Re­gional News Venezuela Supreme Court has staged ef­fec­tive coup - jurists’ group

Stabroek News - - REGIONAL NEWS -

GENEVA, (Reuters) Venezuela’s Supreme Court has pro­gres­sively dis­man­tled the rule of law, be­com­ing an in­stru­ment of Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro’s govern­ment in what amounts to a coup against the con­sti­tu­tional or­der, an in­ter­na­tional hu­man rights group said on Tues­day.

The col­lapse of the ju­di­ciary has left vic­tims of tor­ture, killings and dis­ap­pear­ances and their fam­i­lies with­out re­course to justice af­ter months of vi­o­lent street protests, the In­ter­na­tional Com­mis­sion of Jurists (ICJ) said. It called on the U.N. Hu­man Rights Coun­cil to take ac­tion. “We have seen a ju­di­ciary that has es­sen­tially lost its in­de­pen­dence and be­come a tool of a very au­thor­i­tar­ian ex­ec­u­tive branch,” Sam Zar­ifi, ICJ Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral, told a news brief­ing.

“This break­down of the rule of law has also se­verely ob­structed ac­count­abil­ity (and) es­sen­tially made it im­pos­si­ble to bring to justice those re­spon­si­ble for gross vi­o­la­tions of hu­man rights,” he said.

The Venezue­lan govern­ment did not im­me­di­ately re­ply to a re­quest for com­ment. For­eign min­is­ter Jorge Ar­reaza on Mon­day re­jected as “base­less” a U.N. re­port that found ex­ces­sive use of force by its se­cu­rity forces and other vi­o­la­tions.

Four months of demon­stra­tions in which at least 125 peo­ple were killed have all but stopped due to fa­tigue among pro­test­ers and dis­il­lu­sion­ment at see­ing the rul­ing So­cial­ist Party ce­ment vast pow­ers de­spite the con­certed op­po­si­tion push.

The ICJ said the top court had un­der­mined hu­man rights and in­fringed the Con­sti­tu­tion through a se­ries of rul­ings since De­cem­ber 2015.

In two rul­ings in March 2017, the Supreme Court of Justice “ef­fec­tively claimed leg­isla­tive pow­ers for it­self, de­priv­ing the Na­tional As­sem­bly of its Con­sti­tu­tional pow­ers and grant­ing sweep­ing ar­bi­trary pow­ers to the ex­ec­u­tive,” it said.

“Th­ese de­ci­sions amount to a coup d’état against the Con­sti­tu­tional or­der and have ush­ered in a new reign of ar­bi­trary rule,” Zar­ifi said.

Judges on the Supreme Court are mainly from the So­cial­ist Party or for­mer of­fi­cials of the govern­ment of Maduro or both, the Geneva-based jurists’ group said.

“Judges who have demon­strated in­de­pen­dence and ruled against the ex­ec­u­tive branch have faced re­tal­i­a­tion and pun­ish­ment,” Zar­ifi said.

Maduro de­nies ac­cu­sa­tions of a power grab, say­ing his ac­tions, which in­clude the cre­ation of an al­ter­na­tive Con­stituent As­sem­bly that has granted it­self law-mak­ing pow­ers, aim to re­store peace af­ter months of protests and vi­o­lence.

The new Con­stituent As­sem­bly “at this point acts as a body out­side of the rule of law. It is able to leg­is­late and cre­ate law and new reg­u­la­tions in the coun­try with­out ac­count­abil­ity,” Zar­ifi said.

The ICJ re­port, “The Supreme Court of Justice: an in­stru­ment of ex­ec­u­tive power”, was is­sued on the side­lines of the U.N. Hu­man Rights Coun­cil.

U.N. hu­man rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hus­sein said on Mon­day that Venezue­lan se­cu­rity forces may have com­mit­ted crimes against hu­man­ity against pro­test­ers and called for an in­ter­na­tional in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“The ev­i­dence that’s there, of course it is not ad­ju­di­cated, but cer­tainly sug­gests room for in­ves­ti­gat­ing crimes against hu­man­ity,” Zar­ifi said.

Such crimes are de­fined as grave and sys­tem­atic vi­o­la­tions in­clud­ing tor­ture, en­forced dis­ap­pear­ances, and ex­tra­ju­di­cial killings that are part of a state’s pol­icy, he said, adding: “Those in­di­ca­tors are all there in Venezuela.”

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