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Venezuela: Supreme Court Disregards Rights in Election Case

Rebuff to Inter-American Court a Blow to the Rule of Law

The Venezuelan Supreme Court’s decision on October 17, 2011, to disregard a binding decision by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in the case of an opposition politician is a blow to the rule of law, Human Rights Watch said today.

The case involved Leopoldo López, a former Caracas district mayor and a potential presidential candidate. He has been barred from seeking elected office by the country’s comptroller general since 2008 due to corruption allegations. But he has never been formally charged, prosecuted, or convicted.

“The Venezuelan Supreme Court today basically belongs to President Chávez,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch.  “Ever since his supporters packed the court in 2004, its rulings have repeatedly sought to protect the president’s political agenda, not to uphold basic human rights.”

On September 1, based on a challenge by López, the Inter-American Court ruled that Venezuela must allow him to run for office. But the Supreme Court ruled that the Inter-American Court’s decision was “not executable.”

The Supreme Court said that international norms must not contradict Venezuela’s constitution nor violate the country’s sovereignty, and that carrying out the ruling would run counter to the government’s international obligations to fight corruption. The court ruling ignores that Venezuela voluntarily undertook binding legal obligations when it became a party to the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights. Venezuela – and the Chavez government – is obliged not only to implement the provisions of the Convention in good faith, but is prohibited from invoking any provision of domestic law as a reason to refuse or fail to meet its obligations.

In a news conference, the Supreme Court president, Luisa Estella Morales, said that López could still run for office, but that she could not comment on whether he would be able to take office if elected.

President Hugo Chávez and his supporters have effectively neutralized the independence of Venezuela’s judiciary, Human Rights Watch said. In the absence of a judicial check on its actions, the Chávez government has systematically undermined basic human rights.

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