IBAHRI urges Venezuelan authorities to grant Judge Afiuni absolute and unconditional freedom
The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) calls on Venezuela’s judicial authorities to grant absolute and unconditional freedom to Judge María Lourdes Afiuni as per the announcement made to journalists by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet.
Following a June 2019 visit to Venezuela, Ms Bachelet presented her latest report on the country before the Human Rights Council on 5 July 2019. During the presentation, she informed the press that Venezuela had freed 22 political prisoners, including Judge Afiuni, the previous day. However, a few hours after Ms Bachelet’s declaration, the Supreme Court of Justice of Venezuela issued a message from its official Twitter account that Trial Court N.17 of the Criminal Circuit of the Metropolitan Area of Caracas had only ended Judge Afiuni’s precautionary measures.
On 8 July 2019, Judge Afiuni received official notification from Trial Court N.17, dated 4 July 2019, that only one of the precautionary measures against her had been lifted: the duty to report regularly to tribunals. The travel ban and the prohibition against communicating with the media or social networks continue. In addition, the conviction of corruption is still standing, and the possibility that Judge Afiuni be imprisoned again is subject to the resolution of her pending appeal before the Appeal Court of the Criminal Circuit of Caracas.
Anne Ramberg Dr jur hc, IBAHRI Co-Chair, condemned the recent developments: ‘It is disgraceful that Judge Afiuni has not been freed unconditionally. Only a public, duly notified judgment by a competent court, exonerating her of all charges and granting her effective reparations, can be considered an appropriate measure.’She added: ‘The IBAHRI denounces the complete disregard of due process guarantees. Freeing her without delay will demonstrate an effective step towards the restoration of the rule of law and the respect and promotion of human rights in Venezuela.’
The IBAHRI is concerned that the proceedings against Judge Afiuni have once again become an example of the erosion of the rule of law and judicial independence in Venezuela, as corroborated by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in her latest report. In it, she states, ‘The lack of independence of, and corruption within, the judiciary are also major obstacles faced by victims in their search for justice and reparation.’
The declarations of the High Commissioner sparked hope that the nine-year long political process against Judge Afiuni was finally over, however, the recent actions of the Venezuelan authorities continue to restrict Judge Afiuni's freedom and disregard her human rights, as has been the case for almost a decade. In brief:
- On 12 December 2009, Judge Afiuni was arrested and detained in a high-security prison for women, the Instituto Nacional de Orientación Femenina. After numerous human rights violations suffered during her detention, on 2 February 2011 she was placed under domiciliary arrest. On 14 June 2013, Trial Court N.17 of Caracas substituted her domiciliary arrest with restrictions to her freedom of movement, banning her from leaving the country and making it her duty to report to tribunals every 15 days, as well as banning any contact with the media or the use of social media networks.
- On 21 March 2019, Trial Court N.17 of Caracas convicted Judge Afiuni to five years in prison for corruption, despite absence of any evidence. The written copy of the judgment was issued on 16 May 2019. The sentence maintained the five-year prison conviction, while contradictorily acknowledging that there was no evidence of any undue gain or favour received by Judge Afiuni and exempted her from the pecuniary sanctions established in Article 62 of the Venezuelan Criminal Code for corruption. The judgment also declared that the precautionary measures imposed on Judge Afiuni in 2013 would continue to apply pending a decision by another judge specifying whether she would return to prison and for how long. Judge Afiuni appealed this judgment on 31 May 2019.
Notes to the Editor
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A timeline depicting the Venezuelan authorities’ systematic abuse of human rights can be viewed here.
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.
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