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Justice ‘undermined’ in Venezuela: UN rights chief

The independence of Venezuela’s justice system has been “considerably undermined”, fuelling impunity and human rights violations, the UN rights chief charged Tuesday in a report.

The 15-page document by Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, was commissioned in September by the UN Human Rights Council and is to be presented before the body on Wednesday.

It was released a week after Venezuela’s Supreme Court, comprised mainly of judges loyal to President Nicolas Maduro, ordered Juan Guaido to relinquish his position as leader of a main opposition party.

Venezuela has been in political turmoil since 2019, when Guaido declared himself acting president, charging that Maduro’s 2018 re-election was fraudulent.

The United States no longer recognises Maduro as president and has been trying unsuccessfully to oust him, in part by recognising Guaido as the country’s interim head.

Around 60 other countries have followed Washington’s lead.

Meanwhile, the report by Bachelet’s OHCHR office said it “remains concerned about the lack of independence in the justice system in Venezuela.

“OHCHR considers that the independence of the justice system is considerably undermined due to insecurity of tenure of judges and prosecutors, the lack of transparency in the process of designation, precarious working conditions, and political interference.

“This situation prevents the judiciary from exercising its key role as an independent actor in protecting human rights, and contributes to impunity and the persistence of human rights violations,” the report said.

The UN body charged that alleged victims of human rights violations had difficulty obtaining justice.

Venezuela’s attorney general should reduce “high levels of impunity for killings in the context of protest, security operations, allegations of torture and ill-treatment, and gender based violence”, the report said.

It made 21 recommendations.

Among them was completing judicial reforms announced in January to guarantee the system’s “independence, impartiality, transparency, accessibility and effectiveness”.

The report said Caracas must investigate alleged human rights violations, including “deprivation of life, enforced disappearance, torture and sexual and gender-based violence involving members of the security forces”.

Bachelet also urged Venezuela to publish a comprehensive report on the investigations and criminal proceedings concerning deaths that occurred “in the context of protests in 2014, 2017 and 2019”.

Civilians should no longer be tried by military tribunals, it added.