NEW YORK, USA -- A group of United Nations experts on Thursday urged Venezuela to immediately release Judge María Lourdes Afiuni, who has been in detention for the past three years and was the victim of sexual violence and aggression during the time she was incarcerated.
“It is unacceptable that Venezuelan authorities are not acting with due diligence to investigate the acts perpetrated against Judge Afiuni in an immediate and impartial manner, and severely punish those responsible,” said the special rapporteur on violence against women, Rashida Manjoo.
Afiuni was imprisoned in December 2009 after she allowed the release of a businessman charged with subverting currency controls. She said that the man, Eligio Cedeño, had been held in prison while awaiting trial longer than Venezuelan law generally permitted, and that her ruling complied with a recommendation by a UN human rights organ.
Since then, Afiuni has been held in pre-trial detention. According to her lawyer, Afiuni was raped while in prison and consequently had an abortion. Last year, she was granted house arrest in Caracas, the capital, due to medical problems.
“Judge Afiuni’s situation is an emblematic case of reprisal for having cooperated with one of the UN’s human rights organs,” said the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya.
“Allowing reprisals against a judge for having applied a recommendation by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and keeping her detained awaiting a trial for more than three years has opened the door for many more abuses, and has an effect of intimidation,” stressed the head of the working group, Hadji Malick Sow.
In December, Afiuni’s lawyer requested she be freed, but this was denied by the government in January.
Special rapporteur on torture Juan Méndez underlined that the rape and other acts of grave sexual violence by state officials not only amount to torture but also create stigma surrounding the victim. In addition, the special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, said the decision to release Cedeño was in accordance with Venezuelan law and under the mandate of Afiuni.
The experts called on the government to investigate the acts of violence and offer adequate compensation to Afiuni. They also urged authorities to prevent and abstain from any acts of intimidation or reprisals against those who try to cooperate or have cooperated with the UN human rights mechanisms in the past.
Special rapporteurs are appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.