VENEZUELA: IS THE INDEPENDENCE OF THE JUDICIAL CAREER RESPECTED?
Report from Sumate.org
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 has been 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 its 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:
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 been in several manners, leading even to a National Assembly's request for formal explanations to Judge Velásquez Alvaray, President of the Supreme Court's Judicial Chamber.