The Case of Judge Afiuni and the Survival of the Rule of Law in Venezuela
On Thursday 12 November, the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights (RWCHR), the International Bar Association s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) and the Human Rights Foundation (HRF) appealed to the United Nations to hold Venezuela accountable for the 11-year persecution and prosecution of Judge Maria Lourdes Afiuni and to protect the independence of the Venezuelan legal profession. On Sunday 8 November, Venezuela s highest court affirmed Judge Afiuni s five-year prison term on the fabricated and absurd charge of spiritual corruption — a first in Venezuelan history, as the alleged offense has not been recognized in the country scriminal legislation. Judge Afiuni s case represents the erosion of the rule of law and systematic use of torture to intimidate judges and lawyers in Maduro s Venezuela.
Judge Afiuni is a looking glass into the persistent and pervasive assault on the rule of law and the crimes against humanity committed by the Maduro regime in Venezuela, particularly torture in detention, said the Hon. Irwin Cotler, RWCHR Chair and former Canadian Justice Minister. The Afiuni case was weaponized to coerce other judges to issue arrest warrants against prominent opposition leaders like Leopoldo L pez. It is a direct attack on the independence of the judiciary and dramatizes the closing of democractic space in Venezuela.
Judge Afiuni was first arrested on 10 December 2009, moments after issuing a ruling for the release of then political prisoner, Eligio Cede o, resulting in Judge Afiuni herself becoming a political prisoner. She was subsequently transferred to house arrest after suffering brutal torture and sexual violence at the hands of State officials in prison, resulting in a miscarriage and emergency surgery. She and her family have faced constant harassment over the years.
IBAHRI Director, Baroness Helena Kennedy QC remarked, After many years of observing the case against Judge Afiuni, our trial report concluded that there was a complete disregard for due process and fair trial guarantees, primarily owing to the absence of judicial independence and arbitrary decision-making. Her case is formative to the situation of the legal profession in Venezuela, demonstrating the significant and gradual deterioration of the rule of law and human rights in the country, creating a chilling effect. We hope this joint action will bring us a step closer to ensuring unconditional release and reparations for her.
Judge Afiuni has endured years of persecution, imprisonment, torture, and unspeakable mistreatment at the hands of the Venezuelan regime after enforcing a UN human rights decision that the late President Ch vez disagreed with. He ordered the abuse directed at her, said Thor Halvorssen, president of HRF. Afiuni s is an open and shut case that exposes the utter lack of judicial independence in Venezuela. Her nightmare should end. She should be acquitted.
The joint action taken by the undersigned organizations seeks to reverse Judge Afiuni s conviction, establish an investigation into her devastating torture and protect the professional independence of the Venezuelan legal profession in the future. This democratic pillar is essential for any recovery from the current humanitarian disaster.
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