrial detention, and allows this period to be extended only in very exceptional circumstances—including when the delay in the trial has been caused by the defendant or his or her legal representatives.[74] In the Cedeño case, the delay had been the result of the lack of action by the Attorney General's Office.[75]

Venezuelan law allows judges to “substitute” the pretrial detention of a suspect with other “less burdensome” measures “whenever [the judge] considers it prudent.”[76]

The conditions for release that Judge Afiuni imposed on Cedeño included a requirement that he present himself before the court every 15 days and a prohibition on leaving the country.[77] To ensure his compliance, she also ordered him to turn over his passport.[78] 

In granting the conditional release, Judge Afiuni was complying with a recommendation by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which had determined that Cedeño’s prolonged detention was arbitrary given that the delay in his trial had been caused by the prosecution. The working group had also concluded that there was no evidence to assume Cedeño would flee, noting that he had voluntarily presented himself before the court when the case against him began in 2007. The working group had urged Venezuelan authorities to grant Cedeño provisional liberty.[79]

Immediately after issuing the decision, Afiuni was arrested on charges of having committed a crime when granting conditional liberty to Cedeño (the actual arrest warrant was issued later that day, according to her defense team).[80]

The following day, President Chávez denounced Judge Afiuni as a “bandit” on national television and called for her to be sentenced to 30 years in prison, the maximum sentence possible in Venezuela.[81] A few days later, he said she was “correctly jailed” and reiterated that she should be given a maximum sentence, adding that he “would give her 35 years.”[82]

A week after Afiuni's arrest, after spending a few days in hiding, Cedeño fled the country. He left Venezuela on a boat to an island and flew from there to the United States in a private plane. He immediately sought asylum, which was granted to him in May 2011.[83]

Dubious Criminal Charges

In January 2010, prosecutors charged Judge Afiuni with corruption, abuse of authority, and “favoring evasion of justice.” Prosecutors provided no credible evidence to substantiate the charges. 

With regards to the corruption charge, prosecutors acknowledged at a later hearing that Judge Afiuni had not received any money or benefit in exchange for her action—which is a central component of the crime of corruption.[84] According to prosecutors, Judge Afiuni’s decision was “in benefit of a third party and not herself, that is, the benefit was obtained by Eligio Cedeño, who was freed.”[85] In other words, the alleged illicit exchange was between Cedeño (who was granted release) and Cedeño (who benefited from being granted the release). By this logic, any ruling by a judge that benefits a criminal defendant could result in the criminal prosecution of the judge. 

With regards to the abuse of authority charge, prosecutors pointed to the fact that Judge Afiuni had adopted the decision during a hearing in which there were no prosecutors present. Yet, under Venezuelan law, prosecutors did not need to be present when Judge Afiuni adopted the decision to grant Cedeño provisional liberty. The Organic Code of Criminal Procedures requires a public hearing if prosecutors are requesting an extension of pretrial detention. But there is no such requirement when a competent judge decides to adopt “less burdensome measures,” such as home arrest, periodic presentations before the court, or prohibitions on leaving the country.[86]

Prosecutors also backed the abuse of authority charge by pointing to the fact that an appeal regarding Cedeño’s pretrial detention was pending before the Supreme Court at the time she granted the release.[87] Yet, the question pending before the Supreme Court was not whether the pretrial detention of Cedeño was legal, but rather for how long the courts could impose restrictive measures to ensure that Cedeño would attend his trial and not obstruct justice.[88] In short, the deliberation was over the duration­—not the nature—of Cedeño’s restrictive measures.  Whatever the outcome of the appeal might have been, it would have had no bearing on Judge Afiuni’s authority to replace pretrial detention with other less restrictive measures.[89]

In addition, prosecutors alleged that Judge Afiuni had failed to issue a written release order before Cedeño left the courtroom. A judicial employee subsequently declared before the courts that Afiuni had ordered her to prepare the document and had signed it, but a prosecutor who arrived at the courtroom a few minutes later forcibly took it from her hands.[90] The document resurfaced later when the Office of the Inspector General of the Judiciary submitted it to the court. (Judge Afiuni’s defense team provided Human Rights Watch a copy of the document from the official case file.)[91]

As for the charges of “favoring the evasion of justice,” prosecutors provided no credible evidence that Judge Afiuni had any reason to suspect Cedeño would disregard her orders and leave the country, or that the substance of her decision was inconsistent with established law. It is noteworthy that prosecutors never appealed her decision to grant him provisional liberty, and judicial authorities have never opened a disciplinary procedure to investigate and sanction her alleged misconduct.[92]

A Pro-Chávez Provisional Judge

The judge who received Afiuni’s case, Ali Paredes, was a provisional appointee who, just weeks before her arrest, had publicly declared his loyalty to President Chávez on the website of the president’s political party. “I give my life for the Revolution,” he wrote, “I would never betray this process and much less my Commander.”[93]

In May, Judge Paredes ordered Afiuni to be tried on all of the charges presented by prosecutors. The trial was postponed repeatedly as Afiuni sought to have a judge other than Judge Paredes hear the case, asserting her right to be tried by an independent judge. Under the Venezuelan constitution, judges may not “carry out political partisan activism.” [94] Judge Paredes refused to recuse himself, and an appeals court rejected Afiuni’s appeals. [95]

Under Venezuelan law, lower court judges are supposed to rotate courts once a year, passing along the cases they handled in a specific court to the judges who replace them there.[96] However, Judge Paredes remained in charge of Afiuni’s case for nearly two years. It was not until January 2012 that a new judge was appointed to Judge Afiuni’s case.[97]

A Year in Prison

Judge Afiuni was held for more than a year in a women’s prison in Caracas.[98] Conditions in the facility were deplorable. She was kept in a two-by-four meter cell, which her family had to paint to cover blood and excrement stains.

Under international human rights standards, there is a clear prohibition on imprisoning pretrial detainees with convicted criminals. Yet in the facility where Afiuni spent a year, there was no separation between pretrial detainees and convicted criminals, which included more than 20 women whom she herself had sentenced while serving as a judge. 

Afiuni has reported that she was repeatedly subjected to threats and acts of intimidation by inmates. In December 2009, for example, some inmates accosted her verbally with threats: “Damn bitch, we will burn you!” and “We will turn you into ground meat!”[99] In January 2010, a group of inmates threw gasoline in her cell and threatened to burn her alive.[100] In May 2010, inmates shouted at her, “We will spill your blood in the prison!” and “Damn bitch, because of people like you we are here!”[101] In November 2010, two inmates allegedly attacked her with knives and told her she “did not deserve to be in prison with them; instead she should be dead.”[102]

Delayed Medical Treatment

An official psychological evaluation of Judge Afiuni concluded in March 2010 that the judge was anxious and depressed, and feared for her health and physical integrity.[103]

That same month she discovered a lump in one of her breasts.[104] Judge Paredes repeatedly refused to allow her to be evaluated by her doctor, instead authorizing her to be examined in a military hospital.[105] In July, military doctors concluded that the lump required further medical treatment. However, it was not until November that she was allowed to receive it at the Oncology Hospital Padre Machado, where doctors had to conduct tests on Afiuni in the presence of female military officers who refused to leave the room. 

In addition to the lump in her breast, Afiuni started suffering hemorrhages due to problems in her uterus in November 2010. After another evaluation conducted in January 2011, the medical team at the Oncology Hospital operated on her the following month.[106]

House Arrest

Only after a crescendo of criticism from the international community did Judge Paredes finally relent and grant Judge Afiuni home arrest after her surgery in February 2011. [107] However, he imposed highly restrictive conditions, including the requirement that 16 members of the National Guard be based at her building 24 hours a day; a requirement that she present herself before the court every week (a seemingly gratuitous obligation for someone confined to house arrest); and a prohibition on her communicating with the press (including international and local print media, radio, and television [108] ). Judge Paredes also prohibited her from stepping outside her apartment in order to get exposure to the sun, although it was a measure her doctor had recommended to improve her health. [109]

In December 2011, Judge Paredes extended Judge Afiuni’s house arrest two additional years.[110] An appeals court upheld the decision in March 2012.[111]

As of May 2012, Judge Afiuni still had not been told whether the lump in her breast is a malign or benign tumor. In February 2012, a medical examination by doctors appointed by the court recommended that the lump be studied through a biopsy. Following the advice of her personal doctor, she asked the court to obtain a second medical opinion, which a new judge appointed to her case authorized in May.[112]

International Condemnation

The arrest and prolonged detention of Judge Afiuni has drawn strenuous condemnation by UN and Inter-American human rights monitors. 

In December 2009, three UN human rights rapporteurs issued a joint press release describing Afiuni’s arrest as “a blow by President Hugo Chávez to the independence of judges and lawyers in the country,” and called for her “immediate and unconditional” release.[113] One of them, the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, reiterated concern over Judge Afiuni’s detention in a statement in April 2010.[114] In March 2011, the chairperson of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention called on the government of Venezuela to “immediately free” Afiuni.[115] Finally, in December 2011, three UN rapporteurs questioned the fact that Judge Afiuni’s house arrest had been extended, calling it an “unacceptable worsening of her situation,” and called once again for her immediate release.[116]

Similarly, in January 2010, the IACHR ruled that Venezuela had to protect Judge Afiuni and “adopt the necessary measures to guarantee [her] life and physical integrity.”[117] Given the lack of compliance by the Venezuelan government, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which issues binding decisions, ordered Venezuela in December 2010 to protect Judge Afiuni, transfer her to a safe location, and provide her with adequate medical treatment.[118]

The treatment of Afiuni has also been denounced by other members of the international community. For example, during Venezuela’s Universal Periodic Review before the United Nations Human Rights Council in September 2011, the governments of Germany and the United States criticized Venezuela for the lack of judicial independence in the country, the risk of political interference in judicial decisions, and Judge Afiuni’s detention.[119]

Other international voices have expressed concern over the case as well, including US scholar Noam Chomsky, who has previously spoken out in defense of the Chávez government’s human rights record. In July 2011, Chomsky wrote a public letter lamenting the “acts of violence and humiliation” that Afiuni had suffered and urging Venezuelan authorities to release her from house arrest.[120] In December 2011, he reiterated his request, stating that, “Afiuni has suffered enough and should be released.”[121]

Lack of Protection by the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court has twice rejected appeals by Judge Afiuni seeking protection of basic rights. In one, Judge Afiuni challenged Judge Paredes’ order prohibiting her from speaking with the media (on the grounds that it violated her right to free speech) and requiring that she present herself before the court on a weekly basis (on the grounds that this requirement normally applies to defendants released on conditional liberty but serves no purpose in the case of someone under house arrest). The court rejected the appeal in July 2011, stating that it may not review a lower court decision unless it violates constitutional rights. According to the court, Afiuni was in a better situation with these precautionary measures than when she was detained in prison, and therefore there was no “real damage” that justified the appeal.[122]

In another appeal, Judge Afiuni challenged Judge Paredes’ decision to proceed with the trial without the two-member jury (escabinos) required by law. Venezuelan law applicable at the time required that a three-member panel made up of the judge and two jurors determine the culpability of the accused in cases such as this one, which carry a maximum sentence of at least four years in prison.[123] Under the then-applicable law, if members of the jury did not appear for a trial and failed to provide a reason for their absence, the judge could move ahead with the trial without jurors.[124] Judge Paredes invoked this provision when announcing he would try the case without jurors. Judge Afiuni's defense team argued in the appeal that judicial authorities had failed to provide adequate notice to individuals who had been selected as jurors and to review the reasons others provided to justify their lack of appearance before the court.[125]

In October 2011, the Supreme Court rejected the appeal on the jury question without addressing the merits, ruling that Afiuni’s lawyers had “desisted” from their appeal because they had failed to act on the case for more than six months. [126] According to Afiuni’s lawyers, however, this was a purely legal question that the court needed to resolve and there was nothing they could do during those six months but await the court’s decision. [127]

Impact on Judicial Independence

The imprisonment and prosecution of Judge Afiuni has had a profoundly negative impact on the judiciary, according to dozens of members of the legal profession—including judges, lawyers, and law professors—who spoke with Human Rights Watch. 

Since the political takeover of the Supreme Court in 2004, lower court judges have been afraid of issuing rulings that might upset the Chávez government. But whereas in the past what they feared was losing their jobs, now they also fear being thrown in jail.[128]

One judge told Human Rights Watch that, since Judge Afiuni was detained, judges have felt “more pressure to resolve in favor of the government,” and that those unwilling to succumb to the pressure routinely recuse themselves from politically sensitive cases.[129] Another said that judges get phone calls from higher court judges “on a daily basis” telling them how to decide cases, and everyone is “very scared to adopt proper legal decisions” because they know “what the consequences will be” if the Chávez government takes issue with their rulings.[130] A third judge told Human Rights Watch that the majority of judges refuse to rule against “what they perceive to be the government interest,” even if no government official has commented on the case.[131]

According to Judge Afiuni herself, many judges have told her privately that “they do not have an alternative to obeying the government’s orders” because they now fear that if they do not, they will be imprisoned.When she was detained in prison, some inmates told her that the judges in charge of their cases had said to them that they could not let them go, even if there was evidence in their favor, because “they would go to jail like Afiuni.”[132] 

A report by the International Bar Association published in 2011 documented that, while conducting research in Venezuela, their researchers heard “on several occasions” that “nobody wants to be the next Afiuni” and concluded that her detention “has had a chilling effect on the independence of the judiciary in Venezuela.”[133]

The Inter-American Human Rights System

In addition to undermining the role of the judiciary, the Chávez government has actively sought to limit the role of the Inter-American human rights system as an alternative mechanism for monitoring and enforcing human rights in Venezuela.

For decades, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, based in San José, Costa Rica, and the IACHR, based in Washington, D.C., have closely monitored the human rights situation in Venezuela and countries throughout the region, providing a crucial mechanism for redressing abuses when local remedies are ineffective or unavailable. Venezuela has been a party to the American Convention on Human Rights and subject to the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court since 1977.[134]

Yet President Chávez and members of his administration have aggressively sought to discredit the Inter-American system by repeatedly accusing the Inter-American Commission of having supported the 2002 coup d’état against Chávez. Specifically, they allege that the commission was “silent” during the coup and granted recognition to the de facto government that was installed temporarily after Chávez’s ouster.[135]

The IACHR in fact issued a press release on April 13, 2002, expressing concern that President Chávez’s removal from office two days earlier “could constitute an interruption of the constitutional order as defined in the Democratic Charter” and urging “to promptly restore the rule of law and the democratic system of government by guaranteeing full observance of human rights and basic freedoms.”[136] In the statement, the commission also “deplore[d] the dismissal, by a decree issued by the government that took office on April 12, of the highest officers of the judiciary and of independent officials within the executive branch, and the suspension of the mandate of the members of the legislature.”[137] 

The Chávez administration has nonetheless used these allegations to justify denying the commission permission to carry out research in Venezuela, and to dismiss the commission’s assessments of the country’s human rights problems. When the IACHR published a comprehensive report in 2009, for example, President Chávez repeated the allegation that the commission had supported the coup, and announced that Venezuela should “denounce” the American Convention and no longer be subject to the Inter-American human rights system.[138] A high level official in Chávez’s political party stated at the time that the Inter-American Court was a “political instrument…that responds to the imperial interests represented by the Central Intelligence Agency.”[139] The country’s human rights ombudsman, Gabriela Ramírez, also criticized the commission for its response to the coup and stated that the report was biased.[140]

On another occasion, when the Inter-American Commission criticized the detention of Globovisión president Guillermo Zuloaga in March 2010 (see the following chapter), Chávez’s foreign affairs minister, Nicolás Maduro, publicly dismissed the commission, claiming it reflected solely the views of the “coup-plotting opposition.”[141] Roy Chaderton, the Venezuelan ambassador before the OAS, said the regional body was interfering with Venezuelan internal affairs.[142]

A similar situation arose when, in December 2010, the IACHR and its Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression criticized proposed legislation under discussion in the National Assembly. [143] In response, Ambassador Chaderton stated a day later that members of the commission were “characters at the service of the US Central Intelligence Agency’s strategies and silent accomplices of the continuous human rights violations committed at the Inter-American and global level by the most violent military power of the world.” [144]

Chávez’s supporters in other government offices have also publicly dismissed the authority of the Inter-American system.  For example, in 2010, the human rights ombudsperson said the IACHR was not impartial, lacked credibility, and should be closed. [145]

As discussed above, the Supreme Court has rejected binding rulings by the Inter-American Court and gone so far as to recommend that President Chávez renounce Venezuela’s status as a signatory to the American Convention.  More recently, Supreme Court President Luisa Estella Morales publicly dismissed the Inter-American Commission after it issued a press release expressing concern over clashes between inmates and security forces in La Planta prison in Caracas that led to the deaths of two individuals and injuries of seven others and calling on Venezuelan authorities to investigate these incidents and adopt measures to disarm the prison population.[146] When a journalist asked her opinion, Estella Morales stated that Venezuela was a “democratic, autonomous, and sovereign state” and that the “Venezuelan justice system has the capacity to resolve its own problems.”[147] And in June 2012, she spoke in favor of withdrawing from the IACHR, arguing that international treaties “must respect the self determination of the people and their sovereignty.”[148]

In addition to disparaging the Inter-American Court and Commission, in recent years the Chávez government has begun promoting the creation of new regional bodies to replace the Inter-American human rights system.[149] In early December 2011, the government supported a proposal by Ecuador calling for the creation of a new regional human rights body and the adoption of recommendations in an OAS report that could reduce funding for the OAS Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression and jeopardize that body’s ability to publish its own annual report.[150] And in May 2012, Venezuela’s foreign affairs minister proposed the creation of new regional human rights bodies beyond “the experience of an international bureaucracy controlled from Washington.”[151]

In April 2012, President Chávez appointed members to the “State Council” (Consejo de Estado), an institution created by the 1999 constitution that had never functioned in the country, and asked them to analyze how to “immediately withdraw Venezuela from the sadly famous IACHR.”[152] Days later, the attorney general said in a radio interview that the IACHR had “maintained a systematic persecution against the country since 1999” and proposed creating a new regional body to replace it.[153] The National Assembly has also supported the move.[154]

 

[1] In the September 2010 elections, Chávez’s political party won 98 seats, the opposition (Mesa de Unidad Democrática) won 65, and the political party Patria Para Todos won 2. “PSUV is the largest political force in Parliament” (PSUV es la mayor fuerza política del Parlamento), Agencia Venezolana de Noticias, http://www.avn.info.ve/node/20087 (accessed May 25, 2012); “Opposition fabricates ‘majority’ using votes of small parties” (Sector opositor fabrica ‘mayoría’ apropiándose de votos de partidos pequeños), Agencia Venezolana de Noticias, September 28, 2010, http://www.avn.info.ve/node/20130 (accessed May 25, 2012); National Electoral Council, “Parliamentary results” (Divulgación de elecciones parlamentarias), September 26, 2010, http://www.cne.gob.ve/divulgacion_parlamentarias_2010/ (accessed May 25, 2012).

[2] Official Gazzette of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (Gaceta Oficial de la República Bolivariana de Venezuela), No. 39.522, October 1, 2010, pp. 1-2.

[3] Ibid.

[4]Ministry of the Popular Power for Communication and Information, “National Assembly appoints new Supreme Court Justices” (Asamblea Nacional juramentó los nuevos magistrados del TSJ), press release, December 9, 2010, http://www.minci.gob.ve/noticias/1/202174/asamblea_nacional_juramentlos.html (accessed May 21, 2012); “Gladys Gutiérrez Alvarado Substitutes Marisol Plaza at Attorney Generals Office” Gladys Gutiérrez Alvarado sustituye a Marisol Plaza en la Procuraduría), El Universal, March 31, 2006, http://www.eluniversal.com/2006/03/31/pol_art_31104E.shtml (accessed May 21, 2012); “The Nine Principals” (Los Nueve Principales), El Universal, December 8, 2010, http://www.eluniversal.com/2010/12/08/pol_apo_los-nueve-principale_08A4828331.shtml (accessed May 21, 2012); “Congress aproves appointment of Supreme Court justices” (Parlamento aprueba designación de magistrados al Tribunal Supremo de Justicia), Correo del Orinoco, December 8, 2010, http://www.correodelorinoco.gob.ve/politica/parlamento-aprueba-designacion-magistrados-al-tribunal-supremo-justicia/ (accessed May 21, 2012); United Socialist Party of Venezuela (Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela, PSUV), “Members of PSUV: Representatives (Elected December 4, 2005)” (Cuadros del PSUV: Diputados y Diputadas (Electos el 4 de diciembre de 2005)), undated, http://www.psuv.org.ve/psuv/diputados/ (accessed May 21, 2012).

[5] Supreme Court of Justice of Venezuela, Resolution Number 2010-0011, March 10, 2010, http://www.tsj.gov.ve/informacion/resoluciones/sp/resolucionSP_0001147.html (accessed May 21, 2012); Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, art. 264; “Justice Jaimes denies mass retirement at Supreme Court of Justice” (Magistrada Jaimes desmintió jubilación masiva en el TSJ), Correo del Orinoco, March 17, 2010, http://www.correodelorinoco.gob.ve/judiciales-seguridad/magistrada-jaimes-desmintio-jubilacion-masiva-tsj/ (accessed May 21, 2012).

[6] In March 2012, Human Rights Watch asked the Supreme Court for updated information on the number of judges in the Venezuelan judiciary, specifying how many are permanent, provisional, and temporary; how many judges were appointed after the open competitions mandated by the constitution; how many judges had been removed and for which motives; and how many cases were pending before disciplinary courts and how many had been resolved. At this writing, we have received no response to our information request. Letter from Joseph Saunders, deputy program director at Human Rights Watch, to Luisa Estella Morales, president of the Supreme Court of Justice, February 27, 2012.

[7] Between January and October 2008, the appointments of 44 judges were voided and 20 other judges were suspended. Between January and September 2009, 72 judges were removed or had their appointments nullified. In 2010, the Judicial Commission voided the appointment of 67 judges. The commission appointed 1451 non-permanent judges in 2008, 359 between January and September 2009, and 1064 in 2010. In March 2012, the Supreme Court appointed 89 additional provisional judges. Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), “Democracy and Human Rights in Venezuela,” OEA/Ser.L/V/II. Doc. 54, December 30, 2009, http://www.cidh.org/countryrep/Venezuela2009eng/VE09.TOC.eng.htm (accessed May 25, 2012), paras. 209-210, 270, 271, 275; Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Chocrón Chocrón Case, Judgment of July 1, 2011, http://www.corteidh.or.cr/docs/casos/articulos/seriec_227_esp.pdf  (accessed May 25, 2012), para. 71; IACHR, “Annual Report 2010”, OEA/Ser.L/V/II. Doc 5, rev. 1, March 7, 2011, http://www.cidh.oas.org/annualrep/2010eng/TOC.htm (accessed May 25, 2012), paras. 621, 623; United Nations Human Rights Council, “Promotion and Protection of All Human Rights, Civil, Political, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, including the Right to Development. Report of the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Leandro Despouy”, A/HRC/11/41, March 24, 2009, http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/docs/11session/A.HRC.11.41_en.pdf (accessed May 25, 2012), paras. 60, 62; Supreme Court of Justice of Venezuela, “Supreme Court President took oath to new judges” (Presidenta del TSJ juramentó nuevos jueces y juezas), press release, March 8, 2012, http://www.tsj.gov.ve/informacion/notasdeprensa/notasdeprensa.asp?codigo=9204 (accessed March 9, 2012); Inter American Commission on Human Rights, “Annual Report 2011”, April 9, 2012, http://www.oas.org/es/cidh/docs/anual/2011/indice.asp (accessed May 25, 2012), para. 453.

[8] For years, the Supreme Court was in charge of discretionally appointing and removing members of the Commission on Functioning and Restructuring of the Judiciary (Comisión de Funcionamiento y Reestructuración del Poder Judicial)—an “emergency” commission created by the 1999 Constituent Assembly that exercised disciplinary powers over permanent judges. The emergency commission ceased to exist in 2011, after the National Assembly appointed judges to new disciplinary courts, which had been mandated by the constitution of 1999 but had not been created until 2009. (In 2009, the National Assembly adopted the Code of Ethics of Venezuelan Judges (Código de Ética del Juez y la Jueza Venezolanos), which provides for the creation of disciplinary tribunals.) Constituent Assembly, “Decree creating the Transition Regime of Public Powers” (Decreto mediante el cual se dicta el Régimen de Transición del Poder Público), Official Gazzette 36.859, December 29, 1999.

The Supreme Court extended this process of “judicial restructuring” in 2009. Supreme Court of Justice of Venezuela, Resolution No. 2009-0008, March 18, 2009, http://www.tsj.gov.ve/informacion/resoluciones/sp/resolucionSP_0000888.html (accessed May 21, 2012); Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Apitz Barbera and others Case (“Corte Primera de lo Contencioso Administrativo”), Judgment of August 5, 2008, Inter-Am.Ct.H.R.,(Ser. C) No. 195 (2008), para. 147; Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, art. 267; Code of Ethics of Venezuelan Judges, http://www.oas.org/juridico/spanish/mesicic3_ven_anexo4.pdf (accessed May 21, 2012); IACHR, “Annual Report 2011”, para. 456.

[9] While in 2004 only 20 percent of the country’s 1732 judges held permanent appointments and enjoyed the rights established in the constitution, the percentage of judges with security of tenure rose to 44 in 2010. In 2005 and 2006, the Judicial Commission gave stability of tenure to 823 judges through the Special Program for the Regularization of Status (Programa Especial para la Regularización de la Titularidad). Human Rights Watch e-mail correspondence with Ricardo Jiménez Dan, then-executive director of the Magistracy, Supreme Court of Justice, May 20, 2004; Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Chocrón Chocrón Case, para. 71.

[10] Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, art. 255; “Rules for Evaluations and Public Competitions for Entry into and Promotion within the Judicial Career” (Normas de Evaluación y Concurso de Oposición para el Ingreso y Ascenso a la Carrera Judicial), July 6, 2005, http://www.tsj.gov.ve/informacion/acuerdos/normasdeeyc.htm (accessed May 21, 2012).

According to the IACHR, “no competitions have been organized and all appointments since 2002 have been made without any sort of oversight or procedure.” IACHR, “Democracy and Human Rights in Venezuela,” para. 204.

In a case against Venezuela, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights held that “all citizens who meet the requirements set in law must be able to participate in the selection processes without suffering arbitrary or unequal treatment [and all] candidates must compete in equal conditions, even against those holding positions on a provisional bases, who may not, for that reason, be afforded privileges, or advantages, or disadvantages, with respect to the position that they occupy or to which they aspire.” Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Reverón Trujillo Case, Judgment of June 30, 2009, Inter-Am.Ct.H.R., (Ser. C) No. 197 (2009), http://www.corteidh.or.cr/docs/casos/articulos/seriec_197_esp.pdf (accessed June 15, 2012), para. 73.

[11]Shortly after Chávez signed the court-packing law in 2004, several prominent Venezuelan jurists filed petitions with the Supreme Court challenging its constitutionality. Despite the urgent nature of these appeals, it took the court three years to rule on the petitions, at which time it dismissed them on procedural grounds without ever addressing the merits. See Human Rights Watch, A Decade Under Chávez: Political Intolerance and Lost Opportunities for Advancing Human Rights in Venezuela, September 2008, http://www.hrw.org/reports/2008/09/18/decade-under-ch-vez (accessed June 15, 2012), p. 55.

[12]The reforms included measures that would have dramatically expanded the powers of the executive branch by, among other things, authorizing the president to suspend fundamental rights indefinitely during states of emergency without any Supreme Court oversight. Petitioners challenged both the content of the reforms and the process through which Chávez and his supporters were seeking to enact them, but the court declined to address any of these challenges, arguing that it could not review them until the referendum had been held. Ibid., p. 56.

[13]The Supreme Court failed to protect freedom of expression, due process, and the rule of law in the high profile RCTV case. By failing to resolve key rights issues, it allowed the government to use its regulatory power in a discriminatory and punitive manner against a channel because of its critical coverage of Chávez and his government. Id., p. 126.

[14]The Supreme Court failed to uphold the freedom of association of Venezuelan workers when it dismissed a petition to clarify the proper role of the state in union leadership elections. Given that state interference in union elections (a direct violation of international labor standards) has been a widespread problem in Venezuela throughout Chávez’s presidency, the court’s failure to issue a clear ruling has effectively allowed the government to continue to violate workers’ basic right to freely elect their representatives. Id., p. 193.

[15] For example, in 2003, in response to an appeal against speech offense provisions of the criminal code filed by a human rights lawyer, the Supreme Court's constitutional chamber ruled unanimously that Venezuela’s insult provisions were constitutional. However, insult laws (known in Spanish as leyes de desacato), which criminalize expressions deemed to offend the honor of public officials and institutions, directly contravene international human rights norms. In refusing to align Venezuelan constitutional protection of freedom of expression with international standards, the court also noted that the IACHR’s recommendations were not binding on the state, and expressed the opinion that applying the norms set out by the IACHR could even endanger it and threaten its independence if implemented.Id., p. 178.

Similarly, the Supreme Court helped establish the tone for discrediting NGOs early on in the Chávez government by ruling in two decisions that NGOs that receive funds from abroad do not form part of civil society. In these rulings, issued in 2000, the court defined “civil society” in such a way as to exclude organizations that receive foreign funding, thereby preventing them from exercising the rights to political participation that other NGOs enjoy. Such rulings remain in effect today. Id., p. 226.

[16] The other state institutions include the National Electoral Council, the Attorney General’s Office, and the Comptroller General’s Office (Contraloría General de la República). PROVEA, “Annual Report 2010”, December 2010, http://www.derechos.org.ve/informes-anuales/informe-anual-2010/  (accessed May 21, 2012), p. 287.

[17] Of the 222 cases (acciones de anulación) filed in 2007, 82 percent were declared without merit (sin lugar), 10 percent were decided in favor of the government (con lugar) and 8 percent were decided partially in favor of the petitioner (parcialmente con lugar). Of the 71 cases (acciones de anulación) decided in the first half of 2008, 86 percent were declared without merit (sin lugar), 8 percent were decided in favor of the petitioner (con lugar) and six percent were decided partially in favor of the petitioner (parcialmente con lugar). Antonio Canova González, The Reality of Administrative Jurisdiction in Venezuela (La Realidad del Contencioso Administrativo Venezolano), (Caracas: Fundación Estudios de Derecho Administrativo, 2009).

[18] Supreme Court of Justice of Venezuela, “The judiciary has a duty to contribute to the state’s policies towards a Bolivarian and democratic socialism” (Poder Judicial está en el deber de dar su aporte a la política de Estado que conduce a un socialismo Bolivariano y democrático), press release, February 5, 2011, http://www.tsj.gov.ve/informacion/notasdeprensa/notasdeprensa.asp?codigo=8239 (accessed May 21, 2012). (El Poder Judicial venezolano está en el deber de dar su aporte para la eficaz ejecución, en el ámbito de su competencia, de la Política de Estado que adelanta el gobierno nacional en el sentido de desarrollar “una acción deliberada y planificada para conducir un socialismo bolivariano y democrático” (...) “[E]ste Tribunal Supremo de Justicia y el resto de los tribunales de la República, deben aplicar severamente las leyes para sancionar conductas o reconducir causas que vayan en desmedro de la construcción del Socialismo Bolivariano y Democrático.”)

[19]“Chávez, we know God has a great purpose for you” (Chávez, sabemos que Dios tiene para tí un propósito grande), video of press conference by Luisa Estella Morales, Vive Television, July 1, 2011, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kfvLQB-i8Xg&feature=player_embedded(accessed May 21, 2012). (Compartiendo con usted Presidente esta nueva lucha. Una lucha de otra naturaleza y de otro nivel pero que también es de todo el pueblo venezolano y es de todos los poderes públicos porque nuestra institucionalidad se encuentra de tal modo arraigada, de tal modo establecida que un solo poder representa cada uno de los poderes públicos y por supuesto su dirección, su inspiración, su concepción de República es lo que inspira constitucionalmente el desarrollo de nuestras actividades” ... “Aquí están todas sus instituciones y estamos, pues, sobre todo firmes en el avance de las responsabilidades que nos ha encomendado y las cuales no vamos a defraudar ni ahora ni nunca.”)

“Testimony of Luisa Estella Morales regarding Chávez's illness” (Testimonio de Luisa Estella Morales sobre la enfermedad de Chávez), YouTube video, posted by “ndkarma,” August 22, 2011, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rP4mpuz4Rfc (accessed May 21, 2012). (Orando, ayunando, pidiéndole a mi Dios que me diera una respuesta de que en el momento en el que íbamos justamente en la etapa más importante, por qué nuestro líder tenía que sufrir esta enfermedad.)

[20] Supreme Court of Justice of Venezuela, “The country has a new group of judges” (El país cuenta con un nuevo grupo de jueces y juezas), press release, May 16, 2012, http://www.tsj.gov.ve/informacion/notasdeprensa/notasdeprensa.asp?codigo=9345 (accessed May 17, 2012); “40 members of the legal profession sworn in as judges of the Republic” (Juramentados 40 profesionales del derecho como jueces de la República), Radio Nacional de Venezuela, May 16, 2012, http://www.rnv.gov.ve/noticias/?act=ST&f=27&t=184092 (accessed May 23, 2012). (Cuando ustedes se van a juramentar como jueces comprometan lo más sagrado que exista en su interior, no es tanto el formalismo de hacer cumplir las leyes, que es importante, el otro, más comprometedor por la Patria y de hacer cumplir la constitución que es justamente el norte de nuestro proyecto revolucionario y de cambio que se desarrolla en Venezuela hoy día.)

[21] The petitioners were challenging the constitutionality of the Law on Consumer and User Protection, which, they argued, imposed excessive restrictions on their ability to do business and therefore violated their right to economic liberty. Supreme Court of Justice of Venezuela, File No. 04-2233, July 23, 2009, http://www.tsj.gov.ve/decisiones/scon/julio/1049-23709-2009-04-2233.html (accessed May 21, 2012). (La llamada división, distinción o separación de poderes fue, al igual que la teoría de los derechos fundamentales de libertad, un instrumento de la doctrina liberal del Estado mínimo…. el referido “principio” no es un mero instrumento de organización de los órganos del Poder Público, sino un modo mediante el cual se pretendía asegurar que el Estado se mantuviera limitado a la protección de los intereses individualistas de la clase dirigente.)

[22] Ibid. ([H]abría que convenir en que la llamada división, distribución o separación de poderes, al menos en el marco de nuestra Constitución, no supone una distribución homogénea, exclusiva o excluyente, o no en todos los casos, de tareas, potestades o técnicas entre los conglomerados de órganos del Poder Público.)

[23] Supreme Court of Justice of Venezuela, Case No. 08-1572, December 18, 2008, http://www.tsj.gov.ve/decisiones/scon/Diciembre/1939-181208-2008-08-1572.html (accessed May 21, 2012); Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Apitz Barbera and others Case.

[24] Supreme Court of Justice of Venezuela, “Constitutional Chamber declares the Inter-American Court’s ruling on the Leopoldo López case impossible to execute” (Sala Constitucional declaró inejecutable fallo de la CIDH sobre el caso de Leopoldo López), press release, October 17, 2011, http://www.tsj.gov.ve/informacion/notasdeprensa/notasdeprensa.asp?codigo=8847 (accessed May 21, 2012).

[25] Inter-American Court of Human Rights, López Mendoza Case, Judgment of September 1, 2011, Inter-Am.Ct.H.R., (Ser. C), No. 233 (2011), http://www.corteidh.or.cr/docs/casos/articulos/seriec_233_esp1.pdf (accessed May 21, 2012).

[26] Supreme Court of Justice of Venezuela, “Constitutional Chamber declares the Inter-American Court’s ruling on the Leopoldo López case impossible to execute.”

[27] Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, art. 27; Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Almonacid Arellano and others Case, Judgment of September 26, 2006, Inter-Am.Ct.H.R., (Ser. C), No. 154 (2006).http://www.corteidh.or.cr/docs/casos/articulos/seriec_154_esp.pdf (accessed May 21, 2012), paras. 124 - 125.

[28] Supreme Court of Justice of Venezuela, Ruling No. 796, July 22, 2010, http://www.tsj.gov.ve/decisiones/scon/Julio/796-22710-2010-09-0555.html (accessed May 25, 2012).

[29] According to the court, this foreign funding constituted “a typical manifestation of the interventionist policies of a foreign power to influence internal affairs of the Venezuelan state”, and therefore the organization’s legal appeal amounted to “defend[ing] foreign interests regarding issues of internal politics.” Ibid. ([E]s evidente, que la “ASOCIACIÓN CIVIL SÚMATE”,tiene como fin pretender guiar al Pueblo Venezolano en la adopción de posiciones políticas... las actividades públicas de la citada asociación civil fueron parcialmente financiadas por la National Endowment For Democracy, que es una organización vinculada financiera e ideológicamente a la política de otra nación, pues se encuentra supervisada y recibe permanentemente fondos del Congreso de los Estados Unidos.... Tal financiamiento constituye, en el contexto expuesto, una típica manifestación de la política intervencionista de una potencia extranjera para incidir en los asuntos internos del Estado venezolano, toda vez que la aportación de recursos, es sin duda, una de las modalidades a través de las cuales se sirven los distintos centros de poder (entre ellos otros Estados), para el fomento de sus intereses, incluso, fuera de sus fronteras. Por ello, en salvaguarda de la plena soberanía de la República, de su independencia y del deber que tienen los órganos del Estado de no someterse a un poder extranjero (artículos 1 y 5 del Texto Fundamental), esta Sala, a los fines de garantizar que las funciones del Estado se desarrollen de forma unilateral en provecho de los particulares y no de intereses otro Estado, de conformidad con el artículo 19.6 de la Ley Orgánica que rige las funciones de este Alto Tribunal, desestima la cualidad de la “Asociación Civil SÚMATE” para interponer la presente demanda de nulidad, por carecer de legitimidad para actuar en defensa de intereses extranjeros sobre asuntos de política interna...)

[30] Ibid. (Adicionalmente, debe esta Sala recodar que la obtención de recursos financieros, ya sea de manera directa o indirecta, provenientes de estados extranjeros con la intención de emplearse en perjuicio de la República, los intereses del Pueblo (donde reside la soberanía a que alude el artículo 5 de la Constitución de la República Bolivariana de Venezuela), actos políticos o sociales, económicos etc., podría eventualmente configurar el delito previsto en el artículo 140 del Código Penal Venezolano, incluyendo el parágrafo único que prohíbe gozar de los beneficios procesales de ley, ni a la aplicación de medidas alternativas del cumplimiento de la pena, comprendidos en el Título Primero de los delitos contra la independencia y seguridad de la Nación, concretamente, referido a la traición a la Patria y otros delitos contra ella.)

[31] Criminal Code (Código Penal), http://www.ministeriopublico.gob.ve/LEYES/codigo%20penal/codigo%20penal.html (accessed May 20, 2012), art. 140.

[32] “United Nations Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms”, adopted March 8, 1999, G.A. res. 53/144, art. 13.

[33] IACHR, “Report on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in the Americas”, March 7, 2006, OEA/Ser.L/V/II.124, IV (40).

[34] Supreme Court of Justice of Venezuela, no file number, July 15, 2010, http://www.tsj.gov.ve/decisiones/scon/Julio/745-15710-2010-09-1003.html (accessed May 25, 2012). ([I]mplica una invasión a la esfera privada de los funcionarios públicos y que con ello se violaría el derecho al honor y privacidad consagrado en el artículo 60 de la Constitución.)

[35] See chapter “Venezuela's Obligations under International Law.”

[36] Supreme Court of Justice of Venezuela, no file number, July 15, 2010, http://www.tsj.gov.ve/decisiones/scon/Julio/745-15710-2010-09-1003.html (accessed May 25, 2012). ([T]al información no es un dato de difusión pública, pues se trata de información que se contrae a la esfera privada o intimidad económica de los funcionarios. (...) Al respecto, cabe señalar que aun cuando efectivamente se invocó un interés que se interrelaciona con la necesidad de proteger otro bien jurídico constitucional, este es, la participación ciudadana en la gestión pública; sometida la pretensión de amparo al test de constitucionalidad, constata la Sala que la parte accionante no acredita cómo la información solicitada sería de utilidad para la participación ciudadana en pro de la transparencia de la gestión pública. En otras palabras, no parece proporcional la magnitud de la información solicitada en pro de la transparencia de la gestión fiscal, ni siquiera las acciones concretas para las cuales se utilizaría la información solicitada.)

[37] Id.(De modo que, esta Sala determina con carácter vinculante, a partir de la publicación de esta decisión, que en ausencia de ley expresa, y para salvaguardar los límites del ejercicio del derecho fundamental a la información, se hace necesario: i) que el o la solicitante de la información manifieste expresamente las razones o los propósitos por los cuales requiere la información; y ii) que la magnitud de la información que se solicita sea proporcional con la utilización y uso que se pretenda dar a la información solicitada.)

[38] Supreme Court of Justice of Venezuela, Case No. 2010-0507, November 24, 2010, http://www.tsj.gov.ve/decisiones/spa/noviembre/01212-251110-2010-2010-0507.html (accessed May 22, 2012).

[39] CEDICE, “Defend your Private Property” (Defiende tu Propiedad Privada), YouTube video, 2008, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XY0AcOuOAX4 (accessed May 22, 2012); CEDICE, “Defend your Private Property 2” (Defiende tu Propiedad Privada 2), YouTube video, 2008,  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nRIA3xmSFM8&feature=related (accessed May 22, 2012); CEDICE, “Defend your Private Property 3” (Defiende tu Propiedad Privada 3), YouTube video, 2008, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QHlHri1Qa2w&feature=related (accessed May 22, 2012); CEDICE, “Defend your Private Property 5” (Defiende tu Propiedad Privada 5), YouTube video, 2009, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=21i-0SBQnZc&feature=related (accessed May 22, 2012); CEDICE, “Defend your Private Property 6” (Defiende tu Propiedad Privada 6), YouTube video, 2009, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tbC-928A8SM&feature=related (accessed May 22, 2012).

[40] Supreme Court of Justice of Venezuela, Case No. 2010-0507. (Dichas propagandas contienen mensajes que presuntamente causan angustia, temor, zozobra en la población pudiendo fomentar en el colectivo conductas tendientes a alteraciones del orden público y que pueden ser contrarias a la seguridad de la nación.)

[41]Ibid. (En consecuencia, se ordena como medida cautelar a los prestadores de servicio (…) abstenerse en forma inmediata de difundir todas las propagandas que conforman la campaña ‘En Defensa de la Propiedad’ ofrecida por los anunciantes CEDICE y ASOESFUERZO, en sus distintas versiones o similares, tanto de radio como de televisión, así como cualquier otra Propaganda que podrían Promover, hacer apología o incitar (…) a alteraciones del orden público.)

[42] Ministry of Popular Power for Communication and Information, “The Media must Abstain from Transmitting Ads of Asoesfuerzo y Cedice” (Medios deben abstenerse de transmitir cuñas de Asoesfuerzo y Cedice), press release, July 3, 2009, http://www.minci.gob.ve/noticias/1/190202/medios_deben_abstenerse.prnt (accessed February 14, 2012). (El ministro recalcó que constituye un delito atentar contra la salud mental de la población por medio de este tipo de campañas en radio, prensa y televisión.)

[43] Supreme Court of Justice of Venezuela, Case No. 2010-0507. (Así, la autoridad administrativa consideró que la difusión de tales propagandas podría atentar contra la democracia, la paz y los derechos humanos, valores estos que se encuentran previstos en el texto constitucional. Al respecto se observa, que tal como lo establece el criterio jurisprudencial transcrito, el derecho a la libertad de expresión no tiene carácter absoluto, teniendo como límites el respeto de los valores y principios constitucionales. En el presente caso, ante la presunción de que los mencionados mensajes propagandísticos vulneraban los referidos valores constitucionales y podían generar situaciones que afectaran el interés general, la Administración dictó el acto impugnado con el objeto de suspender tales difusiones, al ponderar que en casos como el de autos debía prevalecer el interés general sobre el interés particular…dándole preeminencia al interés público sobre el particular.)

[44] Inter-American Court of Human Rights, “Advisory Opinion 6/86,” May 9, 1986, http://www.corteidh.or.cr/docs/opiniones/seriea_06_esp.pdf (accessed May 25, 2012), paras. 22, 27, 35, 38.

[45] Although the enabling law was supposedly adopted to address the consequences of storms and floods that occurred at the end of 2010 in Venezuela, it authorized Chávez to legislate on nine issues, including several that go far beyond the problems produced by the floods. For example, the law authorized the president to determine which criminal penalties apply to specific cases, to regulate international cooperation, and to modify rules regarding media content and controls. In addition, the enabling law included overly vague provisions that enabled President Chávez to adopt almost any type of measure, such as “measures that allow the … just, democratic, and participative development of the right of the Venezuelan family to have a good life.” National Assembly of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, “Law authorizing the President of the Republic to issue decrees with rank, value, and force of law on the matters delegated [herein]” (Ley que autoriza al Presidente de la República para dictar decretos con rango, valor y fuerza de ley en las materias que se delegan), December 17, 2010, http://www.asambleanacional.gob.ve/index.php?option=com_docman&task=doc_view&gid=2783&tmpl=component&format=raw&Itemid=185&lang=es (accessed May 21, 2012), arts. 1 (1) (c), (2) (b), (6), (8).

This is the fourth time that President Chávez obtained legislative powers since he took office in 1999. IACHR, “Democracy and Human Rights in Venezuela,” paras. 325-326.

The possibility to grant legislative powers to the president is provided for in the constitution, and previous presidents have also exercised such powers in Venezuela. Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, art. 203; Human Rights Watch interview with Carlos Ayala, law professor and former member of the IACHR, Caracas, February 3, 2011; Human Rights Watch interview with Pedro Nikken, law professor and former member of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Caracas, February 3, 2011.

[46] The National Assembly passed legislation in December 2010 establishing a new definition of the crime that did not include certain actions that were included in the prior definition. Supreme Court of Justice of Venezuela, File No. 11-0439, May 27, 2011, http://www.tsj.gov.ve/decisiones/scon/Mayo/11-0439-27511-2011-794.html (accessed May 21, 2012).

[47] Ibid.

[48] Ibid. (De los principios generales del derecho internacional, emana la obligación de perseguir y sancionar a los responsables de crímenes contra la humanidad, de modo que la obligación de sancionar estos delitos que recae sobre los Estados partes de la comunidad internacional, como el Estado Venezolano, está por encima de la prescripción u otras instituciones extintivas de la responsabilidad penal.... Siendo así, en el caso en examen y bajo las premisas anteriormente formuladas en el presente fallo, referidas al alcance y contenido de derecho a la libertad económica y a la estabilidad y sustentabilidad del sistema económico como derechos humanos fundamentales...).

[49] The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court states that only specific acts—such as murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation or forcible transfer of population, imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty, torture, rape, and enforced disappearances, amongst others serious abuses—may be considered crimes against humanity if they are committed “as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack.” Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, July 17, 1998, entered into force July 1, 2002,  http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/criminalcourt.htm (accessed May 21, 2012), art. 7.

[50] Article 10 of the broadcasting law of 2004 grants the government the power to force radio and TV stations to broadcast for free cultural, educational, informative, or preventive messages about public services and specifically prohibits using such powers to disseminate [state] publicity or propaganda. Law on Social Responsibility in Radio and Television (Ley de Responsabilidad Social en Radio y TV), http://www.leyresorte.gob.ve/ley_resorte/100 (accessed May 22, 2012), art. 10.

[51] IACHR, “Democracy and Human Rights in Venezuela,” para. 407.

[52] “National Flag” (“Bandera Nacional”), video provided to Human Rights Watch by Globovisión (copy on file at Human Rights Watch). (Quien voltea su bandera no es un buen venezolano. Se comporta cual villano y no quiere a Venezuela.)

[53] “Viaduct: 5 versions” (“Viaducto: 5 versiones”), video provided to Human Rights Watch by Globovisión (copy on file at Human Rights Watch). (Cada día veo más obras y cada vez veo más avances en la revolución bolivariana de Venezuela.)

[54]IACHR, “Democracy and Human Rights in Venezuela,” para. 410.

[55]Ibid., para. 414.

[56]Supreme Court of Justice of Venezuela, File No 00633, May 11, 2011, http://www.tsj.gov.ve/decisiones/spa/Mayo/00633-12511-2011-2007-0620.html (accessed May 22, 2012).

[57] Letter from Pedro Rolando Maldonado Marín, general director of the National Telecommunications Commission (Comisión Nacional de Telecomunicaciones, CONATEL), to Carlos Zuloaga, director of Corpomedios GV Inversiones, C.A. (“Globovisión”), March 15, 2012.

[58] Organic Law of the Comptroller General’s Office of the Republic and of the National System of Fiscal Control (Ley Orgánica de la Contraloría General de la República y del Sistema Nacional de Control Fiscal), December 23, 2010, http://www.cgr.gob.ve/contenido.php?Cod=015 (accessed May 22, 2012), art. 105.

[59] Comptroller General’s Office, “Sanctions” (Sanciones), undated, http://www.cgr.gob.ve/contenido.php?Cod=080 (accessed May 28, 2012).

[60]Ibid.

[61]The Comptroller General’s Office had disqualified López from running for office in two different instances, for three and six years respectively. The first disqualification was due to an alleged conflict of interest in two donations made in 1998 by PDVSA, where López worked, to Primero Justicia, the political organization that López had founded and where he was a board member at the time. López’s mother also worked at the company in the department that administered the donations. López and his mother were fined in relation to this charge and he later received the disqualification sanction for three years on August 24, 2005. López was disqualified for six years in a separate decision by the Comptroller General’s Office on September 26, 2005, in relation to charges that he had used funds irregularly when he was mayor of the municipality of Chacao, Caracas. He was accused of misspending a budget surplus for ends different from those for which the funds were allocated in 2002. López was also fined in relation to these charges. Inter-American Court of Human Rights, López Mendoza Case, paras. 40-43, 54-55, 58, 65-81.

[62]Supreme Court of Justice of Venezuela, Case No. 2005-5124, August 5, 2008, http://www.tsj.gov.ve/decisiones/spa/agosto/00912-6808-2008-2005-5124.html (accessed May 28, 2012).

A new code of regulations had been approved by the National Electoral Council on June 21, 2008, stipulating that those who were politically disqualified could not run for popularly elected office. Inter-American Court of Human Rights, López Mendoza Case, paras. 91-93.

[63] Supreme Court of Justice of Venezuela, “Ruling by the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice: Constitutionality of Administrative Disqualifications is Confirmed” (Decisión de la Sala Constitucional del Tribunal Supremo De Justicia: Confirman la constitucionalidad de las inhabilitaciones administrativas), press release, August 6, 2008, http://www.tsj.gov.ve/informacion/notasdeprensa/notasdeprensa.asp?codigo=6304 (accessed May 22, 2012).

[64] Inter-American Court of Human Rights, López Mendoza Case.

[65] American Convention on Human Rights, art. 23 (2).

[66] Inter-American Court of Human Rights, López Mendoza Case , paras. 107, 108, 206.

[67] Supreme Court of Justice of Venezuela, “Supreme Court President Luisa Estella Morales Lamuño said: It is impossible for Venezuela to backtrack on its fight against corruption” (Afirmó la presidenta del TSJ, magistrada Luisa Estella Morales Lamuño: Es inejecutable que Venezuela retroceda en sus avances en la lucha contra la corrupción), press release, October 17, 2011, http://www.tsj.gov.ve/informacion/notasdeprensa/notasdeprensa.asp?codigo=8848 (accessed May 22, 2012). (Destacó que cualquier situación futura derivada de tal participación no estuvo en el análisis de la Sala, ya que no puede pronunciarse sobre hechos que no han ocurrido.)

[68] “President of the Supreme Court of Justice: Leopoldo López is disqualified to administer public funds” (Presidenta del TSJ: Leopoldo López está inhabilitado administrativamente para manejar fondos públicos), Venezolana de Televisión, article and video, November 8, 2011, http://www.vtv.gov.ve/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=70742:presidenta-del-tsj-leopoldo-lopez-esta-inhabilitado-administrativamente-para-manejar-fondos-publicos&catid=49:nacionales&Itemid=102 (accessed May 22, 2012).

[69] “Leopoldo López announces agreement with Capriles Radonski” (Leopoldo López anuncia acuerdo con Capriles Radonski), Agencia Venezolana de Noticias, January 24, 2012, http://www.avn.info.ve/node/96449 (accessed May 5, 2012).

[70] Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Chocrón Chocrón Case, para. 106; Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Apitz Barbera and others Case, para. 43; United Nations Human Rights Council, “Promotion and Protection of All Human Rights, Civil, Political, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, including the Right to Development. Report of the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Leandro Despouy”, A/HRC/11/41, March 24, 2009, http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/docs/11session/A.HRC.11.41_en.pdf (accessed May 22, 2012), paras. 60, 62.

[71] Supreme Court of Justice of Venezuela, Case No. 07-1417, December 20, 2007, http://www.tsj.gov.ve/decisiones/scon/Diciembre/2414-201207-07-1417.htm (accessed February 14, 2012).

[72] For example, Supreme Court of Justice of Venezuela, Case No. 00517, April 30, 2008, http://www.tsj.gov.ve/decisiones/spa/Abril/00517-30408-2008-2005-5065.html (accessed February 14, 2011); Supreme Court of Justice of Venezuela, Case No. 00015, January 14, 2009, http://www.tsj.gov.ve/decisiones/spa/enero/00015-14109-2009-2004-1311.html (accessed June 13, 2012); Supreme Court of Justice of Venezuela, Case No. 00232, February 18, 2009, http://www.tsj.gov.ve/decisiones/spa/febrero/00232-18209-2009-2006-1061.html (accessed June 13, 2012); Supreme Court of Justice of Venezuela, Case No. 00696, May 21, 2009, http://www.tsj.gov.ve/decisiones/spa/mayo/00696-21509-2009-2006-1033.html (accessed June 13, 2012); Supreme Court of Justice of Venezuela, Case No. 01453, October 14, 2009, http://www.tsj.gov.ve/decisiones/spa/octubre/01453-141009-2009-2007-0612.html (accessed June 13, 2012); Supreme Court of Justice of Venezuela, Case No. 00012, January 13, 2010, http://www.tsj.gov.ve/decisiones/spa/enero/00012-13110-2010-2007-0909.html (accessed June 13, 2012); Supreme Court of Justice of Venezuela, Case No. 00732, July 22, 2010, http://www.tsj.gov.ve/decisiones/spa/julio/00732-22710-2010-2005-5192.html (accessed June 13, 2012); Supreme Court of Justice of Venezuela, Case No. 00505, April 26, 2011, http://www.tsj.gov.ve/decisiones/spa/abril/00505-26411-2011-2004-1585.html (accessed June 13, 2012).

[73] When no other source is explicitly cited, the information on this case is based on direct testimony of members of the Afiuni family and on information provided to Human Rights Watch by Judge Afiuni’s defense team.

[74] Article 244 states that, “It is not possible to order pretrial detention if it appears to be disproportionate with respect to the gravity of the crime, the circumstances in which it was committed, and the possible sanction. It may never exceed the maximum penalty for each crime, nor two years... Exceptionally, and when there are serious reasons that justify the extension of the measure of deprivation of liberty that is about to expire, the Public Ministry ... may request... an extension that may not exceed the maximum penalty to be imposed for the crime... Such extension may also be requested when the expiration is the consequence of undue delays product of actions by the defendant or his or her legal representatives. Such circumstances must be duly motivated by the prosecutor... In this case ... the Judge of Control must carry out an oral hearing with the accused and the parties to adopt a decision, taking into account, when determining the extension, the principle of proportionality.” Code of Criminal Procedures, http://www.ministeriopublico.gob.ve/LEYES/CODIGO%20ORGANICO%20PROCESAL%20PENAL/cod_procesal_penal.html (accessed May 22, 2012).

[75] UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Opinion 10/2009 (Venezuela), September 1, 2009, http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/docs/13session/A-HRC-13-30-Add1.pdf (accessed May 2, 2012), paras. 52-54.

[76] Code of Criminal Procedures, arts. 244 and 264. Article 264 states that, “The defendant can petition for the cancellation or substitution of the judicial measure of preventive detention the number of times the defendant considers it necessary. The judge should examine the need for maintaining the precautionary measures every three months and when the judge considers it prudent, he or she will substitute the measure with less burdensome ones. The denial by the court to cancel or substitute the measure is not subject to appeal.”

[77] Decision by Judge María Lourdes Afiuni, Release Order No 046-09 (Boleta de excarcelación No. 046-09). Copy on file at Human Rights Watch.

[78] Human Rights Watch interview with José Amalio Graterol and Thelma Fernández, Judge Afiuni’s lawyers, Caracas, February 5, 2011. Human Rights Watch email communication with Peter Sahlas, lawyer responsible for communications on the Cedeño and Afiuni cases with Special Procedures of the United Nations Human Rights Council, June 4, 2012.

[79] UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Opinion 10/2009 (Venezuela), paras. 52-54.

[80] Human Rights Watch written communication with Thelma Fernández, Judge Afiuni’s lawyer, June 1, 2012. Human Rights Center at the Catholic University Andrés Bello, “María Lourdes Afiuni: Judge imprisoned for applying a UN resolution, Updated report as of April 7, 2010” (Maria Lourdes Afiuni: Juez encarcelada por aplicar resolución de la ONU, Informe actualizado al 7 de abril de 2010), report prepared by Judge Afiuni’s defense team, April 2010, http://www.ucab.edu.ve/tl_files/CDH/Maria%20Lourdes%20Afiuni/AfiuniLargoWeb.pdf (accessed May 23, 2012). The Human Rights Center works with Judge Afiuni’s defense team in bringing international attention to the case.

[81]“Chávez demands 30 years of prison for Judge who freed political prisoner Eligio Cedeño” (Chávez pide 30 años cárcel para la Juez que liberó preso político Eligio Cedeño), YouTube video, posted by “Plasmatico,” December 12, 2009, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wHnVzZGBvfI&feature=related (accessed May 11, 2012). (Entonces viene una juez bandida, una bandida, y los alguaciles reciben de los policías que vienen trasladando al preso porque la juez lo llamó a declarar al, ¿cómo se llama, al…? Audiencia. Y todo estaba montado. Y yo exijo dureza contra esa jueza. Incluso le dije a la Presidenta del Tribunal Supremo, “Doctora…”, y así lo digo a la Asamblea Nacional: habrá que hacer una ley porque es mucho, mucho, mucho más grave un juez que libere a un bandido que el bandido mismo. Entonces ahora hay que meterle pena máxima a esta jueza y a los que hagan eso. 30 años de prisión. Pido yo a nombre de la dignidad del país.)

[82] “Judge Afiuni” (Juez Afiuni), YouTube video, posted by “Noticias24,” December 21, 2009, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AOWPXh3yxBM&NR=1 (accessed May 21, 2012). (Mira cómo me tienen por ahí, cocido a críticas, porque yo lo que dije fue, y lo voy a repetir pues: una juez (yo hago el pedido, pues yo lo que hago es pedir), ¿cómo es posible que un juez, o una juez, lo que sea, se preste para una vagabundería como la que ocurrió con el señor este Cedeño? Allá está detenido en Estados Unidos. Ojalá que lo cumplan y lo extraditen ante la solicitud que ya estamos elaborando, ¿verdad? ¿Eh? ¿Cómo? Sí, estamos solicitando. Ahora, viene la juez, se pone de acuerdo con unos señores. Yo no voy a acusar a nadie, pero la juez está en evidencia, es una cosa tan evidente que ¿cómo ella va a decir que no? Y entonces viene y le da, toma una decisión y estaba todo trabajado, todo preparado. Y sacaron a este señor por la puerta de atrás y se perdió. Ahora apareció, fíjense, en Estados Unidos. ¿Está o no está bien presa esa juez? Está bien presa, comadre. Y yo pido que se le aplique todo el peso de la ley. ¿Cómo va a haber justicia en un país donde un juez se preste para eso, chico? Y por eso digo, es mucho más grave. Supónganse ustedes que un asesino, un violador, esos delitos horrorosos… sea liberado, un narcotraficante. Es más grave que el mismo homicida el juez que libere a un homicida, saltándose las leyes y los procedimientos. Es más grave. Entonces si a un homicida le salen 30 años, pena máxima, ¿verdad?, en Venezuela, a un juez le saldrían, yo le pondría, 35. Y yo pido que se estudie, señora Fiscal, señores expertos en la materia. Por eso yo pido pena máxima para juez que se preste a una vagabundería como ésta. Pido pena máxima. Y no en una oficina por ahí, no: donde debe estar, en una prisión.)

[83] Human Rights Watch obtained a copy of a US Department of Homeland Security document indicating that Cedeño arrived in the United States on December 19, 2010. Copy on file at Human Rights Watch. Human Rights Watch email communication with Peter Sahlas, lawyer responsible for communications on the Cedeño and Afiuni cases with Special Procedures of the United Nations Human Rights Council, June 4, 2012.

[84] Article 62 of the Law Against Corruption states that a public official who carries out an act against his or her duties in exchange for “money or other benefit” is subject to a sentence of up to seven years in jail and up to 50 percent of the promised or received benefit. The prison sentence can rise to eight years or 60 percent of the benefit if the consequence of the act is to favor or harm one of the parties in an administrative or judicial case. Law Against Corruption (Ley Contra la Corrupción), art. 62.

[85] The prosecutors argued that there was no evidence in the investigation that Judge Afiuni “had obtained money or economic benefit.” They held that “it has not been determined that she received money or something, but the crime of corruption does not only talk about obtaining money by a public official, it talks about any other utility for him or herself, or for a third party, which means any other benefit, in this case… the Public Ministry considered that the arbitrary act carried out by Maria Afiuni is in benefit of a third party and not herself, that is, the benefit was obtained by Eligio Cedeño, who was freed.” 50th First Instance Control Court of the Criminal Judicial Circuit of the Metropolitan Area of Caracas (Juzgado Quincuagésimo de Primera Instancia en Función de Control del Circuito Judicial Penal del Área Metropolitana de Caracas), Document on Preliminary Hearing on File No. 50-C-14.270-09 (Acta de Audiencia Preliminar Exp. No. 50-C-14.270-09), May 17, 2010. Copy on file at Human Rights Watch. ([C]uando se habla del delito de Corrupción Propia establecido en el artículo 62 de la Ley Contra la Corrupción, todas las personas piensan que debe haber dinero o un beneficio económico de por medio, cuando en realidad la ley también sanciona a los funcionarios que aun sin recibir dinero incumplan con sus funciones, efectivamente de la investigación llevada a cabo no se desprende que la ciudadana MARÍA LOURDES AFIUNI haya obtenido algún dinero o beneficio económico, no se ha determinado que la misma haya recibido dinero o algo, pero el delito de corrupción propia no solo habla de obtención de dinero por parte del funcionario, habla de cualquier otra utilidad para sí mismo o para un tercero, lo que significa la existencia de cualquier otro beneficio, en el presente caso, y así lo dejo establecido, el Ministerio Público consideró que el acto arbitrario realizado por la ciudadana MARÍA AFIUNI, es en beneficio de un tercero y no suyo propio, es decir, el beneficio obtenido es para el ciudadano Eligio Cedeño, siendo ese beneficio su libertad.)

[86] Code of Criminal Procedures, arts. 244, 256. Article 256 states that, “As long as the reasons motivating the preventive detention can be reasonably satisfied with the application of another measure that is less burdensome for the accused, one or more of the following measures should be imposed in its place through a motivated resolution: 1. Home arrest…, 2. Obligation to submit to the care of a specific person or institution.., 3. Periodic presentation before the court…, 4. Prohibition to leave the country…, 5. Prohibition to attend designated meetings or places…, 6. Prohibition to communicate with specific people, as long as this does not affect the rights of the defense…, 9. Any other preventive measure that the court ... considers ... necessary through a reasoned decision.”

[87] After Cedeño had completed two years in pretrial detention, a lower court judge ordered him to remain in pretrial detention for two additional years, but an appeals court subsequently reduced this extended period to eight months. The prosecution appealed this reduction, and it was a decision on this appeal that was pending with the Supreme Court. Attorney General’s Office (Ministerio Público), Accusation by Juan de Jesús Gutiérrez Medina, 12th prosecutor at the national level with jurisdiction over corruption issues (Fiscal Duodécimo del Ministerio Público a Nivel Nacional con competencia en materia de Corrupción) on Case No. 01-F68-0149-09, January 26, 2010. Copy on file at Human Rights Watch.

[88] The prosecutor accusing Judge Afiuni stated that, “due to the expiration of the two years mentioned in article 244 of the Organic Criminal Procedures Code, and the corresponding extension request by the Public Ministry, [the imposed precautionary measure] had been extended, and a decision on its duration is currently pending, and was pending at the time when former Judge María Lourdes Afiuni adopted her null and void decision.” Ibid. (Con ocasión al vencimiento de los dos (02) años a los que se contrae el artículo 244 del Código Orgánico Procesal Penal, y a la correspondiente solicitud que efectuara el Ministerio Público la misma se encontraba en lapso de prórroga cuya duración se encuentra y se encontraba para el momento en que la ex Juez María Lourdes Afiuni dictó su írrito "pronunciamiento", pendiente para ser decidido.)

[89] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with José Amalio Graterol, Judge Afiuni’s lawyer, May 2, 2012.

[90] Transcription of testimony of Ana Teresa Lombardi Ramírez in Attorney General’s Office, Accusation by Juan de Jesus Gutiérrez Medina.

[91] “Release Order” (Boleta de Excarcelación), File No. 31C-15,197-09, signed by Ma. Lourdes Afiuni, December 10, 2009. Copy on file at Human Rights Watch. Human Rights Watch telephone interview with José Amalio Graterol, Judge Afiuni’s lawyer, May 2, 2012.

[92] Judge Afiuni’s defense team told Human Rights Watch that since Judge Afiuni was detained, her lawyers have asked disciplinary courts 17 times if there was an administrative investigation open against her, and they were told that there was not. The courts eventually revoked Cedeño’s provisional liberty because he did not comply with the requirements imposed by Judge Afiuni in her decision—namely, presenting himself before the court and staying in Venezuela—but Judge Afiuni’s decision to grant him provisional liberty was not challenged before an appeals court. Human Rights Watch interview with Thelma Fernández, Judge Afiuni’s lawyer, March 23, 2012.

[93] The text appeared on the PSUV webpage at www.psuv.org.ve/?=node/4802, but all comments, including this one, were later deleted from the site. An image of the webpage with the comments is on file at Human Rights Watch. (Buenas tardes camaradas amigos, ante todo les envío un saludo revolucionario y solidario. (…) Me siento muy orgulloso de tener unos familiares que son base de este gran proceso revolucionario que estamos viviendo, y que además déjenme decirle que nunca traicionaría a este proceso ni mucho menos a mi comandante por que llevo la revolución en la sangre y de verdad me duele mi pueblo. Por la revolución doy la vida como la expuse el 11 de abril en Puente Llaguno.)

[94] Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, art. 256.

[95] Judge Afiuni’s lawyers told Human Rights Watch that the day after Judge Paredes rejected the recusal, they asked him to postpone the hearing scheduled for that day. The judge instead appointed public defenders to defend Judge Afiuni, against her will. The lawyers and Judge Afiuni left the room, and appealed Judge Paredes’s decision to appoint public defenders and the fact that he had decided his own recusal. An appeals court reinstated Judge Afiuni’s lawyers and rejected the appeal to recuse Judge Paredes. In December, Judge Afiuni’s defense team asked Judge Paredes again to recuse himself (que se inhiba) in the case but he refused. Decision by Judge Elsa Janeth Gómez Moreno, Arlene Hernández, and Carmen Teresa Bentancourt Meza, Second Chamber of the Appeals Court of the Criminal Judicial Circuit of Caracas (Sala 2 de la Corte de Apelaciones del Circuito Judicial Penal de la Circunscripción Judicial del Área Metropolitana de Caracas), November 18, 2010; Request by Judge Afiuni’s defense team to Judge Paredes to recuse himself (Solicitud de Inhibición), December 7, 2010; Human Rights Watch interviews with José Amalio Graterol and Thelma Fernández, Judge Afiuni’s lawyers, Caracas, February 5, and September 2, 2011; Decision by Judge Arlene Hernández Rodríguez, Judge Elsa Janeth Gómez Moreno, Judge Rosalba Muñoz Fiallo, members of the Second Chamber of the Appeals Court of the Criminal Judicial Circuit of Caracas (Sala 2 de la Corte de Apelaciones del Circuito Judicial Penal del Área Metropolitana de Caracas), Case No. 2012-3343, March 7, 2012. Copies on file at Human Rights Watch.

[96] Article 106 of the Code of Criminal Procedures states, “The control of the investigation and the intermediate phase will be the responsibility of a one-person court that will be called the control court; the judgment phase corresponds to the trial courts that are made up of professional judges that will act alone or with jurors, according to the case, in conformity with the dispositions of this Code, and they will rotate annually...”

[97] Two different judges assigned to the case—Robinson Vázquez and Cristóbal Martínez Murillo—recused themselves. At this writing, the case remains pending before Judge Marilda Ríos. Human Rights Watch telephone interview with José Amalio Graterol, Judge Afiuni's lawyer, May 2, 2012.

[98] The prison is called the National Institute of Feminine Orientation (Instituto Nacional de Orientación Femenina, INOF).

[99] “María Lourdes Afiuni: Judge imprisoned for applying a UN resolution, Updated report as of April 7, 2010” (María Lourdes Afiuni: Juez encarcelada por aplicar resolucion de la ONU, Informe actualizado al 7 de abril de 2010), report prepared by Judge Afiuni’s defense team, April 2010, http://www.ucab.edu.ve/tl_files/CDH/Maria%20Lourdes%20Afiuni/AfiuniLargoWeb.pdf (accessed May 23, 2012); “Venezuela: The case of Judge María Lourdes Afiuni,” report prepared by Judge Afiuni’s defense team, May 2010.

[100]Inter-American Court of Human Rights, President’s resolution regarding the request of provisional measures presented by the Inter-American Commission regarding Venezuela, Case María Lourdes Afiuni (Resolución del Presidente de la Corte Interamericana de Derechos Humanos sobre solicitud de medidas provisionales presentada por la Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos respecto de Venezuela, Asunto María Lourdes Afiuni), December 10, 2010, http://www.corteidh.or.cr/docs/medidas/Afiuni_se_01.doc (accessed May 23, 2012), para. 2(g).

[101] Ibid., para. 2(l).

[102] Id., para. 2(t).

[103] Report by Carelbys Maquilena Ruiz, forensic psychiatrist, and Carlos Ortiz, forensic clinical psychologist, March 12, 2010, prepared for the Ministry of the Popular Power for Interior Relations and Justice (Ministerio del Poder Popular para Relaciones Interiores y Justicia).

[104] Human Rights Center of the Catholic University Andrés Bello, “Maria Lourdes Afiuni. Urgent Appeal. Deterioration of her health conditions,” January 2011, http://www.ucab.edu.ve/tl_files/CDH/Maria%20Lourdes%20Afiuni/Update_on_the_health_conditions_of_Judge_Afiuni.pdf (accessed May 21, 2012).

[105] Due to her refusal to be transferred to military property, Judge Afiuni was initially sent to the National Directorate of Forensic Sciences (Direccion Nacional de Ciencias Forenses) in June, but there was no suitable available medical equipment to evaluate her there.

[106] Human Rights Center of the Catholic University Andrés Bello, “Cruel and Inhuman Treatment of María Lourdes Afiuni” (Trato cruel e inhumano contra María Lourdes Afiuni), July 2011, http://www.ucab.edu.ve/tl_files/CDH/Maria%20Lourdes%20Afiuni/TRATO%20CRUEL%20E%20INHUMANO.pdf (accessed June 1, 2012).

[107] First Instance Criminal Court No. 26 of the Criminal Judicial Circuit of the Metropolitan Area of Caracas (Tribunal de Primera Instancia en lo Penal en Funciones de Juicio y Nro. 26 del Circuito Judicial Penal de Circunscripción Judicial del Área Metropolitana de Caracas), Decision by Ali Jose Fabricio Paredes on File 486-10, February 2, 2011. “María Lourdes Afiuni is no longer in jail, but she is still not free” (María Lourdes Afiuni ya no está en la cárcel, pero todavía no es libre), public statement by Judge Afiuni’s defense team, February 7, 2011. Copies on file at Human Rights Watch.

[108] Every time she goes to the court, she is taken in a military armored vehicle, accompanied by several motorcycles, two pickup trucks, and approximately 30 armed military officers. She was originally required to go once a week, and was later authorized to go every 15 days. Human Rights Watch interview with José Amalio Graterol and Thelma Fernández, Judge Afiuni’s lawyers, Caracas, September 2, 2011.

[109] Decision by Judge Ali José Paredes, File No. 26 J-486-10, June 30, 2011. Copy on file at Human Rights Watch.

[110] Decision by Judge Alí José Paredes, File No. 26 J-486-10, December 13, 2011. Copy on file at Human Rights Watch.

[111] Decision by Judge Evelyn Dayana Mendoza, Judge Jimai Calles, and Judge César Sánchez Pimentel, members of the First Chamber of the Appeals Court of the Criminal Judicial Circuit of Caracas (Sala Uno de la Corte de Apelaciones del Circuito Judicial Penal del Área Metropolitana de Caracas), EDMH/JMC/CSP/ICVI/Ag.- Case No. 2788, March 7, 2012. Copy on file at Human Rights Watch.

[112] Human Rights Watch written communication with Thelma Fernández, Judge Afiuni's lawyer, May 4, 2012.

[113] UN News Centre, “Venezuelan leader violates independence of judiciary – UN rights experts,” joint press release by El Hadji Malick Sow, Chairperson-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; Gabriela Carina Knaul de Albuquerque e Silva, Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Laywers; and Margaret Sekaggya, Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, December 16, 2009, http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=33273&Cr=judges&Cr1 (accessed May 21, 2012).

Similarly, in May 2010, at the biennial meeting of the International Association of Women Judges, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights “express[ed her] solidarity with judicial colleagues who have been attacked or jailed by their governments, not necessarily because they are women but for their integrity and conviction” and named Judge Afiuni. Statement by Ms. Navanethem Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, at the Jubilee Biennial Conference of the International Association of Women Judges, Seul, May 12, 2010.

The Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers also mentioned the case in her presentation. Statement by Ms. Gabriela Carina Knaul de Albuquerque e Silva, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, at the Jubilee Biennial Conference of the International Association of Women Judges, Seul, May 12, 2010.

[114] Statement by Gabriela Carina Knaul de Albuquerque e Silva, United Nations special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Mar del Plata, Argentina, April 12, 2010.

[115] Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, “Council holds interactive dialogue with experts on enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention and internally displaced persons,” press release, March 7, 2011, http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=10812&LangID=E (accessed May 21, 2012).

[116] Joint statement by Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Mr. El Hadji Malick Sow; Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Ms. Gabriela Knaul; and Special Rapporteur on torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment or punishment, Mr. Juan Méndez, “UN experts alarmed at continued detention of Venezuelan Judge Afiuni,” December 27, 2011, http://acnudh.org/en/2011/12/un-experts-alarmed-at-continued-detention-of-venezuelan-judge-afiuni (accessed May 21, 2012).

[117] Letter from Elizabeth Abi-Mershed, acting executive secretary of the InterAmerican Commission on Human Rights, to Ligia Bolivar and others, stating that the IACHR had adopted “Provisional Measures MC-380-09,” January 11, 2010. Copy on file at Human Rights Watch.

[118] Inter-American Court of Human Rights, “President’s resolution regarding the request of provisional measures presented by the Inter-American Commission regarding Venezuela, Case Maria Lourdes Afiuni,” para. 12.

[119] UN Human Rights Council, “Draft report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review. Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of). Unedited Version,” A/HRC/WG.6/12/L.10, October 11, 2011, 2011, http://www.upr-info.org/IMG/pdf/a_hrc_wg.6_12_l.10_venezuela.pdf (accessed May 21, 2012).

[120] Public letter by Noam Chomsky, “Judge María Lourdes Afiuni has suffered enough,” July 2011.

[121] Public letter by Noam Chomsky, “Humanitarian Release for Judge María Lourdes Afiuni,” December 21, 2011.

[122] The Supreme Court also stated that the petitioners could not use this type of appeal to challenge the decision on the merits. Supreme Court of Justice of Venezuela, File No. 11-0389, July 26, 2011, http://www.tsj.gov.ve/decisiones/scon/Julio/1238-26711-2011-11-0389.html (accessed June 4, 2012). (De allí que le asistió razón a la Corte de apelaciones cuando estimó que la decisión recurrida en apelación, al no resultar desfavorable para la actora, respecto a la condición en la cual se encontraba sometida a una medida judicial privativa de libertad frente a unas cautelares menos gravosa, carecía de interés para apelar ya que la lesión debía devenir de un real agravio y no de su apreciación subjetiva. (...) Sin que el juzgador de amparo pueda inmiscuirse dentro de esa autonomía del juez en el estudio y resolución de la causa salvo que tal criterio viole, notoriamente, derechos o principios constitucionales.)

[123] In these cases, if the accused is found guilty, the judge decides which crime is applicable to the case and imposes the sentence. Code of Criminal Procedures, arts. 65, 105, 106, 161, 162, 166, 362.

[124] Ibid., art. 164.

[125] Appeal presented by José Amalio Graterol, undated. Copy on file at Human Rights Watch.

[126] Supreme Court of Justice of Venezuela, File No. 11-0345, October 11, 2011, http://www.tsj.gov.ve/decisiones/scon/Octubre/1505-111011-2011-11-0345.html (accessed June 11, 2012).

[127] Human Rights Watch email communication with Thelma Fernández, Judge Afiuni’s lawyer, October 17, 2011.

[128] Human Rights Watch interview with a member of the judiciary, April 16, 2012. (Son decisiones ejemplarizantes que causaron además de temor, terror… Ya no hay riesgo de ver afectado tu cargo, sino también tu libertad personal.)

[129] Human Rights Watch interview with a member of the judiciary, March 30, 2012. ([El caso] Afiuni ha generado un gran miedo en el Poder Judicial… La presión para resolver a favor del gobierno es mayor a raíz del caso Afiuni… Saber que puedo ser víctima de una situación tipo Afiuni asusta. Hay mucho miedo y es generalizado. Quienes quieren mantener independencia es habitual que se excusen o se inhiban de casos resonados o políticos.)

[130] Human Rights Watch interview with a member of the judiciary, Caracas, March 20, 2012. (Los jueces tienen mucho miedo porque saben o presumen cuáles pueden ser las consecuencias porque ya pasó. No se arriesgan para no pasar por eso. Cuidan cada paso que dan. Todos los días, a cada rato, hay llamados de la presidencia del Circuito que te dicen lo que tienes que hacer. [El caso] Afiuni genera miedo a tomar decisiones ajustadas a derecho. Antes había miedo, pero ahora es peor.)

[131] Human Rights Watch interview with a member of the judiciary, April 16, 2012. (Los jueces no deciden con independencia porque no deciden contra lo que suponen pueden ser los interesesel criterio del gobierno y del Estado.)

[132] Information provided to Human Rights Watch by member of the Afiuni family. (Muchos jueces, de forma privada, me manifestaron que no tienen otra alternativa que asumir las directivas del gobierno. Lo tienen que obedecer. Ahora tienen miedo que los apresen. Decenas de internas en el INOF dijeron que el juez le había dicho que no había pruebas pero no las podían soltar porque sino iba preso como Afiuni.)

[133] International Bar Association, “Distrust in Justice: The Afiuni case and the independence of the judiciary in Venezuela,” April 2011, http://www.ibanet.org/Document/Default.aspx?DocumentUid=CE82F018-221F-465B-81CD-2C4E1669A2EE(accessed May 21, 2012), p. 9; Letter from Sternford Moyo, IBAHRI Co-Chair, to President Hugo Chávez, February 13, 2011, http://www.ibanet.org/Article/Detail.aspx?ArticleUid=5907E767-FBBF-4CC4-BFCF-4A6323CF9303 (accessed May 21, 2012).

[134] The treaty was signed on November 22, 1969, and ratified on June 23, 1977. OAS International Law Department, “B-32: American Convenion on Human Rights” (B-32: Convención Americana sobre Derechos Humanos ‘Pacto San José de Costa Rica’), undated, http://www.oas.org/juridico/english/Sigs/b-32.html (accessed May 21, 2012).

[135] “Chávez criticizes the IACHR’s reaction on April 11, 2002” (Chávez criticó actuación de la CIDH el 11 de abril de 2002), video, June 5, 2012, http://www.eluniversal.com/nacional-y-politica/120605/chavez-critico-actuacion-de-la-cidh-el-11-de-abril-de-2002 (accessed June 7, 2012); Ministry of Popular Power of Information and Communication, “Chávez talks about the decision by the ‘sadly famous’ IACHR” (Chávez habló sobre decisión de la ‘tristemente célebre’ CIDH), September 17, 2011, http://www.minci.gob.ve/noticias_-_prensa/28/207968/ (accessed May 21, 2012); “IACHR is morally incompetent to judge Venezuela” (CIDH está imposibilitada moralmente para emitir juicio sobre Venezuela), Radio Nacional de Venezuela, April 27, 2007, http://www.rnv.gob.ve/noticias/index.php?act=ST&f=2&t=46392 (accessed May 21, 2012), “President rejects OAS comments against Venezuela” (Presidente rechazó señalamientos de OEA contra Venezuela), Radio Nacional de Venezuela, May 9, 2009, http://www.rnv.gob.ve/noticias/index.php?act=ST&f=29&t=96991&hl=&s=8fa3a9b7cd43931731e30f14aa5b27a5 (accessed May 21, 2012); “IACHR presents biased information on the human rights situation in the country” (CIDH presenta datos sesgados sobre la situación de DD HH en el país), Radio National de Venezuela, http://www.rnv.gov.ve/noticias/?act=ST&f=&t=120819 (accessed May 21, 2012); “Government rejects lack of impartiality of the IACHR's rapporteurship” (Gobierno rechaza parcialización de Relatoría de CIDH), Radio Nacional de Venezuela, October 25, 2004, http://www.rnv.gob.ve/noticias/index.php?act=ST&f=2&t=9578&hl=&s=2fcce081db6131fcb63db5de08671d0f (accessed May 12, 2012); “Venezuela will not cede to blackmail of right wing politicians of the IACHR” (Venezuela no cederá ante chantaje de políticos de ultraderecha de la CIDH), Radio Nacional de Venezuela, June 17, 2010, http://www.rnv.gob.ve/noticias/index.php?act=ST&f=29&t=130411&hl=&s=8fa3a9b7cd43931731e30f14aa5b27a5 (accessed May 21, 2012).

[136] IACHR, “Press Release on Events in Venezuela,” press release 14/02, April 13, 2002, http://www.cidh.oas.org/Comunicados/English/2002/Press14.02.htm (accessed May 21, 2012)

[137] Ibid.

[138] IACHR, “Democracy and Human Rights in Venezuela;” “Chávez criticizes IACHR for its report” (Chávez critica informe de la CIDH), YouTube video posted by “telesurtv,” February 25, 2010, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2RshtJ11KZs&noredirect=1 (accessed May 8, 2012). (Fíjense ustedes cómo funciona la OEA. Una institución que conformada por una burocracia, haya tenido un señor de presidente que apoyó dictaduras, que reconoció al gobierno de Carmona en este salón se juramentó él mismo como Napoleón allá en Notre Dame, que se puso él mismo la corona. Más o menos así fue Carmona. Yo, el supremo. Y me acusan a mí de dictador. Yo recuerdo los informes de esa Comisión después del golpe de estado. Que nunca se pronunció en relación al atropello contra la democracia en Venezuela.)

“Chávez announces that he will abandon the IACHR” (Chávez anuncia que abandonará la CIDH), video posted online by José Aguilera, February 26, 2010, http://eju.tv/2010/02/chvez-anuncia-que-venezuela-abandonar-la-cidh/ (accessed May 21, 2012). ([Y]o le di instrucciones al canciller, por cierto, porque ya no vale la pena ni responderle a esa gente ¿Para qué? Es pura basura. No, lo que nosotros deberíamos hacer es prepararnos para denunciar el acuerdo a través del cual Venezuela se adscribió o como se llame a esa nefasta Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos, y salirnos de ahí porque no vale la pena. Es una mafia, es lo que hay ahí.)

[139] “The IACHR has no moral grounds to talk about human rights in Venezuela” (CIDH no tiene moral para hablar de derechos humanos en Venezuela), PSUV press release, March 1, 2010, http://www.psuv.org.ve/temas/noticias/CIDH-no-tiene-moral-para-hablar-de-derechos-humanos-en-Venezuela/ (accessed May 21, 2012). ([N]o tiene ninguna moral para hablar de Venezuela pues es un instrumento político que forma parte de la mundialización capitalista y responde a los intereses imperiales representados por la Agencia Central de Inteligencia.)

[140] “Ombudsperson does not recognize the IACHR as an impartial institution” (Defensoría del Pueblo no reconoce a la CIDH como institución imparcial), Correo del Orinoco, February 25, 2010, http://www.correodelorinoco.gob.ve/nacionales/defensoria-pueblo-no-reconoce-cidh-institucion-imparcial/ (accessed May 21, 2012).

[141] According to the commission, Zuloaga’s detention, which was the consequence of a judicial investigation for statements he made during a meeting of the Inter-American Press Association abroad, “showed the lack of judicial independence in Venezuela and the use of the criminal justice [system] to sanction critical expressions, which produces a chilling effect that extends to society as a whole.” IACHR, “IACHR Repudiates arrest of Guillermo Zuloaga in Venezuela,” press release 37/10, March 25, 2010, http://www.cidh.oas.org/Comunicados/English/2010/37-10eng.htm (accessed May 21, 2012).

“Venezuela repudiates politized position of the IACHR, which defames public powers” (Venezuela repudia posición politizada de la CIDH que difama poderes del estado), PSUV press release, March 26, 2010, http://www.psuv.org.ve/temas/noticias/Venezuela-repudia-posicion-politizada-de-la-CIDH-que-difama-poderes-del-Estado/  (accessed May 21, 2012). ([L]a posición de la CIDH está basada únicamente en los argumentos de la oposición golpista en Venezuela.)

[142] Ibid.

[143] The commission stated that the broad language included in the proposed enabling law granted the president powers that could undermine basic rights, particularly by allowing him to create crimes, regulate international cooperation, and impose excessive restrictions when regulating the media. It also expressed concern regarding proposals to extend existing problematic restrictions to the internet. IACHR, “IACHR concerned about law initiatives in Venezuela that could undermine the effective exercise of human rights,” press release 122/10, December 15, 2010, http://www.cidh.oas.org/Comunicados/English/2010/122-10eng.htmhtm (accessed May 21, 2012).

[144] “Chaderton denounces the IACHR for its new attacks against Venezuelan democracy” (Chaderton denuncia nueva arremetida de la CIDH contra la democracia venezolana), Correo del Orinoco, December 16, 2010, http://www.correodelorinoco.gob.ve/nacionales/chaderton-denuncia-nueva-arremetida-cidh-contra-democracia-venezolana/ (accessed May 21, 2012). ([P]ersonajes al servicio de las estrategias de la Agencia Central de Inteligencia de los Estados Unidos de América y cómplices silentes de las continuas violaciones de los Derechos Humanos, cometidas a escala interamericana y global por la más violenta potencia militar de mundo, arremeten contra la democracia venezolana y se colocan al lado de la dictadura mediática y de los elementos desestabilizadores nacionales e internacionales que tratan de destruir las instituciones democráticas electas soberanamente por el pueblo venezolano.)

[145] “Ombudsperson does not recognize the IACHR as an impartial institution,” Correo del Orinoco, February 25, 2010; “Ombudsperson proposes to close the IACHR” (Defensora del pueblo propone bajar la Santamaría’ de la CIDH), Correo del Orinoco, October 29, 2010, http://www.correodelorinoco.gob.ve/nacionales/defensora-pueblo-venezuela-propone-%e2%80%9cbajar-santamaria%e2%80%9d-cidh/ (accessed May 21, 2012).

[146] IACHR, “IACHR Concerned about Security Crisis at Venezuelan Prison,” May 22, 2012, http://www.oas.org/en/iachr/media_center/PReleases/2012/055.asp (accessed May 28, 2012).

[147] “Justice system guarantees human rights of people deprived of liberty” (Sistema de justicia garantiza derechos humanos de privados de libertad), Radio Nacional de Venezuela, May 24, 2012, http://www.rnv.gov.ve/noticias/index.php?act=ST&f=27&t=184857 (accessed May 28, 2012); “Venezuelan justice system is capable of resolving its problems” (La Justicia Venezolana está en capacidad de resolver sus problemas), Agencia Venezolana de Noticias, May 25, 2012, http://www.avn.info.ve/node/114190 (accessed May 28, 2012); “Supreme Court president states that leaving the IACHR is a ‘sovereign’ decision” (Presidenta del TSJ asegura que decisión de abandonar la CIDH es ‘soberana’), Youtube video posted by “SoyGlobovisión,” May 24, 2012, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kNC13rlmNq4 (accessed May 28, 2012).

[148] “Luisa Estella Morales: Venezuela can withdraw from the IACHR” (Luisa Estella Morales: Venezuela sí puede abandonar la CIDH), Agencia Venezolana de Noticias, June 4, 2012, http://www.avn.info.ve/node/115835(accessed June 5, 2012).

[149] “Chávez criticizes the IACHR's reaction on April 11, 2002” (Chávez criticó actuación de la CIDH el 11 de abril de 2002), video, June 5, 2012, http://www.eluniversal.com/nacional-y-politica/120605/chavez-critico-actuacion-de-la-cidh-el-11-de-abril-de-2002 (accessed June 7, 2012); “President Chávez proposes to create Latin American mechanisms of unity and integration” (Presidente Chávez propone crear mecanismos latinoamericanos de unidad e integración), Agencia Venezolana de Noticias, June 4, 2012, http://www.avn.info.ve/node/115797(accessed June 5, 2012).

[150]“OAS approved proposal by Ecuador and Venezuela about Inter-American human rights system” (OEA aprobó propuesta de Ecuador y Venezuela sobre sistema interamericano de DDHH), Correo del Orinoco, January 26, 2012, http://www.correodelorinoco.gob.ve/paises/oea-aprobo-propuesta-ecuador-y-venezuela-sobre-sistema-interamericano-dd-hh/ (accessed May 21, 2012).

[151]“Maduro calls on the región to protect human rights beyond the Washington bureaucracy” (Maduro insta a la región a velar por los derechos humanos lejos de la burocracia de Washington), Agencia Venezolana de Noticias, May 3, 2012, http://www.avn.info.ve/contenido/maduro-insta-regi%C3%B3n-velar-ddhh-lejos-burocracia-washington (accessed May 21, 2012). ([A] crear instancias propias para la defensa de los derechos humanos, más allá de la experiencia de una burocracia internacional controlada desde Washington.)

[152]“Chávez asks the State Council to withdraw Venezuela from the IACHR” (Chávez pide al Consejo de Estado retirar a Venezuela de la CIDH), Correo del Orinoco, April 30, 2012, http://www.correodelorinoco.gob.ve/nacionales/chavez-pide-al-consejo-estado-retirar-a-venezuela-cidh/ (accessed May 21, 2012). (Lo primero que pido (al Consejo de Estado) es el estudio acelerado y las recomendaciones para retirar de inmediato a Venezuela de la tristemente célebre Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos.)

[153] “The Attorney General proposes to create a Latin American council to replace the IACHR” (La Fiscal General propuso crear un consejo latinoamericano que reemplace la CIDH), Correo del Orinoco, May 4, 2012, http://www.correodelorinoco.gob.ve/nacionales/fiscal-general-propuso-crear-un-consejo-latinoamericano-que-reemplace-cidh/ (accessed May 21, 2012). (El organismo ha tenido una persecución sistemática contra la patria de Bolívar desde 1999.)

[154] “National Assembly approved accord to support withdrawal of Venezuela of the IACHR” (Asamblea Nacional aprobó acuerdo que respalda retiro de Venezuela de la CIDH), Correo del Orinoco, May 9, 2012, http://www.correodelorinoco.gob.ve/nacionales/asamblea-nacional-aprobo-acuerdo-que-respalda-retiro-venezuela-cidh/(accessed May 21, 2012).