Press Release

IACHR Welcomes Reform of Venezuela's Military Criminal Court System, Calls for Effective and Immediate Implementation

October 14, 2021

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Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) welcomes reform of Venezuela's Organic Code for Military Justice, which bans trials of civilians by military criminal courts. The Commission stresses the restrictive nature of military justice and calls for an effective implementation of this reform. The IACHR urges Venezuelan authorities to transfer to ordinary courts all judicial cases that were wrongly assigned to military criminal courts in the first place.

On September 17, 2021, partial reform of the Organic Code for Military Justice, passed by the National Assembly, was published in issue 6646 of the Official Journal. This reform introduces changes—effective immediately—in Articles 6, 7, 21, 124, and 128. It also includes temporary provisions demanding that all cases involving civilians that are currently being handled by military criminal courts be sent to ordinary criminal courts.

Through its Special Monitoring Mechanism for Venezuela (MESEVE), the IACHR has been monitoring several cases assigned to military courts, including cases of civilians who were arrested in various protests since the start of the crisis in the country. Cases involving at least 757 civilians are believed to have been dealt with by military courts over the period April 1–October 31, 2017. The organization Foro Penal has further documented that 848 civilians were tried by military criminal courts over the period January 1, 2014–August 31, 2019.

The IACHR itself has addressed cases involving education system workers, legislators, trade union leaders, and government critics that have been handled by military courts.

The IACHR denounces this practice. The Commission stresses that, in accordance with inter-American standards, in any democratic State where the rule of law is paramount, military criminal courts must have a restricted, exceptional scope and seek to protect special legal interests linked to the role of military forces. Trying civilians is therefore beyond the scope of military courts, who should only try military officers for crimes or offenses involving the rights of the military, as noted, among others, in the report on the situation of human rights in Venezuela that was part of the IACHR's .

Finally, the Commission notes that this reform should only be seen as the first of many measures that need to be adopted by the Venezuelan State—including various legislative actions—to ensure that civilians are not investigated, prosecuted, or tried by military criminal courts. The IACHR calls on the State to assign to civilian courts any relevant ongoing cases. This includes cases involving human rights violations committed by military officers, which must be tried by impartial, independent courts to ensure compliance with Article 261 of Venezuela's Constitution of 1999 concerning restrictions on military criminal courts.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 273/21

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