Venezuela judges enable torture under government pressure: UN
Judges and prosecutors in Venezuela have played a “significant role” in enabling torture and other abuses of government opponents under increasing pressure from President Nicolas Maduro’s regime, UN investigators said Thursday.
“Amid Venezuela’s profound human rights crisis, the independence of the judiciary has become deeply eroded,” said Marta Valinas, who chairs the fact-finding mission that drafted the report.
The investigators, she told journalists in Geneva, had “reasonable grounds to believe that instead of providing protection to victims of human rights violations and crimes, the Venezuelan justice system has played a significant role in the state’s repression of governmental opponents.”
Investigators said they found that high-level Venezuelan political actors, including Maduro himself, had exerted significant influence over the justice system.
Sources from within the judiciary reported that judges routinely received orders from the Maduro government on how to decide judgements.
Judges who refused to give in were vilified and intimidated, creating an “atmosphere of fear” that had driven a number of them abroad, the report said.
The report — based on interviews and analysis of 183 detentions of real or perceived government opponents between 2014 and last month — found that public officials had been permitted to commit violations and crimes with impunity.
Among the cases reviewed were male and female detainees subjected in 2020 to short-term enforced disappearance, torture including sexual violence, and “arbitrary deprivation of life”.
The investigators learned that prosecutors had submitted information tainted by torture which judges admitted as evidence against defendants.
– ‘Continuing torture’ –
In some cases, judges ordered alleged torture victims, sometimes with visible injuries, to be returned to the same jail where they said the abuse had occurred.
In such cases, they often suffered “continuing torture.”
Mission member Francisco Cox said “the overwhelming majority” of violations targeting government opponents that had been previously documented by his team had “not resulted in thorough investigations, prosecutions and convictions of all those allegedly responsible.”
This includes high-profile cases where charges have been brought and that have been pointed to by authorities as evidence of progress by the judicial system, they said.
The report referred to the case of opposition leader Fernando Alban, who fell to his death in October 2018 from the 10th floor while detained by the national intelligence service.
The team found the charges were “highly limited in scope and/or focused on isolating low-level perpetrators, as opposed to seeking accountability further up the chain of command”.
Valinas said the team refrained from recommending whether specific judges and prosecutors should be removed from their posts.
But she said it had drafted a secret list of people believed to be responsible for rights violations, with an eye to possible later prosecution, including members of the judiciary, by a national or international court.
The team was established by the UN Human Rights Council in 2019 to probe a slew of alleged violations in the crisis-wracked country.