The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) condemns the arrest of Mr José Amalio Graterol, counsel to María Lourdes Afiuni, the Venezuelan judge suspended from the bench, incarcerated for 14 months, and under house arrest since February 2011 after releasing on bail a man who had been held in pre-trial detention for two-years without a court hearing – which is a contravention of the Venezuelan Penal Code and international law.
On 4 June 2012, Mr Graterol was detained when he refused to continue a criminal trial in the absence of his client, defendant Leonardo Colmenares, who had declined to appear in court, alleging that the acting judge, Yalitza Domínguez, was not impartial. When acting Judge Domínguez expressed her intention of continuing the trial in the absence of the accused, Mr Graterol refused to proceed stating that trials in absentia are not permitted under Venezuelan criminal law. Subsequently, Mr Graterol was arrested on the afternoon of Monday 4 June and has since been kept in custody.
Due to delays in filing by the prosecution and court administration, the hearing, originally scheduled for Tuesday 5 June was postponed. Mr Graterol appeared at the ‘tribunal Segundo de Control’ of Vargas State yesterday, Thursday, and after the hearing (that lasted more than two hours) was returned to the prison of Macuto, where he has been kept since Monday. At the time of writing he is still being kept in detention.
Mr Graterol has represented Judge Afiuni since her arrest in 2009. Recently, he and his colleague, lawyer Thelma Fernández, complained of having been harassed and threatened following their declarations criticizing the judicial system in Venezuela. The last of these statements was made public, on the Venezuelan television programme Yo Prometo the night preceding Mr Gaterol’s arrest.
Chair of the IBAHRI, Sternford Moyo commented: ‘Mr Graterol’s apprehension is a clear breach of Venezuela’s own criminal laws, a clear violation of the fundamental principle of the independence of the legal profession and also represents as a serious infringement of firmly established international principles.’ Mr Moyo cited The United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, saying that it ‘clearly states that “Governments shall ensure that lawyers are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference and that lawyers shall not suffer, or be threatened with, prosecution or administrative, economic or other sanctions for any action taken in accordance with recognised professional duties, standards and ethics”’. He concluded, ‘The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute urges the Venezuelan authorities to take the necessary steps to release Mr Graterol and to comply with international standards and basic principles of law.’
In 2010, the IBAHRI visited Caracas and found that the incarceration of Judge Afiuni was emblematic of the lack of judicial independence in Venezuela and has had a serious ‘chilling effect’ on the judiciary. The report, Distrust in Justice: The Afiuni case and the independence of the judiciary in Venezuela was published in April 2011. Below are links to the full Report in Spanish, and to the Executive Summary only in English and Portuguese.
· (Spanish full IBAHRI report) – Distrust in Justice: The Afiuni case and the independence of the judiciary in Venezuela
· (English Executive Summary only) – Distrust in Justice: The Afiuni case and the independence of the judiciary in Venezuela
· (Portuguese Executive Summary only) – Distrust in Justice: The Afiuni case and the independence of the judiciary in Venezuela
Other relevant IBAHRI links
· Harassment of Judge Afiuni’s lawyers, José Amalio Graterol and Thelma Fernandez alarming to IBAHRI – 24 April 2012 news release detailing harassment.
· Click here for further information on Judge Afiuni’s situation.