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Justice in Venezuela: the great gap between what is said and what is done

Photo Presidential press

In April 2023, the lawyer for journalist Roland Carreño had stated that the trial only neded one more witness to testify, so the case was about to end. Likewise, at the end of July 2023, the lawyers of the human rights defender Javier Tarazona expressed their optimism regarding what they thought could be the prompt release of their client, given that the trial had entered its final stage.

Contrary to what was expected by the lawyers and the families of Tarazona and Carreño, both trials were interrupted on July 15 when jurisdiction was removed from the third court with jurisdiction over terrorism that was handling their cases. Both detentions had been classified as arbitrary by the UN human rights system. Both have been deprived of liberty for more than two years. Both see their trials interrupted for the second time. Both must start from scratch, for the third time.

The change in jurisdiction of the third court in matters of terrorism also affects another 45 political prisoners whose trials will be suspended. On the other hand, the case of the six social leaders detained in July 2022, already adds 5 deferrals of the final hearing, because the “cooperating patriot” whose statement served to get the control judge to agree to put these six people on trial, has not come forward to testify.

It is worth noting that the figure of the “cooperating patriot” was created by the government in 2016 to justify the use of informers who, protected in anonymity, serve as a valid source for the initiation of trials against real or alleged political opponents. The judge who accepted the statement of this snithc was in turn arrested in the so-called PDVSA corruption scheme, along with another judge and a hundred officials and those related to the oil company and former minister Tareck El Aissami, whose whereabouts and legal future remain a great mystery.

To date, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has issued 15 recommendations in the area of due process and personal liberty in Venezuela, all of which remain unfulfilled. The Independent International Fact-Finding Mission in Venezuela (FFM) produced an extensive report with abundant evidence on how “the justice system has played a prominent role in the repression of the State against opponents of the Government.” This report ends with 44 more recommendations on aspects related to the justice system. For its part, after the consultation process with the victims in the Venezuela I case, the Preliminary Questions Chamber of the International Criminal Court (ICC) decided to authorize Prosecutor Khan to continue the investigation, after demonstrating that Venezuela is not taking genuine measures aimed at combating impunity and providing justice to the victims.

There is not a single indication that allows us to speak of progress in the justice system. Beyond the announcements of reforms and regulatory changes that are more cosmetic than substantive, the justice system continues to be a machine at the service of political repression and the consecration of social inequality. Corruption ranges from requesting money from common prisoners for transfers to courts or to receive food sent by their family, to the sale of sentences, through the improper consultation of the executive on judicial decisions and the contempt of release orders by civil and military intelligence agencies.

There is nothing else to recommend. The government knows perfectly well what it should do, but it does not do it because it does not have the political will to undertake the fundamental changes that are required.

Faced with this panorama, it is not possible to speak of the normalization of relations with Venezuela, because the only thing normalized in Venezuela is arbitrariness. The international community must demand compliance with all the recommendations made in judicial matters, most of which do not depend on resources but on political will. Complying with a release order, stopping torturing, concluding a trial , dismiss anonymous “cooperative patriots” as witnesses are actions that must be carried out now, without further delay.