NEW YORK (November 12, 2020) – Today, the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights (RWCHR), the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), and the Human Rights Foundation (HRF) called on the United Nations to hold Venezuela accountable for the 11-year persecution and prosecution of Judge María Lourdes Afiuni.
On November 8, Venezuela’s notoriously subservient Supreme Court affirmed Judge Afiuni’s five-year prison term on the fabricated charge of “spiritual corruption” — a first in Venezuela’s history, as the alleged offense does not exist in the country’s criminal laws. Judge Afiuni’s case exposes the complete erosion of the rule of law in Maduro’s Venezuela and the systematic use of torture to intimidate judges and lawyers.
“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 López. It is a direct attack on the independence of the judiciary and dramatizes the closing of democratic space in Venezuela.”
Judge Afiuni was first arrested on December 10, 2009, moments after issuing an interim decision on precautionary measures ending the preventive imprisonment of Eligio Cedeño. The decision was based on the fact that the duration of Cedeño’s pre-trial detention had surpassed the maximum time established by Venezuelan legislation. This same rationale had already been pointed out by the Opinion Nº 10/2009 adopted by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.
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. Judge Afiuni’s life is now at imminent risk if she is sent back to prison to serve a five-year sentence, as she prepares for chemotherapy and radiation after recently being diagnosed with cancer.
“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 Chávez disagreed with. He ordered the abuse directed at her,” said HRF president Thor Halvorssen. “Afiuni is an open and shut case that exposes the utter lack of judicial independence in Venezuela. Her nightmare should end. She should be acquitted.”
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.”
The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies.
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