Venezuela: weak legal system threatens democracy

A new report launched today by the ICJ pinpoints key deficiencies in the Venezuelan legal system, which threaten the rule of law, democracy and human rights in the country.

The report Strengthening the Rule of Law in Venezuela documents failures by the authorities, as well as interference, intimidation, arbitrary suspensions and other pressures, that have undermined the independence and impartiality of the country’s judges and prosecutors, and the ability of lawyers to be effective and independent in upholding people’s rights.

The study calls for reform to the legal institutions and practices in the country, with the prime objective to restore their independence.

“The situation in Venezuela underscores the need for reforms and demonstrates exactly why a robustly independent judiciary, prosecutorial service, and legal profession are needed now more than ever to protect people’s rights in a democratic state,” said Wilder Tayler, ICJ’s Secretary General.

“Without them, respect for the rule of law and for human rights quickly goes into a downward spiral,” he added.

The ICJ report shows that the vast majority of judges hold temporary appointments with no security of tenure, leaving them vulnerable to repeated hindrance and sometimes reprisals by the executive government, the legislature and others.

Today, more than fourteen years after the adoption of the Venezuelan Constitution, 70% of judges hold only provisional or temporary office.

This cannot be justified under either the Constitution or international law, the ICJ notes.

And citing the case of judge Maria Lourdes Afiuni, persecuted for duly conducting her judicial functions in an independent manner, the human rights organization says it is emblematic of the deterioration of the legal system.

The report further points out that the autonomy and impartiality of public prosecutors are also seriously affected by improper interference from the Attorney General and other political actors in Venezuela.

According to the ICJ, the lack of security of tenure and transparency in their selection, and the allocation of criminal investigations and procedures without regard to technical criteria and workload of public prosecutors, have yielded an inability or unwillingness of prosecutors to bring perpetrators of crime to justice in an effective and equal manner.

The result is a climate of insecurity and impunity that surpasses 90% concerning common felonies, and even more for crimes involving violations of human rights.

Lawyers are also facing numerous challenges in Venezuela, including threats to their freedom to bring and carry out cases on behalf of their clients.

This is particularly evident in human rights or other politically sensitive cases, the study deplores.

Furthermore, outside meddling in the elections of the bar associations has undermined their ability to safeguard the independence of lawyers.

In addition, judges, prosecutors and lawyers are subject to arbitrary suspensions because judicial oversight bodies fail to follow the proper procedures determined by the law, the report stresses.

The ICJ has made a series of recommendations to improve the situation of the Venezuelan legal system.

First steps include: reform of the current legal framework when it does not meet international standards on the role of judges, lawyers and prosecutors; and full enforcement of those existing laws which meet the international standards, but are not respected in practice.

In particular, the report underlines it is necessary for institutions such as the Supreme Tribunal of Justice and the Attorney’s General Office to conduct proper selection processes for permanent judicial and prosecutorial appointments, and to uphold the system of checks and balances between branches of the state, guaranteeing that other branches do not unduly interfere in areas within the exclusive competence of the judiciary or prosecutors.

“The ICJ urges Venezuelan authorities to act urgently to restore, strengthen and safeguard the independence of judges, prosecutors, and lawyers in the country,” Tayler said.


Carlos Ayala, ICJ Commissioner, Venezuela, m +41 79 564 35 02 e-mail: carlos.ayala(a)

Matt Pollard, Senior Legal Adviser, ICJ’s Centre for the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, m +41 79 246 54 75 ; e-mail: matt.pollard(a)

Venezuela-Weak legal system-News-press release-2014-spa (full text in pdf)

Venezuela-Fortaleciendo el estado de derecho-Publications-reports-2014-spa (full text in pdf)

Venezuela-Strengthening the rule of law-summary-Publications-reports-2014 (full text in pdf)

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