Venezuela’s judicial independence has been deeply eroded, according to a recent report from the UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. The report details the central role that Venezuela’s justice system has played in perpetuating state impunity for human rights violations and repressing government opponents.
Thursday’s report, which draws on interviews with 177 justice system actors and human rights abuse victims, finds that there are reasonable grounds to believe that high-level Venezuelan political actors have exerted significant influence over the judiciary.
Judicial and prosecutorial actors at all levels told the mission that they had experienced or witnessed external interference in decision-making, with some reporting that they had received instructions about how to decide cases from political actors, as well as from within the judicial or prosecutorial hierarchy.
In a press statement introducing the report, chairperson Marta Valiñas said, “Amid Venezuela’s profound human rights crisis, the independence of the judiciary has become deeply eroded, jeopardizing its role in imparting justice and safeguarding individual rights.” This erosion of judicial independence is alleged to have resulted in the targeting of government opponents, and impunity for state officials from investigation and prosecution.
The report found that of the 183 cases of detention of government opponents studied, 113 had made accusations of torture, sexual violence or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment against officials. Many of these allegations were never investigated.
The report also identified a number of irregularities in judicial procedure, ranging from the use of pre-trial detention as a routine, rather than an exceptional measure, to evidence of prosecutors and judges sustaining detentions or charges on the basis of illegally-obtained, manipulated or fabricated evidence, including evidence obtained via torture or coercion.
“Taken cumulatively, the multiple irregularities in the cases we analyzed have had a devastating impact on the lives—including the physical and mental health—of the victims and their families,” said Valiñas.
The mission also published separately a detailed findings report, which sets out 45 recommendations for urgent action, addressed to the Venezuelan courts, the Public Prosecutor’s Office, the Public Defender’s Office, the Ombudsperson’s Office, the National Assembly, and the Executive.