Venezuela: the Supreme Court of Justice has become an arm of an authoritarian executive, ICJ report says

The Venezuelan Supreme Court has ceased to act as an independent court upholding the rule of law, but has become an arm of an authoritarian executive, the ICJ said in a new report released today.

The ICJ report The Supreme Court of Justice: an instrument of executive power  says that through a series of rulings issued since December 2015, the Venezuelan Supreme Court has progressively dismantled the rule of law, undermined human rights and failed to faithfully apply key elements of the country’s Constitution.

In rulings on 27 and 28 March 2017 (Sentencias 155 and 156), the Supreme Court of Justice (SCJ) delivered a blow to the rule of law, effectively claiming legislative powers for itself, depriving the National Assembly of its Constitutional powers and granting sweeping arbitrary powers to the executive, the ICJ notes.

“These decisions amount to a coup d’état against the Constitutional order and have ushered in a new reign of arbitrary rule,” said Sam Zarifi, the ICJ Secretary General.

The report analyses SCJ jurisprudence issued since December 2015 in the light of international law and standards, rule of law principles and the Venezuelan Constitution, and in relation to the Constitutional functions and faculties of the legislative power, parliamentary oversight, states of emergency and the amnesty.

It finds that:

  • The SCJ has been decisively co-opted by the Venezuelan executive;
  • The Court’s members are mainly from the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela) and/or ex-Government officials; and
  • It has become a political instrument increasingly used against the political and social opposition.

The report also says the Court has interpreted the Constitution in an arbitrary manner, omitting to analyse key Constitutional standards while granting a supra-Constitutional status to standards of lesser rank.

It has abrogated due process and judicial review and so stripped the National Assembly of its Constitutionally mandated functions with regard to legislative matters, parliamentary oversight, regulation and internal administration in order to benefit the government politically, the ICJ adds.

“The rulings have not been issued with impartiality on the basis of facts and in accordance with law, as required under rule of standards,” Zarifi said.

“They are in flagrant violation of the Venezuelan Constitution. The SCJ has issued its decisions based on political considerations and ideological and party loyalties to the executive power,” he added.

The report also outlines key recommendations on the administration of justice which various UN and Inter-American procedures and bodies have made to Venezuela going back a number of years.

None of these recommendations appear to have been taken into account by the Venezuelan authorities. These include reparations ordered by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which are binding on Venezuela as a matter of law.

“The Venezuelan authorities are in breach of its international obligation to cooperate in good faith with international human rights bodies and procedures,” Zarifi said.

Finally, the report concludes that the SCJ has undermined the rule of law by violating the principle of the separation of powers and infringing upon the Constitutional functions and autonomy of the legislative power.

As a consequence of its decisions based on the political interests of the executive power, the SCJ has lost the essential attributes of an authentic judicial power, such as independence, impartiality, autonomy and legitimacy.

“The SCJ has assumed the role of giving an appearance of judicial legitimacy to the arbitrary political actions of the executive thus abandoning the exercise of its Constitutional function as the guarantor of the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms,” Zarifi added.


Sam Zarifi, ICJ Secretary General, t +41 79 726 44 15 ; e

Federico Andreu-Guzman, ICJ South America Representative, t +57 311 481 8094 ; e

Download the report:

Venezuela-Suprem Court-Publications-Reports-Thematic reports-2017-ENG (in PDF)

Further readings:

Venezuela: rule of law and impunity crisis deepens

Venezuela: dismissal of Attorney General a further blow to the rule of law and accountability

Venezuela: Human rights and Rule of Law in deep crisis

Strengthening the Rule of Law in Venezuela

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