The Venezuelan Supreme Court (TSJ) unanimously ruled on Monday that a controversial amnesty law passed by the country’s opposition-controlled parliament is unconstitutional.
The law that Venezuela’s National Assembly approved on March 29 would have exonerated dozens of persons convicted of crimes over the last seventeen years, including those responsible for 2014’s violent anti-government protests as well as the protagonists of the thwarted 2002 coup against then president Hugo Chávez.
In its verdict, the top court acknowledged the authority of the legislature to grant amnesties, but noted that this power “does not permit the parliamentary majority to violate the constitutional spirit of rejection of injustice and institute impunity for the violators of fundamental rights.”
Referring to sections of law that absolve persons convicted of offenses such as “conspiracy and terrorism,” “violence or resistance to authority,” “mutiny, civil rebellion, treason, military rebellion,” the court stated that amnesty in these cases would compromise “the rights of the victims to access justice.”
The TSJ further added that the law is inadmissible insofar as it sanctions the recidivism of those potential beneficiaries of the legislation who were previously pardoned under the 2007 amnesty decree that then-president Hugo Chávez implemented for participants in the 2002 coup, including Leopoldo Lopez, Henrique Capriles, and Maria Corina Machado.
The decision came four days after President Nicolas Maduro submitted the legislation to the TSJ Thursday for constitutional review under Article 214 of the Constitution, arguing that the law is an “affront” to victims of human rights violations and warning that its approval could lead to “civil war.”
Venezuela’s right-wing opposition, for its part, blasted the TSJ ruling.
“What has occurred today only reaffirms Venezuelans’ convictions that we have to accelerate the exit of this government as soon as possible,” declared recently elected congressman Freddy Guevara, a member of Leopoldo López’s far right Popular Will party who himself was a leader in 2014’s violent opposition protests that resulted in the death of 43 people.
National Assembly President Henry Ramos Allup also voiced strong rejection of the verdict, alleging that the Supreme Court is “controlled” by Maduro’s United Socialist Party, who “ordered” the move.
The United Nations High Commission for Human Rights (UNHRC) also lashed out at the ruling, calling the law “an enormous push towards dialogue and reconciliation” and questioning the independence of Venezuela’s judiciary.
The UNHRC under High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein has repeatedly clashed with the Venezuelan government, with the UN official accusing President Maduro of “attacks against journalists, human rights defenders and lawyers” during the latter’s speech in Geneva in November.
The high court decision was, however, applauded by human rights groups.
“With this ruling together with mobilization in the streets, we have successfully defeated this law,” said Edgar Márquez, president of the Association of Victims of the April 11th Coup.
He added that the victims group feels “vindicated” that the verdict was released on April 11, which marks the 14th anniversary of the 2002 US-sponsored coup.
As an alternative to the Amnesty Law, President Maduro announced the formation Tuesday of a truth and justice commission tasked with investigating the 2014 violence known as the guarimbas.
Created at the behest of the Committee of Victims of the Guarimba and Ongoing Coup, the commission will be headed by Vice-President Aristobulo Isturiz and will include UNASUR General-Secretary Ernesto Samper, international Nobel Peace Prize laureates, representatives of different branches of government, members of the PSUV parliamentary block, and four spokespersons for the opposition.