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Venezuela without justice or guarantees for lawyers

On Monday, June 6, the general prosecutor imposed by the national constituent assembly Tarek William Saab stated in an interview with the private tv channel Globovisión that an investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC) is not necessary because the Venezuelan justice system is acting “impeccable.” The prosecutor imposed by the government has not changed his position, which has been maintained since the beginning of the ICC’s action on Venezuela, even though on April 21 the ICC’s prosecutor Karin Khan announced his willingness to continue investigating crimes against humanity in front of the State’s request to delegate the investigation to the hands of the national authorities.

The ICC prosecutor’s statement is echoed in the recent report by the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), entitled “Lawyers under attack. Barriers to the legal profession in Venezuela”, which makes it clear that the structural problems of lack of independence and impartiality of the Venezuelan justice negatively permeate the practice of law in various ways, especially through the frequent use of public and judicial harassment and criminal sanctions, which differentially affect lawyers involved in high-profile human rights or political cases.

According to Ian Seiderman, ICJ Legal and Policy Director, “Venezuela has become a hostile environment for functioning of an independent and accountable legal profession, which is a precondition for a society based on the rule of law and where of human rights are protected”. The report shows that the obstacles, which often translate into specific risks against legal professionals, derive from a pattern of arbitrariness made up of threats, harassment and aggression, impediments to the defense of clients, criminal prosecution, institutional obstacles, and intervention in the operation of bar associations at the national level.

As highlights, the report indicates that “many of these obstacles, limitations and attacks are not recorded in official documents, such as sentences”, that is, they are not reported in judicial documents despite being denounced. The attacks “include acts of stigmatization and threats in the media with links to the government or the official party, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV). In many cases, these attacks have triggered other more serious conduct, such as politically motivated arbitrary arrests.” In particular, the report underlines, “threats and intimidation have a direct effect on the ability to prepare an adequate defense.”

The denial of access to the file and legal documents, restrictions on visits to detention centers, the provisional status of the judges and prosecutors in charge of the cases, the intervention of the Supreme Court of Justice and the National Electoral Council in the appointment of the authorities of the Bar Associations, read in a context of absolute impunity, are part of the compendium of restrictions that demonstrate the problems of the exercise of the profession, but more broadly of the absence of the rule of law, the separation of powers and democracy. Lawyers are, in this vein, a group of victims particularly affected trying to exercise their professional work independently and freely in Venezuela.

The ICJ report refers to evidence from the reports of the International Independent Fact-Finding Mission, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, United Nations treaty bodies and special procedures. The reports of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on Venezuela could be included in this list. This mass of information denies Saab’s statements that Venezuelan justice ia”impeccable”. On the contrary, it continues to be an instrument of persecution and harassment against all those who seek to recover Venezuelan democracy and the effective observance of human rights.

With this report, the ICJ completes a series of 7 reports on the deterioration of the rule of law and judicial independence in Venezuela that express a constant setback in the situation of human rights. The ICC Prosecutor has very little room to deviate from the documentation, which adds to the voices of hundreds of victims, and enough reasons to move forward with the investigation and determine the responsibilities that may arise.