The situation in Venezuela represents one of the biggest challenges to democracy and human rights in the Americas, with the security forces and armed pro-government groups responsible for widespread human rights violations and crimes against humanity.
A broken judiciary, unable and unwilling to investigate and prosecute these abuses, further compounds the issue.
The state of the country’s judiciary is so concerning that the UN Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Venezuela concluded in September 2021 that judicial institutions have been complicit in efforts to repress perceived political dissidents, and have routinely turned a blind eye to human rights violations.
Experts have found that reforms announced by the government have been superficial and arbitrary, and only underscore the fact that a peaceful, democratic solution to Venezuela’s crisis will also require an end to impunity.
As the U.S. works to advance political negotiations between the authoritarian government of Nicolás Maduro and the country’s opposition, questions remain over whether these talks can help address Venezuela’s dysfunctional and co-opted judiciary.
WOLA hosted a round table, moderated by Venezuela Director, Geoff Ramsey, to discuss some of those questions, including the role of the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, prospects for meaningful investigation, prosecutions and reform, and the need for the restoration of due process, judicial independence, and accountability in the South American country.
Carlos Lusverti, Legal Adviser at the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) said that the judiciary in Venezuela has played an important role in facilitating repression, with judges often susceptible to political pressure.
“The legal system of Venezuela was not 100 percent independent in 1999, but it was clearly more independent than it is now. This is because the political power has successfully taken over the legal system.”
Laura Louza, Director and Founder at Acceso a la Justicia, also spoke of the importance of investigations and genuine reforms to restore the rule of law in Venezuela.
“Only through the administration of justice in accordance with international standards will it be possible to start the re-institutionalization of the country,” she noted.
Looking at the future, and the many challenges ahead, Beatriz Borges, Executive Director at the Centro de Justicia y Paz (CEPAZ) said discussions around the justice system need to focus on victims and on “reforming the judiciary system as it relates to the progress of transitional justice.”
“Persecution usually begins with a stigmatization of the victim from the top authorities, which includes detention, torture, and suppression of rights,” Borges explained.
Watch the full discussion (in Spanish) here: