Venezuela’s Justice System Perpetuating Human Rights Abuses

On 16 September, the United Nations (UN) Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela released a report. It alleges that Venezuela lacks judicial independence, and its justice system is perpetuating human rights abuses. This includes instances of judges allowing evidence obtained through torture. There is also a failure to protect torture victims by returning them to the place where the torture allegedly occurred.

From the investigation and analysis, Chairperson of the Fact-Finding Mission  Marta Valiñas concluded there is “reasonable grounds to believe that instead of providing protection to victims of human rights violations and crimes, the Venezuelan justice system… played a significant role in… repression of Governmental crimes.”

“[O]ur latest investigation found reasonable grounds to believe that, under intensifying political pressure, judges and prosecutors … played a significant role in serious violations and crimes against… opponents committed by various state actors in Venezuela.”

Amnesty International’s (AI) Americas director, Erika Guevara-Rosas, said, “[C]rimes against humanity… will go unpunished if alternative means to justice that do not go through state institutions are not sought.” This is something AI and “a large part of Venezuelan and international civil society have” denounced.

In addition to interviews and surveys with legal officials and document analysis, this mission also analyzed 183 detentions of real or perceived government officials between 2014 and 2021. In over half of these cases, high-level public officials made public statements, whether prior to or following the detention of the person in question.

It was noted by the mission that judicial independence has been negatively impacted, as laws and resolutions passed Venezuela’s government since 1999. The defendants’ rights to challenge evidence presented against them has been greatly compromised. Victims of state-sanctioned violence have faced disappearances, torture, including sexual violence, and death. Consequences for perpetrators of these abuses were found to be limited in scope, with little accountability for higher level officials involved.

This mission was established on 27 September, 2019 to assess numerous allegations of human rights violations in Venezuela since 2014. Last year, its mandate was extended until September 2022. Venezuela’s government has not allowed the mission to conduct in-country fact-finding.

Venezuela faces many significant crises simultaneously. Hyperinflation of the local currency, the Venezuelan bolivar, has fallen rapidly out of favour as the currency of most transactions. 60 percent of transactions in Venezuela, where over 40 percent of households receive remittances from abroad, are in U.S. dollars. The economic collapse has been accompanied by a humanitarian crisis, leaving many civilians facing food insecurity. 6.3 percent of children under five, per 2019 UN World Food Program data, are acutely malnourished. Crime is another major problem. Venezuela has a rate of 60.3 violent deaths per 100,000 people, and 5,286 killings were committed by state security forces. It is the most violent country in Latin America.

These simultaneous situations channel into another crisis. 5.4 million Venezuelans left Venezuela since 2014. This represents approximately 12 percent of the population, and is one of the largest recent human displacements. About 5,000 people leave Venezuela daily. Many face perilous journeys, at the hands of human smugglers and traffickers. Most live in other countries, largely in Latin America, without documentation. This leaves them without basic rights and protections, and vulnerable to exploitation.

Other crises also align with another. Political repression and state crackdowns on opposition political voices in Venezuela has been a major problem. According to Freedom House, the country’s institutions have deteriorated over the past 20 years, with freedoms worsening in recent years with crackdowns and the absence of free and fair elections.

A 2020 report by the same Fact-Finding Mission found that state actors in Venezuela, including President Nicolás Maduro, contributed to crimes. They include extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detentions, and torture. The results of the latest 2021 report further highlight the decline of political freedoms and a just legal system. The extent of state-sanctioned violence in Venezuela is among many injustices for Venezuelans.

Amnesty International called for using international justice mechanisms in the face of state crimes committed by Venezuela’s government. Such mechanisms should be among steps taken by the international community to address this aspect of the Venezuelan crisis. When the state is deeply involved in torture and other misconduct, and the judiciary acts to enable such injustices, it is difficult to find or propose many steps to concretely improve residents’ lives.

It is evident that there needs to be a responsive and considerate state, that features a strong and independent justice system. International awareness of these issues in Venezuela is essential to aiding its residents. With this knowledge, the global community must maintain significant pressure on the Venezuelan government. They must hold it accountable more effectively for the state repression and violence occurring within its borders.