Human rights court here weighs a Venezuelan prohibition

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights is meeting to hear arguments regarding a 2008 decision by the Venezuelan government that has blocked hundreds of people from running for office.

Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez Mendoza was expected to testify Tuesday in front of the court in Costa Rica as it began its two-day hearing examining the order that affects 575 people, including Lopez.

According to the court’s Web site, it will hear statements by Lopez, a witness and four expert witnesses for his defense, as well as representatives for the Venezuelan government.

The ban on running for office remains in effect while the pro-Chavez state comptroller-general investigates the politicians on corruption charges. It expires in 2017.

Lopez says that if the court rules in the opposition’s favor, he plans to run for president in 2012.

The Human Rights Foundation filed an amicus curiae brief with the court. According to the organization, the decision of the court could make this a landmark case against the arbitrary deprivation of political rights.

“The court’s decision in this case could lead to the restitution of the human rights of thousands of people in
the Americas who are at this time arbitrarily banned from holding public office, from voting, or from participating as candidates in elections,” said Javier El-Hage, general counsel of Human Rights Foundation. “For the first time, the highest court of justice in the Western Hemisphere is being called upon to ratify the standard set forth in the American Convention on Human Rights, according to which a person may be deprived of his political rights only after being sentenced as a result of a judicial process that meets all due process safeguards,” said El-Hage.

According to the foundation brief, the court must examine, based on this standard, the case of the disqualification of López, former mayor of the Chacao municipality, in Caracas. In 2008, this prohibition was imposed on López by the federal prosecutor of Venezeula.

The Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, acting as plaintiff in this case on behalf of López, has also requested the court to declare that Venezuela violated the political rights of López, and, to order the Venezuelan state to reinstate them.

The Washington, D.C.,-based foundation said it considers this case an excellent opportunity for the court to determine that individuals who are incarcerated, but not yet sentenced, should never be deprived of their political rights. The court should also determine that in cases where the suspension or deprivation of political rights is an ancillary penalty to a criminal conviction, the prisoners should not also be deprived of their rights to vote as they serve their sentence, the foundation said.

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