1. Given that in Venezuela deputy judges and prosecutors do not enjoy job
stability nor do they benefit from a judicial career, the autonomy
and independence of the Judiciary cannot be guaranteed. This
a cause of concern for several national and international organizations.
2. At the time President Chávez took office, 60 % of
the total number of judges held their position in a provisional
manner; today such a number reaches 80 %. This situation has
been consistently denounced by Human Rights Watch (HRW). In
2004 Report, Item IV, HRW, points out that in Venezuela
, of the total number of judges (1,732) " .52% are provisional
judges, 26% are temporary judges and 2% hold their position
with no stability whatsoever". The
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has equally highlighted
this situation in its 2003 Report.
3. Such a situation was confirmed
by the new President of the Supreme Court, who upon designation
stated that the majority of judges hold their positions with
a provisional status and that their job stability is therefore
precarious. He also indicated that, contrary to HRW's contention,
this situation affects "only 75%" of all judges and not 80%
, while confirming that "judges in the labor-law field are part
of those who might be under outside pressure" (El Nacional,
February 3, 2005, Page A-5).
4. After declaring the judiciary in a state of emergency in 1999 and initiating
its reform, in the year 2000 the Government organized a credentials
tender for admission into the Judiciary by way of which 200 judges
came to be selected. In March 2003, without any explanation, the
tender was suspended. The general understanding was that the Commission
on Judicial Affairs wished to appoint and suspend judges at its
sole discretion. The
Commission is presently chaired by Judge Luis Velásquez-Alvaray,
a member of the governmental party Fifth-Republic Movement
(MVR), and former Congressman on its ticket.
5. Even since the judicial emergency was declared, many
judges have been removed and replaced, many without due
process of law and recourse to defense. The following are some
of the most notorious cases:
- Judge Luis Arriechi, President of the Civil Law Appeals Chamber of the Supreme Court was removed from his post through a doubtful constitutional procedure. Demotion procedures were also initiated against the President of the Electoral Chamber, Judge Alberto Martini- Urdaneta, who was eventually forced into retirement after authoring and presenting draft court decisions in favor of the Presidential Recall Referendum. Judge Blanca Rosa Mármol de León, of the Penal Law Appeals Chamber , was equally subject to a demotion procedure (which has not been sustained) for c drafting a decision favorable to Súmate.
- The most notorious case of suspension of judges was that involving three magistrates of the First Contentious Administrative Court , Juan Carlos Apitz, Perkins Rocha and Ana-María Ruggeri. All three were fired in October 2003 after allowing several demands against government policies and programs. Their rights to a defense and to due procedure were blatantly ignored. One of their most relevant decisions pertained to medical doctors of Cuban nationality, sent by the Cuban government to work as volunteers in 'Misión Barrio-Adentro' who by law would have needed prior certification by the Venezuelan College of Medical Doctors to be able to practice medicine in Venezuela. The case was recently admitted for review by the Inter American Commission on Human Rights.
- The case of the judges of the First Contentious Administrative Court was not an isolated one. Other judges have been fired for issuing sentences the Government considers disagreeable. For example, Judges Miguel Luna, Petra Jiménez, and María Trastoy were suspended after releasing from custody people who had participated in the February 2003 protests against the government.
- Judge Mercedes Chocrón was fired after trying to verify if precautionary measures dictated by the Inter American Commission on Human Rights were being respected within the military compound where a dissident senior rank officer was detained.
- Judges Pedro Troconis-Da Silva and Hertzen Vilela-Sibada, of the Tenth Circuit of the Court of Appeals were suspended for having lifted the prohibition to leave the country issued against 27 individuals charged with civil rebellion for allegedly supporting the decree by which Pedro Carmona-Estanga replaced Hugo Chávez on April 12, 2002.
6. The issue of temporariness
equally affects the Public Prosecutor's Office. On March
11, 2005, the Inter American Commission on Human Rights issued
a statement expressing its concern that since 2004 a significant
number of provisional Public Prosecutors (436) have been appointed.
7. Entre abril y junio de este año, 2005, has
continued its intervention of courts of law and removal
of judges and prosecutors in the States of Lara, Táchira,
Falcón, Yaracuy, Anzoátegui, Nueva Esparta, et.al.
Such actions have been seen as abusive in some cases and have
several manners, leading even to a
National Assembly's request for formal explanations to Judge
Velásquez Alvaray, President of the Supreme Court's Judicial