Rights group asks U.N. to study Venezuela’s courts

The Human Rights Foundation said Tuesday that it has submitted a petition and legal report to the United Nations special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers requesting that she send an allegation letter to the government of Venezuela regarding the state of subordination of the judiciary to the executive power in that country.

The foundation’s petition and legal report call on the U.N. special rapporteur “to inquire into the serious confessions and accusations recently made by former Venezuelan supreme court justice Eladio Aponte.” In a 40-minute interview and an affidavit that was recently made public by his attorney in Costa Rica, Aponte confessed to manipulating the criminal justice system in Venezuela in order to persecute political opponents.

“Former Justice Aponte lacks all credibility and integrity, as one can judge by his own self-incriminatory statements about his time on Venezuela’s highest bench. Clearly, he is capable of anything — an opportunist, a scoundrel,” said Thor Halvorssen, president of the Human Rights Foundation. “However, given that he was a retired army general who was appointed as a supreme court justice because of his loyalty to President Hugo Chávez, and given the detailed nature of his statements, we believe they must be investigated and taken very seriously by all international organizations championing human rights and democracy,” continued Halvorssen. “This individual wrote the decisions of the highest court in Venezuela for almost a decade, and played a key role in consolidating President Chavez’s authoritarianism.”

The foundation’s legal report documents the gradual erosion of judicial independence in Venezuela, as evidenced by the implementation of a mechanism for the arbitrary appointment and removal of judges in violation of the principles of stability and tenure, as well as the passing of a 2004 law and the subsequent stacking of the judiciary with judges loyal to the ruling party. This subordination of the judiciary even led to President Chávez and several justices of the supreme court making public statements in which they proclaimed that the judiciary must be subservient to the executive branch.

The foundation’s petition to the U.N. special rapporteur specifically asks her:

(1.) to inquire into the serious confessions and accusations made by Aponte;

(2.) to send an allegation letter to the State of Venezuela, requesting an official and comprehensive answer to each one of these allegations; and

(3.) to make concrete recommendations on measures that the state of Venezuela should undertake in order to reverse the subordination of the judiciary to the executive branch. In particular, “to cease the acts that are causing this situation, to offer appropriate assurances and guarantees of non-repetition, and to make full reparation for the injury caused by this internationally wrongful act.”

Sunday Venezuelans will go to the polls to either extend the almost 14-year rule of Chávez for another six years or choose his younger challenger Henrique Capriles to lead the nation. While the Venezuelan leader’s ongoing battle with cancer has been a prominent issue in the presidential race, that for many voters this election will be a referendum on the results of Chavez’s socialist policies.

As Sunday’s election nears, Chávez has stepped up new government building projects in Caracas that provide jobs and free housing to the poor. By using Venezuela’s vast oil resources to pay for billions of dollars worth of social programs and subsidies, the president has in the past been able to maintain the support of a majority of voters.

A tank of gasoline in Venezuela costs less than a bottle of water.

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