Five Years After Protests Over the Suspension of National Assembly Powers, Venezuela Must Restore Judicial Independence

April 5, 2022

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Washington, D.C. – In memory of the victims of the protests that took place in Venezuela in 2017, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) urges the State to take urgent, adequate action to restore the independence of the judiciary and to enable access to justice concerning those events.

On March 28–29, 2017, Venezuela's Supreme Court of Justice adopted decisions 155 and 156, which suspended the powers of the National Assembly. These decisions also granted very broad discretionary powers to the executive, which the IACHR defined as a usurpation of powers and an effective suspension of political representation.

As a result of this breakup of constitutional order, thousands of people poured out onto the streets over the period April 1–July 31, 2017, all over the country, and they were repressed by the State. An excessive, illegitimate, and indiscriminate use of force left 133 people dead, 4,000 injured, more than 5,000 arbitrarily arrested, and 600 civilians taken before military criminal courts, as well as several cases involving torture and sexual violence against female detainees.

Five years after those events, the Inter-American Commission notes the absence of substantial progress in investigations, a consequence of the lack of judicial independence, which also hinders reparation and remembrance processes. The United Nations' independent international factfinding mission on these events documented pressure put on criminal court judges regarding their decisions in cases linked to protests and potential investigations of individuals higher up the chain of command. These events have led the prosecutors of the International Criminal Court to launch an investigation concerning Venezuela. The lack of judicial independence in the country has also been documented by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The IACHR therefore urges the State to take urgent, appropriate action to restore the independence of Venezuela's judiciary and public prosecutors, to ensure victims have practical and effective access to justice and to enable the establishment of the truth and the preservation of historical memory.

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 and to defend 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. 070/22

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