Friday, June 15, 2012

A Pantomime of Justice

by Francisco Toro

International Herald Tribune

June 15, 2012

The right to be present at your own trial is a core civil right. Certainly, article 125 of Venezuela’s criminal procedure code bans in-absentia trials. Which is why, when faced with an attempt to sentence one of his clients who was not in the courtroom, the Venezuelan defense attorney José Amalio Graterol objected forcefully and refused to participate in an obviously illegal procedure.

For his troubles, Graterol was immediately jailed for obstruction of justice. After eight days in one of Venezuela’s notoriously violent prisons, he was released on bail, but he still faces the possibility of a lengthy prison term on the original charge.

Within hours of his arrest the Geneva-based International Commission of Jurists was expressing concern for the abuse, calling it “the most recent of a series of violations to the fundamental principles of the rule of law in Venezuela in recent years,” while the chairman of the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute, Sternford Moyo, declared that “Graterol’s apprehension is a clear breach of Venezuela’s own criminal laws, a clear violation of the fundamental principle of the independence of the legal profession and also represents as a serious infringement of firmly established international principles.”