David Smilde and Hugo Pérez Hernaíz
This week the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) put out a statement (signed by 44 organizations, including WOLA) criticizing Venezuela’s decision to withdraw from the Interamerican Human Rights Court (I/A Court H.R.). This is a discussion that is only beginning and we hope to run a variety of pieces on the issues in play.
The government’s announcement of withdrawal from the Court has received considerable attention here in Venezuela. In this post we have compiled some quotes and links to provide readers with a feel for what is being said by government officials, the political opposition, and human rights activists.
The Venezuelan government announced its withdrawal from the Court in response to a ruling in favor of Raúl Díaz Peña, a Venezuelan citizen convicted of putting bombs in front of the Colombian and Spanish embassies in Caracas in 2003. Convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison, he escaped and fled to the US in 2010 while he was on probation. The Court ruled that the Venezuelan government had violated his rights and subjected him to inhumane treatment.
The Ministry of Foreign Relations put out a statement making reference to the case saying: "The I/A Court H.R. continues to erode its credibility, emitting a perverse decision on a case that it never should have admitted, since under the principles of complementarity and subordination, it should only act when all internal resources have been exhausted." The ruling "reveals [the Court’s] complicity with Washington’s policy of protecting terrorists that attack the people of our America." The press release demanded that the Court "apply the principles of universality, impartiality, and objectivity, not selectivity in the examination of issues of human rights."
On July 31, President Hugo Chávez said that “The I/A Court H.R. didn’t rule against Venezuela but in favor of a terrorist.” He called the Interamerican Court and Commission “nefarious, rotten, and degenerate” and suggested that they have to “disappear because they are not up to up to the task presented them by the new world that is being born.” They have traditionally been used “to blackmail governments, to pressure governments. But we cannot be blackmailed. First and foremost we have our national dignity.”
Foreign Minister Nicolás Maduro said "We will submit a letter to the general secretariat and then we will have a one-year period in which Venezuela will withdraw from the Court, which has acted in line with the behavior of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in coddling the [same] terrorist groups that tried to end the Venezuelan constitutional process." With this last phrase he is referring to the Venezuelan governments’ displeasure with the Commission’s recognition of the interim government of Pedro Carmona during the April 2002 coup.
Elsewhere Maduro argued that Venezuela’s withdrawal will not affect the protection of human rights: "Venezuelans are protected, in the first place, by the most advanced constitution in the world in terms of human rights. From the legal, juridical, constitutional point of view our people can count on the supreme protection of our Constitution. In second place, we participate in many different international mechanisms for the protection of human rights, such as the Human Rights Council of the UN."
In an op-ed, PSUV deputy to the AN and former ambassador to the UN Francisco Arias Cárdenas said the following: “[The Court] does not serve the purpose of justice, because it really pursues the interests of domination through the manipulation of the issue of human rights. It provides the excuse for open or disguised intervention by the US into the affairs of countries in the South of the continent. The US, by the way, has not signed the Convention, and is not subject to its rulings and verdicts. Nevertheless, it pays for facilities and salaries so that functionaries [of the OAS] can fulfill their dream of living in Washington, close to their patron to whom they faithfully respond.”
Venezuela’s opposition focused on how withdrawal further isolated Venezuela from the international community. Opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles called withdrawal from the Court “irresponsible.” By Twitter he sent a message saying “The latest from the candidate and his government: withdraw our Venezuela from the I/A Court H. Since he has nothing new to offer or show, all he has left are these type of actions.”
The Capriles campaign—“Comando Venezuela”—criticized the decision: "Today we can see that once more this government is attempting to take away from Venezuelans, above all from those most needy and most ignored by the justice system, their right to be protected by international institutions like the I/A Court H.R…Withdrawal from the Court represents an even greater isolation of the country from the international community." They also argued that withdrawal could "provide an excuse for state actions that could work against citizens’ exercise of their rights."
Maria Corina Machado, opposition member of the National Assembly and advisor in the Capriles campaign said: "It’s as if a delinquent said that he will not submit to justice. International institutions are there precisely to defend citizens form abuses by their governments….Citizens cannot resign themselves to submit to courts run by magistrates such as Eladio Aponte Aponte."
Venezuela’s human rights community defended the role of the Inter-American system, and raised questions about the process and the international impact of Venezuela’s leaving the I/A Court H.R.
Liliana Ortega of the Committee for the Families of Victims (COFAVIC) said: "In a country where the [Attorney General] acknowledges that 93% of cases that it knows about never reach a judge, the Inter-American System of Protection for human rights has become the last hope of justice for many." Ortega argues that cases such as Caracazo, and the massacres at El Amparo and Retén de Catia prison, were addressed because of the actions of the [Court].
COFAVIC and the Apostolic Vicariate of Caracas issued a statement saying: "[Withdrawal from the I/A Court H.R.] severely reduces the representation of victims in Venezuelan society" since a significant number of victims "are only ever heard by Inter-American judges."
Mariano Alvarado, Coordinator of human rights group Provea, argued that Venezuela’s exit from the I/A Court H.R. might cause conflict with MERCOSUR: "Venezuela is going into MERCOSUR on the wrong note because it is going against the human rights norms of the group and its spirit. The group has traditionally maintained good relations with the organisms of the [Interamerican] system"
Fernando M. Fernández, human rights lawyer and activist, argues that leaving the Court cannot be done by an administrative order. In order to exit the I/A Court H.R. Venezuela would need to “create a new constitutional assembly, because what is being proposed is so profound and transcendental that it cannot be decided with a simple reform or a referendum…We would have to eliminate the complete chapter on human rights (in the Constitution).”
The following is the relevant article from the 1999 Constitution.
Article 31: Everyone has the right, in the terms established by the human rights treaties, pacts and conventions ratified by the Republic, to address petitions and complaints to the intentional organs created for such purpose, in order to seek protection of his or her human rights. The State shall adopt, in accordance with the procedures established under this Constitution and by the law, such measures as may be necessary to enforce the decisions emanating from international organs as provided for under this article.