San Jose, Costa Rica (March 1, 2011) – The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) filed an amicus curiae brief with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in the case of Leopoldo López Mendoza v. the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. According to HRF, which is attending the public hearings beginning today in Costa Rica, the decision of the Court could make this a landmark case against the arbitrary deprivation of political rights.
“The Court’s decision in this case could lead to the restitution of the human rights of thousands of people in the Americas who are at this time arbitrarily banned from holding public office, from voting, or from participating as candidates in elections,” said Javier El-Hage, general counsel of HRF. “For the first time, the highest court of justice in the Western Hemisphere is being called upon to ratify the standard set forth in the American Convention on Human Rights, according to which a person may be deprived of his political rights only after being sentenced as a result of a judicial process that meets all due process safeguards,” stated El-Hage.
According to HRF’s brief—received on February 28, 2011, by the Secretariat of the Court in Costa Rica—the Court must examine, based on this standard, the case of the disqualification of López Mendoza, former mayor of the Chacao Municipality, in Caracas, Venezuela. In 2008, this prohibition was imposed on López by the General Prosecutor of Venezeula. The Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR), acting as plaintiff in this case on behalf of López, has also requested the Court “to conclude and declare that the (Venezuelan) State violated the political rights (…) of Mr. Leopoldo López,” and, “to order the Venezuelan State” to reinstate them. As a state party to the American Convention on Human Rights, Venezuela should comply with the Court’s decision.
“Acting as amicus curiae, we have provided the Court with an international law opinion that takes into account not just the text of the Convention, but also its travaux preparatoires, the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights, the opinions of the United Nations Human Rights Committee, and the provisions of most Latin American constitutions regarding this subject,” said El-Hage. “For example, we have brought to the attention of the Court that the European Court of Human Rights issued a final ruling less than two months ago in the case of Paskas v. Lithuania, ratifying that the penalty of disqualification to stand for elections in Europe may be legitimate only if it is the result of an express decision of a court of law, reached in compliance with criminal due process rules,” El-Hage affirmed.
HRF considers this case an excellent opportunity for the Court to determine that individuals who are incarcerated, but not yet sentenced, should never be deprived of their political rights. The Court should also determine that in cases where the suspension or deprivation of political rights is an ancillary penalty to a criminal conviction, the persons deprived of liberty should not also be deprived of their rights to vote as they serve their sentence.
“The responsibility of an amicus curiae is to provide the Court with expert criteria that may assist it in resolving a particular case according to international law,” explained El-Hage. “In this case, we have high expectations that the precedent the Court sets will resonate not only in Venezuela, but throughout the continent.”
HRF is an international nonpartisan organization devoted to defending human rights in the Americas. It centers its work on the twin concepts of freedom of self-determination and freedom from tyranny. These ideals include the belief that all human beings have the rights to speak freely, to associate with those of like mind, and to leave and enter their countries. Individuals in a free society must be accorded equal treatment and due process under law, and must have the opportunity to participate in the governments of their countries; HRF’s ideals likewise find expression in the conviction that all human beings have the right to be free from arbitrary detainment or exile and from interference and coercion in matters of conscience. HRF does not support nor condone violence. HRF’s International Council includes former prisoners of conscience Vladimir Bukovsky, Palden Gyatso, Václav Havel, Mutabar Tadjibaeva, Ramón J. Velásquez, Elie Wiesel, and Harry Wu.
Contact: Javier El-Hage, Human Rights Foundation, (212) 246.8486, firstname.lastname@example.org
Read the amicus curiae brief filed by HRF with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (Spanish only).
To learn more about this case, watch Leopoldo López’s presentation at the Oslo Freedom Forum 2010 below.
Original article at humanrightsfoundation.org