One week ago the Red de Apoyo para la Justicia y la Paz (Justice and Peace Support Network) published a statement on its webpage criticizing the Chávez government’s decision to withdraw from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. This statement is significant for two reasons. First, over the past couple of years Red de Apoyo has worked closely with the Chávez government on police reform and arms control. Yet here it does not hesitate to make public its strong criticism of the government’s decision to withdraw from the Court. Second, while there have been several such critical statements by human rights groups (see the statement signed by WOLA here), this one is different insofar as it provides a sharply critical perspective on the performance of the Inter-American Commission and Court, underscoring the importance of the inter-American human rights system but also emphasizing the need for reforms. Below we provide a translation of the statement in its entirety.

Our position on Venezuela’s exit from the I/A Court H.R.

On July 24 President of the Republic, Hugo Chávez, announced the withdrawal of Venezuela from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Considering the events that led to this decision, Red de Apoyo por la Justicia y la Paz, a Venezuelan organization the defends and promotes human rights and has worked for more than 28 years on behalf of victims of police and military abuses, has released its position. This position is premised on the search for justice, dignity, and respect for these victims.

Red de Apoyo regrets the National Government’s decision since it will result in further limitations for victims of human rights violations who wish to turn to international bodies for justice and reparation when they are unable to access national courts, or when decisions by these courts are delayed.

The withdrawal of Venezuela from the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights will become effective a year after the denunciation of the American Convention of Human Rights (Pact of San José) is submitted to the Secretariat of the Organization of American States. According to Foreign Minister Nicolás Maduro this will take place within the next few days. This withdrawal should not be understood as a rejection of the rights established in the Convention and should not impinge upon the exercise of these rights; a rejection such as this would amount to a significant setback in the status of human rights, and such a rejection would be null and unconstitutional according to the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

Next year, when the withdrawal of Venezuela takes effect, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) will not be able present new cases to the Court, but will continue to acknowledge cases and situations of violations of human rights in the country; it will also continue to write reports on Venezuela, emit precautionary measures, and visit the country (with previous agreement or invitation by the government). Persons or organizations will still be able to present petitions or grievances to the Commission in order to ask for protection of their human rights, and the State will still be under obligation to abide by the decisions and recommendations of the Commission, or to reach mutual agreements with the petitioners to remedy the situations examined by the Commission. These options will exist as long as Venezuela does not withdraw from the Organization of American States (OAS), since the Commission is an organ of the OAS, of which Venezuela is a founding member.

The Red de Apoyo also regrets the decision by the Inter-American Court in its June 26, 2012 sentence in the case “Díaz Peña versus Venezuela.” This case has been pointed to by the President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela as the final and definitive reason for the decision to withdraw from the Court. In the sentence, the Court considered as an incontrovertible fact that Mr. Raul Díaz Peña had been found guilty and condemned to nine years and four months in prison by a Venezuelan court in a sentence of April 29, 2008. Mr. Díaz Peña was sentenced by the court for participating in the bombings at the Spanish Embassy and the Colombian Consulate on February 25, 2003, that left three people injured and caused great commotion in the country. Díaz Peña later escaped to the United States, which subsequently refused his extradition. By not upholding the Venezuelan court’s judgment, refusing to grant compensation to victims, and recognizing the United States’ refusal to extradite a fugitive of justice the Inter-American Court failed the victims of the bombing. Rather than finding in favor of the victims, the Court ordered the Venezuelan State to grant Diaz Peña a compensation of $15,000 (approximately BF 64,500) as reparation for his jail conditions and the lack of specialized medical attention he received during his preventive detention. According to the Court, these conditions contributed to the deterioration of his health and therefore amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment, as well as a violation of his personal integrity. The sentence also ordered the payment of $3,000 to the organization Venezuela Awareness Foundation for representing Mr. Díaz Peña. With this decision the Inter-American Court seemed to ignore the facts and the victims that actually initiated the penal process; the decision further ignored that Mr. Díaz Peña is a fugitive from justice. The decision also gives the impression of having forgotten justice and the universality of human rights in favor of promoting terrorism and impunity. The honorable position of Magistrate Eduardo Vio Grossi (from Chile), who voted against the sentence for the reasons mentioned above, provides a contrast to that of the Court. This questionable sentence privileges an alleged victim over other victims and privileges supposedly impartial “rights” over justice, the fight against impunity, and the prevention of terrorism.

We ask that the peoples of the Americas must not forget the names of the judges who wrote this sentence: Diego García Sayán (Peru), Manuel Ventura Robles (Costa Rica), Leonardo Franco (Argentina), Alberto Pérez (Uruguay), Margarette May Maculay (Jamaica), and Rhadys Abreu Blondet (Dominican Republic); as well as the Commissioners Paulo Sergio Pinheiro (Brazil), José Orozco (Mexico), Rodrigo Escobar (Colombia), Felipe González (Chile), María Silva Guillén (El Salvador), and Dinah Shelton (USA). These individuals, without considering thousands of other cases that preceded and were more serious than the Díaz Peña case, decided arbitrarily and based on their political interests to bring this case to trial in the Court. These judges and commissioners passed over cases such as that of José Luis Palomares: A young man of 16 years of age who died on September 9, 1987 as a result of abuse and lack of medical attention at the Military Training Center for the Oil Industry of the Armed Forces Admiral José Ramón Yépez in Barquisimeto, Zulia State. We accompanied the Palomares family in the process of searching for justice. Faced with impunity, we took the case to the Commission on April 18, 1989. Twenty-three years have passed since the event, and 21 years we presented our denunciation to the Commission.  As most of the family members, including José Luis’ parents, have passed away, the remaining family members grew tired of waiting and decided to drop the case. The Commission denied the case in March 23, 2011 (Petition number 10,442).

In the same way, the Díaz Peña case was given priority over the case of Luis Miguel Villanueva Ibarra, murdered on December 15, 1987, by officers of the Dirección de los Servicios de Inteligencia y Prevención (DISIP) in Maracay, Aragua State. This case was presented to the Commission on February 10, 1989. After 23 years the Commission has not even decided whether to deny or admit the case. The same is true of the case of Fredy Alcarra, who died as a result of beatings and torture by the Cuerpo Técnico de Policia Judicial (CTPJ) on September 28, 1993. This case was presented to the Commission on May 16, 1996 (Petition number 11,647), but family members tired of the perpetuation of impunity by Venezuelan State and the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights. The case was finally denied by the Commission on November 14, 2005, nine years after its presentation. To have to wait 10 or even 23 years only to have one’s case deemed inadmissible by the IACHR is unfair and disrespects human rights, more so when certain cases and victims are privileged over others.

Since 1996 the Red de Apoyo has released statements and proposals to improve and contribute to making the Inter-American Human Rights System more just and accessible to the victims, and less arbitrary and partial. Our proposals have insisted on the need for the victims to directly access the Court without having to first deal with the political filter of the Inter-American Commission and its Secretariat. To do so, the Court would have to create a chamber for preliminary issues and an appeals court for questionable sentences.

The Red de Apoyo will continue to accompany victims in their struggle for the right to directly file petitions or grievances with international bodies, and to ask for the protection of their human rights. We continue to accompany the case José Francisco Matheus, horribly tortured by police officers of Zulia State, who sequestered him and caused him irreparable physical, social, and emotional harm. Mr. Matheus has waited for 12 years, since 2000, for an end to impunity and a trial of the officers that tortured him. We also continue to fight for Yean Manuel Mijares, another victim of torture by officers of the Policía Metropolitana de Caracas in 2006, and who is still waiting for an answer from Venezuelan Tribunals. We will continue to accompany these and many other cases.

The Red de Apoyo calls on the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, reiterating its calls in 1996, 1997, 1998, 2008, 2009, and 2012, to seriously and promptly begin a process of reform in order to improve its procedures and to make them more transparent and just. In particular the Inter-American Commission should acknowledge the petitions and denunciations that have been desperately waiting for so long for a decision, and not prioritize other cases that might have more political relevance for the Commission. Also, the Commission should not discriminate against any victim or country. We call on the Commission to write its reports on countries with more objectivity, and increased academic and scientific rigor and balance, without political bias or prioritization of the rights of some victims over others, and ask them to recognize the universality, integrity and interdependence of human rights. The Commission needs to sincerely face and correct the deficiencies, limitations and weaknesses of the Inter-American System of Human Rights.

The Red de Apoyo also asks the National Government, and especially the President of the Republic, to defend the interests of the victims, especially the poorest and most humiliated. Therefore we ask the President to reconsider the decision withdrawing Venezuela from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, while it continues to support the transformation of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to make it more just, transparent and accessible to victims. The duty of the State is to attend to victims, help in their rehabilitation, and to pay reparations or compensations for harm caused. In addition, the State should push for the creation of national and regional mechanisms, in CELAC, UNASUR, and MERCOSUR that, in contrast to the Inter-American system, effectively guarantee the total, universal, and transparent protection of every person’s human rights without discrimination, and which allows citizens to directly access it through petitions or complaints.

Translated by Hugo Pérez Hernaíz