Today the Venezuelan government officially exits the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (I/A Court H.R.), one year after denouncing it.
In July 2012, President Hugo Chávez decided to withdraw from the I/A Court H.R. after it ruled in favor of Raúl Díaz Peña, a Venezuelan citizen convicted of putting bombs in front of the Colombian and Spanish embassies in Caracas in 2000, and ordered the government to pay him reparations.
Although Venezuela will remain subject to existing rulings, and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) will still be able to receive complaints from Venezuelan citizens, the IACHR will no longer be able to bring cases regarding Venezuela to the I/A Court H.R., nor will Venezuelan citizens be able to directly address it.
Venezuela’s decision came as part of the long term conflict Venezuela has had with the Inter-American Human Rights System. In March 2013, the Venezuelan government again rejected a petition from the IACHR to visit the country, citing alleged ties between the organization, the US government and anti-government NGOs in Venezuela. Venezuela and the countries that comprise the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) have also recently developed several proposals to reform the IACHR.
Human rights groups throughout Venezuela have unanimously condemned the Venezuelan government’s decision to withdraw from the I/A Court H.R., as they did in the wake of it. Amnesty International has called upon the Venezuelan government to reconsider its decision to withdraw so that it may continue “the fight against impunity, justice, truth, and reparations for victims.” COFAVIC director, Liliana Ortega, stated that “human rights are not the gifts of states to give. The role of the [I/A Court H.R.] is very important. No national court has given a decision on the Caracazo, only the IACHR.”
Red de Apoyo, a group that has worked with the Venezuelan government on several initiatives, has asked the Venezuelan government to retract its request to withdraw from the Court, stating that this decision will only hurt the victims of human rights abuses. The group has also argued that the role of the state is to “attend to these victims, and assist them in their rehabilitation, reparations, and compensation for their damages.”
The International Coalition of Human Rights Organizations in the Americas, which includes the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), has also issued a press release lamenting the Venezuelan government’s decision, stating that “the Court, like the Commission on Human Rights, are autonomous and independent bodies, which in the exercise of its functions have protected the rights of thousands of victims and citizens of our continent.”
Several human rights groups have also sent public letters the Organization of the American States and Mercosur voicing their concerns about the withdrawal. José Miguel Vivianco, the Director of Human Rights Watch’s America Division, sent a letter to Brazilian President Dilma Roussef as well as a letter to Uruguayan President Pepe Mujica voicing his concerns and why he believes Venezuela must not withdraw from the I/A Court H.R. In the letters, Vivianco argues that in “the past year the human rights situation in Venezuela has continued to deteriorate.” Most importantly, he says that “the Venezuelan authorities have not adequately investigated some serious complaints about human rights violations that occurred after the presidential elections of April 2013.”
Pedro Nikken, a former judge and president of the I/A Court H.R., stated in an interview with El Universal that that the Venezuelan government’s decision will damage it much more than a few I/A Court H.R. rulings against it. The decision to withdraw, he says, will “confirm the suspicions” of the international community that the Venezuelan government is an “autocratic embryo that develops more each day.”
Critics have stated that the decision to remove Venezuela from the international body also violates the Venezuelan Constitution. Specifically, critics call attention to Article 31, which states that: “Everyone has the right, on the terms established by the human rights treaties, pacts and conventions ratified by the Republic, to address petitions and complaints to the intentional organs created for such purpose, in order to ask for protection of his or her human rights.”
The Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD), the umbrella organization of opposition political parties, released a statement today, arguing that this decision is “one of the most serious actions taken against the protection of human rights by the current regime.” The statement also calls upon the international community to demand that “the Venezuelan government act in accordance with the progress made by humanity” in the area of human rights.
On Monday, President Maduro stated that the decision to leave the I/A Court H.R. is “fair and just.” He stated that the I/A Court H.R. has “passed its time” and that both the Court and the IACHR “have unfortunately degenerated. They believe they are a supranational power; they believe they are a power above the legitimate governments of the continent.”
Germán Saltrón, the Venezuelan representative to the Inter-American System of Human Rights, recently said that “The American Convention [on Human Rights] is much beneath [the Venezuelan] Constitution in human rights material, which guarantees more and is more advanced in that material, so Venezuelans will not be unprotected, and we will also have the protection of the United Nations.”
But the United Nations itself has criticized Venezuela’s withdrawal from the Court. Rupert Colville, the spokesperson for the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, stated that the organization believes that the Venezuelan government’s decision to withdraw “will have a very negative impact on the situation of fundamental rights within the country and the region.” Colville encouraged the “government of Venezuela and all other Latin American states to continue cooperating with the international mechanisms for the protection of human rights.”