Venezuela’s withdrawal from the American Convention on Human Rights went into effect this month, drawing the condemnation of rights groups across the hemisphere. The withdrawal was one of the Hugo Chávez’s last decisions as president, and took effect one year after he announced Venezuela’s official “denunciation” of the American Convention, also known as the San José Pact. Upon the withdrawal, President Nicolás Maduro reiterated Chavez’s charge that the Inter-American system is a US pawn: “[T]he US is not part of the human rights system, does not acknowledge the court’s jurisdiction or the commission, but…the commission headquarters is in Washington. Almost all participants and bureaucracy that are part of the [Inter-American Court of Human Rights] are captured by the interests of the State Department of the United States.”
Venezuela cannot now be brought before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. While the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights will retain its authority to monitor rights conditions in Venezuela, its jurisdiction over individual complaints will extend only to suspected violations of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man—as is the case with other OAS member states not party to the American Convention, such as the Bahamas, Canada, and the United States. Trinidad & Tobago is the only other country to have joined the San José Pact and then withdrawn.
Venezuela also withdrew from the World Bank’s International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) last year, joining Bolivia and Ecuador as South American nations that have left the body—despite an ICSID ruling in Venezuela’s favor in its dispute with Exxxon in 2010.
But withdrawal from the San José Pact has met with far greater opprobrium. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights spokesman Rupert Colville warned that the decision could “have a very negative impact on human rights in [Venezuela] and beyond.”
Venezuela’s move seems to have been prompted by a ruling of the Inter-American Court last year in favor of Raúl Diaz Peña, a Venezuelan who was found to have been tortured in prison while being held under “preventative detention” on suspicion of involvement the February 2003 attempted bombing of foreign embassies in Caracas. He was later convicted and sentenced to nine years, but escaped when granted a study-release program and fled to the United States. There, he said that his conviction had been secured through statements made under torture, and brought suit before the OAS court.
“It is very unfortunate that the Venezuelan government has decided to go through with this action,” Francisco Quintana, Americas program director at the Washington-based Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), told IPS. “Yet if the government thought it was going to get away from this international supervision completely, that’s not right—at least with regard to any human rights violations that occurred before Sept. 10.”
CEJIL and more than 50 other organizations from 14 countries throughout the Americas issued a joint statement protesting Venezuelas’ withdrawal. “Venezuela’s denunciation of the American Convention represents a grave backlash for the protection of human rights in the region,” the groups warned. “Additionally, this denunciation is preceded in recent years by the non-compliance of most of the sentences and measures of protection issued by the Inter-American Court.” (Opinio Juris, Sept. 11; IPS, UN News Centre, Sept. 10; IJRC, Sept. 19, 2012; Inter-American Security Watch, March 30, 2012; OAS Multilateral Treaties page; Raúl José Díaz Peña v. Venezuela case materials at University of Minnesota Human Rights Library)
Venezuela’s criticisms of the OAS rights bodies have concerned their investigations into treatment of the right-wing opposition, but these bodies have also been involved in issues related to protection of indigenous peoples in Venezuela.
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