Venezuela’s judiciary counteracts repression, says the UN’s rights panel

ValiƱas said the panel continues to investigate the crimes identified in the report, but added that the second report, which it will present to the Human Rights Council next week, focused on how Venezuela’s judicial system works and conducted a detailed analysis of 183 detentions.

Venezuelan authorities did not allow panelists to enter the country and did not respond to any of the 17 letters they sent to the government in the past year asking for information. The panel based its conclusions on 177 interviews with current and former judges, prosecutors and others in the judiciary, as well as with lawyers for victims of abuse. They also read thousands of pages of legal cases, including arrest and keywords.

Of the 86 judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys interviewed by the panel, virtually all – 98.2 percent of them – reported that political cases were not investigated or prosecuted in accordance with the law.

Judges and prosecutors were instructed on how to proceed, the panel said, and often appeared to have played “key roles” in covering up wrongdoing – for example, enabling arbitrary detention by resorting to unjustified arrest warrants, lengthy prison sentences and criminal charges based on illegally obtained or forfeited including evidence obtained through torture.

Many of the defendants in the 183 indictments analyzed by the panel said they had been tortured or subjected to brutal treatment, including sexual violence, and 67 of the defendants had appeared in court with clear signs of ill-treatment.

“The actions and omissions of judges who hear torture allegations had devastating consequences for the victims, including continued torture and deteriorating health,” the panel said. A detainee had suffered a miscarriage of torture caused after a judge returned her to the custody of the military counterintelligence agency, which she claimed abused her.

But opposition from judges, prosecutors and lawyers to political intervention is also risky, the panel concluded. More than half of the defense attorneys who responded to a questionnaire said they had faced threats and harassment, and nearly half of the former judges and prosecutors contacted by the panel had fled the country for security reasons.

The report was contributed by Isay Herrera in Caracas.

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