Venezuela: UN human rights experts voice alarm at extended detention of judge
Three independent United Nations human rights experts today expressed their alarm at the decision of Venezuelan authorities to extend the house arrest of a judge for another two years, saying it was concerned about her physical and mental health.
Judge María Lourdes Afiuni Mora has been detained since December 2009 after she ordered the release of a man whose own detention had been declared arbitrary that year by a group of UN human rights experts.
“It is becoming increasingly difficult to understand what Judge Afiuni is living through,” said Juan Méndez, Special Rapporteur on Torture, in a joint statement with Gabriela Knaul, Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, and El Hadji Malick Sow, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.
“The substitutive preventive measure of house arrest imposed a few months ago seemed to be a positive step. However, this latest decision represents an unacceptable worsening of her situation, particularly in light of her delicate physical and mental state,” he said.
Mr. Sow, whose UN working group last year declared Judge Afiuni’s detention arbitrary, said it was “imperative” that she be released immediately.
“Furthermore, it is unclear what would in this case be the ‘serious grounds’ which, in conformity with Venezuela law, must be present in order for a measure of personal coercion of this kind to be extended.”
Ms. Knaul described as significant the fact that the judge who decided to extend Judge Afiuni’s detention had himself been challenged several times by Judge Afiuni and her lawyers for his alleged lack of impartiality.
“As the ongoing detention of Judge Afiuni shows, the independence of the judiciary is severely compromised in Venezuela. Judicial actors fear the same fate as Judge Afiuni if they dare to act against governmental interests,” she said.