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[For immediate release: Tuesday, 29 April 2014]
Urgent need for Venezuelan justice system reform is highlighted by criminal trial of Judge Afiuni states
new IBAHRI report

 A new report states the Venezuelan justice system does not
contain adequate systemic safeguards to guarantee judicial independence
and cites the trial of Judge María Lourdes Afiuni as emblematic of the
situation in general. Describing her trial as being characterised by
multiple violations of due process and other human rights, the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) points to an urgent need for reform of the Venezuelan judiciary.

The 28-page IBAHRI trial observation report, entitled The Execution of Justice: The criminal trial of Judge María Lourdes Afiuni, details a number of specific irregularities in the trial of Judge Afiuni, including:

  • her being arrested without a warrant and the late President of
    Venezuela Hugo Chavez Frías appearing on national television immediately
    afterwards calling for her imprisonment;
  • her being subjected to grievous physical abuse in the female maximum
    security prison Instituto Nacional de Orientación Femenina between
    December 2009 and February 2011, amounting to violations of her right to
    life, liberty, personal integrity and adequate conditions of detention;
  • the failure of the public prosecutor to produce sufficient evidence
    at any stage of the trial in order to substantiate the allegations
    against her; and
  • the frequent procedural delays resulting in a criminal process that
    has been drawn out over four years, violating Judge Afiuni’s right to a
    fair trial within a reasonable time.

IBAHRI Co-Chair Sternford Moyo commented ‘The IBAHRI remains
deeply concerned by the serious damage the criminal trial of Judge
Afiuni has caused to the independence of the Venezuelan judiciary and
the legal profession as a whole by creating an atmosphere of fear. On
multiple occasions the IBAHRI heard that “no one wants to be the next
He added, ‘The independence of judges and lawyers is an
essential component of any democratic society and a fundamental pillar
of the rule of law. It is clear that the Venezuelan justice system is in
urgent need of reform if public confidence in the fair administration
of justice is to be restored. We urge the Venezuelan government to heed
the calls of national and international organisations to take swift and
meaningful steps to make these principles and obligations a reality.’

The IBAHRI sent international observers to attend Afiuni trial hearings between November 2012 and October 2013. The trial was annulled on the 23 October
because of it being ‘interrupted’ by the prosecution failing to turn up
at an evidentiary hearing. A retrial date has yet to be scheduled.

The Execution of Justice: The criminal trial of Judge María Lourdes Afiuni is
the IBAHRI’s sixth report on Venezuela. With each one the separation
between the executive and the judiciary is observed to be diminishing.
Of particular concern to the IBAHRI is:

  • the system of provisional judges under which judges are subject to discretionary dismissal without appeal;
  • the lack of implementation of the judicial code of ethics;
  • inadequate parameters regarding the appointment and removal process for judges; and
  • frequent executive interference.

IBAHRI Co-Chair Baroness Helena Kennedy QC commented, ‘The Afiuni
trial is one of the most important political cases in Venezuela and the
IBAHRI finds it troubling that Judge Afiuni was arrested without the
issuance of a warrant following her decision to release a “political
prisoner” in accordance with the Venezuelan Penal Code and a United
Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention decision. The only
conclusion a person can reach is that the arrest was arbitrary and
politically motivated.’
She added, ‘Four years later, having
endured death threats, abuse and serious health complications, there is
still no final decision in sight. Judge Afiuni remains in a Kafkaesque
criminal process. ’

The Execution of Justice: The criminal trial of Judge María Lourdes Afiuni,
published in Spanish with a translated English executive summary, will
be launched today, Tuesday 29 April 2014, at the plenary working group
meeting at the annual meeting of the Federation of Latin American
Judges’ Associations (Federación Latinoamericana de Magistrados – FLAM)
in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

Click here to download the Executive Summary of The Execution of Justice: The criminal trial of Judge María Lourdes Afiuni English language version

Click here to download The Execution of Justice: The criminal trial of Judge María Lourdes Afiuni Spanish language only.

Notes to the Editor

(1)    Details of Judge Afiuni’s case:

  • Judge Afiuni, a titular judge, was charged with ‘corruption’ and
    ‘assistance to escape’ following the conditional release of Eligio
    Cedeño in 2009.
  • She granted bail to Mr Cedeño after two years of pre-trial
    detention, applying provisions of the Venezuelan penal code and taking
    into account a decision of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention
    that considered this individual’s detention unlawful.
  • Following her arrest Judge Afiuni was arbitrarily detained in
    prison, where she developed serious health complications as the result
    of physical abuse.
  • In February 2011 she was transferred to house arrest where she was
    kept under heavy armed guard until her conditional release on 14 June
    2013, granted by Judge Marilda Rios of the 17th Caracas District
  • Judge Afiuni is required to present herself to the court every 15
    days and is banned from leaving the country, speaking to the media, and
    using social media networks.

(2)    The International Bar Association
(IBA), established in 1947, is the world’s leading organisation of
international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies.
Through its global membership of individual lawyers, law firms, bar
associations and law societies it influences the development of
international law reform and shapes the future of the legal profession
throughout the world.

The IBA’s
administrative office is in London. Regional offices are located in: São
Paulo, Brazil; Seoul, South Korea; and Washington DC, US, while the
International Bar Association’s International Criminal Court Programme (IBA ICC) is managed from an office in The Hague.

The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute
(IBAHRI) works to promote, protect and enforce human rights under a
just rule of law, and to preserve the independence of the judiciary and
the legal profession worldwide.

For further information please contact:

Romana St. Matthew – Daniel
Press Office
International Bar Association
4th Floor, 10 St Bride Street,
London EC4A 4AD

Mobile: +44 (0)7940 731 915
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