Venezuela: Human rights organisations appeal to the UN on case emblematic of Maduro’s assault on the Rule of Law

Thursday 12 November 2020

The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights (RWCHR), and the Human Rights Foundation (HRF) appealed to the United Nations to hold Venezuela accountable for the 11-year persecution and prosecution of Judge Maria Lourdes Afiuni (pictured), and to protect the independence of the Venezuelan legal profession.

The joint action taken by the organisations seeks to reverse Judge Afiuni’s conviction, establish an investigation into her devastating torture and protect the professional independence of the Venezuelan legal profession in the future. This democratic pillar is essential for any recovery from the current humanitarian disaster.

On Sunday 8 November, Venezuela’s highest court affirmed Judge Afiuni’s five-year prison term on the fabricated and absurd charge of ‘spiritual corruption’ — a first in Venezuelan history, as the alleged offense has not been recognised in the country’s criminal legislation. Judge Afiuni’s case represents the erosion of the rule of law and systematic use of torture to intimidate judges and lawyers in the Maduro administration’s Venezuela.

Judge Afiuni was first arrested on 10 December 2009, moments after issuing a ruling for the conditional release of then political prisoner, Eligio Cedeño, a fate that Judge Afiuni would soon face. She was finally transferred to house arrest after suffering brutal torture and sexual violence at the hands of State officials in prison, resulting in a miscarriage and emergency surgery. She and her family have faced constant harassment over the years. Judge Afiuni’s life is now at imminent risk if she is sent back to prison to serve a cruel five-year sentence, as she prepares for chemotherapy and radiation after recently being diagnosed with cancer.

IBAHRI Director, Baroness Helena Kennedy QC remarked, ‘After many years of observing the case against Judge Afiuni, our trial report concluded that there was a complete disregard for due process and fair trial guarantees, primarily owing to the absence of judicial independence and arbitrary decision-making. Her case is formative to the situation of the legal profession in Venezuela, demonstrating the significant and gradual deterioration of the rule of law and human rights in the country, creating a chilling effect. We hope this joint action will bring us a step closer to ensuring unconditional release and reparations for her.’

‘Judge Afiuni is a looking glass into the persistent and pervasive assault on the rule of law and the crimes against humanity committed by the Maduro regime in Venezuela, particularly torture in detention,’said the Hon. Irwin Cotler, RWCHR Chair and former Canadian Justice Minister. ‘The Afiuni case was even used to coerce other judges to issue arrest warrants against prominent opposition leaders like Leopoldo López. It is a direct attack on the independence of the judiciary and dramatises the closing of democratic space in Venezuela.’

‘Judge Afiuni has endured years of persecution, imprisonment, torture, and unspeakable mistreatment at the hands of the Venezuelan regime after enforcing a UN human rights decision that the late President Chávez disagreed with. He ordered the abuse directed at her,’said Thor Halvorssen, president of HRF. ‘Afiuni’s is an open and shut case that exposes the utter lack of judicial independence in Venezuela. Her nightmare should end. She should be acquitted.’


Notes to the Editor

  1. View related items on the IBAHRI’s work concerning Judge Afiuni’s case:
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Follow the IBAHRI on Twitter here: twitter.com/IBAHRI

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
Direct Line: +44 (0)20 7842 0094
Main Office: +44 (0)20 7842 0090
Fax: +44 (0)20 7842 0091

Email: romana.daniel@int-bar.org
Website: www.ibanet.org

Download the PDF of the joint submission to the UN Special Procedures:
Short link
:  tinyurl.com/y2mc3j2s
Full link: www.ibanet.org/MediaHandler?id=db68c502-ae68-4bc7-a1af-7e760697abd6

IBAHRI website page link for this news release
Short link
Full link: www.ibanet.org/Article/NewDetail?ArticleUid=ec49b347-c770-44f9-8735-d0215422028b