Press Release

IACHR Condemns Supreme Court Rulings and the Alteration of the Constitutional and Democratic Order in Venezuela

March 31, 2017

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemns the rulings handed down by the Supreme Court in Venezuela. These new rulings constitute a usurpation of legislative functions by the judicial and executive branches, and a de facto nullification of the popular vote by which the National Assembly deputies were elected.

On March 28 and 29, 2017, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ) issued two rulings that lift parliamentary immunity for National Assembly deputies, establish that their actions constitute national treason, grant extremely broad discretionary powers to the executive branch, and abrogate the legislature’s powers, turning them over to the Constitutional Chamber or the body of its choosing. The rulings also impinge in other ways on the functioning of an independent legislative branch in Venezuela.

The Commission categorically condemns this grave interference by the judicial branch in the National Assembly, and urges the Venezuelan State to reestablish the independence of the branches of government and the separation of powers. The IACHR expresses its absolute concern over rulings by which the Supreme Court has taken on functions and decisions regarding political and legislative matters that fall outside the purview of the judicial branch, impinging on the role of the National Assembly and its representation of the people. These two rulings jeopardize the effective exercise of human rights and basic democratic principles, due to the concentration of power in the executive and judicial branches and the violation of the principle of separation of powers in a democratic system. Previously, in September 2016, the IACHR had condemned the Venezuelan Supreme Court’s ruling declaring all decisions taken by the National Assembly to be null and void, as well as the Supreme Court’s declaration that the National Assembly was in contempt.

The Inter-American Commission condemns the use of criminal law—the crime characterized as national treason—as a means to silence, intimidate, and criminalize criticism of the government by deputies in the National Assembly.

In addition, the Commission observes that the first ruling by the Supreme Court grants discretionary powers to the President of the Republic, which in broad and ambiguous language allows for the adoption of all sorts of measures; these could have the effect of restricting human rights.

The IACHR has repeatedly established that there is a direct relationship between the exercise of political rights and the concept of democracy as a form of State organization. The Commission has expressed to Venezuela and now reiterates the need to guarantee to its citizens and to organized political groups the right to political participation and to freedom of expression without fear of reprisals, allowing and encouraging pluralistic, broad, and robust public debate.

The relationship between human rights, political rights, and democracy has been established in the Inter-American Democratic Charter, which states, “Essential elements of representative democracy include, inter alia, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, access to and the exercise of power in accordance with the rule of law, the holding of periodic, free, and fair elections based on secret balloting and universal suffrage as an expression of the sovereignty of the people, the pluralistic system of political parties and organizations, and the separation of powers and independence of the branches of government.”

The IACHR urges the Venezuelan government to respect the separation of powers, the principle of popular representation and the scope that the constitution confers on each body, an indispensable guarantee of a democratic regime and the rule of law. The Commission particularly urges the State to fulfill its international human rights obligations, respect and uphold the independent functioning of powers and the participation of all sectors in the country’s political life.

The IACHR is willing to work with the State of Venezuela, in the framework of the Commission’s mandate and functions, in order to respect the constitutional and democratic order in the country. In this regard, the IACHR reiterates its request for the State of Venezuela’s consent to carry out an observation visit, something the Commission has been requesting since 2004.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 041/17