The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) reiterates due process concerns with regard to the ongoing trial of Judge María Lourdes Afiuni, who was summoned on 21 February to a hearing to be held the following day. During the hearing on 22 February, the judge summarised previous hearings and denied preceding requests made by the defence. The next hearing is scheduled for 15 March 2019.
The 22 February hearing came more than a year after the last hearing took place, and only after Judge Afiuni’s penal suit for denial of justice on 8 February 2019 against Judge Manuel Bognanno, who is hearing her case.
Anne Ramberg Dr jur hc, IBAHRI Co-Chair, commented: ‘The IBAHRI denounces the hasty call to trial of Judge Afiuni that denied her legal team adequate time and facilities to prepare a defence. That there has been a suspension of trial for more than a year since 31 January 2018 brings to mind the adage “justice delayed is justice denied”. The IBAHRI directs the Venezuelan authorities to Article 14.3 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states all persons are to be tried without undue delay. It is unconscionable that Judge Afiuni has been imprisoned for simply carrying out her professional duties under international law, and that legal proceedings have far exceeded the maximum term of the penalty of seven years stipulated for the crimes for which she is tried.’
In December 2009, Judge Afiuni was arrested without a warrant after she ordered the conditional release of businessman Eligio Cedeño. At the time, he had been held for almost three years in pre-trial detention, in contravention of the Venezuelan Code of Criminal Procedure, which states a two-year maximum. For correctly applying the Venezuelan Code of Criminal Procedure, as well as a decision of the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention that found Mr Cedeño was being held arbitrarily, Judge Afiuni was subsequently imprisoned.
In November 2012, the criminal trial of Judge Afiuni began. However, after the prosecution failed to attend several evidentiary hearings, the trial was annulled. In June 2013, Judge Afiuni was released but remained on trial. She was required to report to the authorities every 15 days and was barred from leaving the country, speaking to the media and using social media networks. A second trial started in April 2015.
In April 2014, the IBAHRI published a Spanish language report, The Execution of Justice: The Criminal Trial of Judge María Lourdes Afiuni, which details a number of specific irregularities in her trial and states that the Venezuelan justice system does not contain adequate systemic safeguards to guarantee judicial independence, citing the trial of Judge Afiuni as emblematic of the situation in general. A five-page English language Executive Summary of The Execution of Justice: The Criminal Trial of Judge María Lourdes Afiuni was also distributed.
In December 2018, the IBAHRI sent an open letter to Venezuela’s President, Nicolás Maduro, denouncing the length of the proceedings and expressing deep regret for the lack of due process and fair trial guarantees, verified by the IBAHRI’s trial observers during their monitoring of proceedings.
IBAHRI Co-Chair, the Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG, commented, ‘Venezuela used to be a prosperous, dynamic society observing the rule of law, and a state compliant with universal human rights. It was respected in the councils of the world. Its citizens sat as judges on the International Court of Justice. Its people were proud of their historical links to Simón Bolívar, liberator of Latin America. It is a tragedy to watch the deterioration in the economic and legal scene in Venezuela. A precondition to the restoration of economic opportunities necessarily involves rebuilding the legal institutions: respect for an independent judiciary, a vigorous Bar and observance of universal human rights. The IBAHRI is committed to contributing to this long overdue process.’
Notes to the Editor
- Related material can be found on the IBAHRI’s dedicated Venezuela pages:
- The International Bar Association (IBA) – the global voice of the legal profession – is the foremost organisation for international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. Established in 1947, shortly after the creation of the United Nations, it was born out of the conviction that an organisation made up of the world's bar associations could contribute to global stability and peace through the administration of justice.
In the ensuing 70 years since its creation, the organisation has evolved from an association comprised exclusively of bar associations and law societies to one that incorporates individual international lawyers and entire law firms. The present membership is comprised of more than 80,000 individual international lawyers from most of the world’s leading law firms and some 190 bar associations and law societies spanning more than 170 countries.
The IBA has considerable expertise in providing assistance to the global legal community, and through its global membership, it influences the development of international law reform and helps to shape the future of the legal profession throughout the world.
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The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), an autonomous and financially independent entity, 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.
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