Washington, D.C.— On September 16, the United Nations Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Venezuela issued a 220-page report on the Venezuelan justice system, finding that the country’s judicial institutions have been complicit in widespread persecution and repression against men and women who are opponents and critics of the Maduro government or perceived by the government as such. The report makes clear that judges and prosecutors in Venezuela have routinely covered for illegal arrests and deviations from due process, as well as turned a blind eye to human rights violations.
The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) joins the Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) in urging Venezuelan authorities in the executive, judicial, and legislative branches to implement the Mission’s recommendations and take meaningful steps to ensure justice for victims and the restoration of due process and judicial and prosecutorial independence. As an organization dedicated to advancing human rights in Venezuela, WOLA has supported the FFM since its creation in 2019 and is alarmed by the government’s lack of cooperation. It is essential that Venezuela engages with the Mission and grants its personnel access to conduct its investigation on the ground in Venezuela.
It is abundantly clear that, as WOLA has stated, Venezuela lacks an impartial, transparent, or even functional justice system. For this reason authorities must take swift action to address the findings of the FFM, as well as those of the Office of the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC). Both have made clear there is a reasonable basis to conclude that crimes against humanity have been committed in Venezuela. These crimes cannot be met with impunity.
WOLA remains committed to advancing a peaceful, democratic solution to Venezuela’s crisis, and believes that the ongoing negotiations in Mexico represent the best chance to restore the country’s democratic institutions and rule of law. When the parties meet again in Mexico City on September 24, they are due to discuss complex issues related to the judicial system. The FFM report provides 45 concrete recommendations for actions to be taken to overhaul Venezuela’s judiciary and restore its independence. The discussion should start with these recommendations. There is an urgent need for oversight and reforms of the Supreme Court (TSJ), Attorney General’s Office, and Ombudsman Office, as well as of the police and security forces. The prompt investigation and prosecution of those found responsible for grave human rights violations and crimes against humanity, at every level of the chain of command, is a necessary step for judicial independence to be restored.
As negotiations move forward, WOLA also calls for the voices of victims to be heard. When the parties negotiate the details of a consultation mechanism, it is essential that victims and their families are given a clear space for their petitions and perspectives to be heard in a confidential and secure way that shields them from reprisals. Their input should be catalogued and systematized, because any sustainable solution will have to incorporate victims’ rights to truth, justice, reparations and reform. Owing to the lack of judicial independence in Venezuela, WOLA urges the parties to consider a role for the international community, perhaps through international organizations such as the United Nations, in safeguarding and overseeing this process.