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Cablegate: Reaction to Iachr Vargas Decision

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

C O N F I D E N T I A L CARACAS 002404

SIPDIS


NSC FOR CBARTON
USCINCSO ALSO FOR POLAD

E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/25/2014
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PREL SOCI CS VE
SUBJECT: REACTION TO IACHR VARGAS DECISION

REF: STATE 01544

Classified By: DEPUTY CHIEF OF MISSION JOHN CREAMER 1.4 (d)

-------
SUMMARY
-------

1. (C) The Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR)
passed a resolution accepting Venezuela's admission of
responsibility for all charges in the case of Blanco Romero y
Otros vs. Venezuela. The Inter-American Commission on Human
Rights (the Commission) and representatives for the victims
(the defense) alleged that the GOV had violated articles of
the Inter-American Charter on Human Rights (the Charter)
protecting life, personal integrity and liberty, and had
failed to provide judicial remedies sufficient to protect
those rights. The GOV's written concession June 28
contradicted allegations regarding due process and state
responsibility, and was rejected by the defense. However the
court, after clarifying the nature of the GOV's concession
via oral testimony, passed a resolution accepting the
concession. Venezuelan human rights leaders viewed the
hearing as a validation of the victims' families quest for
justice. Still, the GOV's subsequent attempts to cloud its
ultimate responsibility in the public's eye cast doubt as to
whether the GOV was acting in good faith. The ultimate test
of GOV intentions will be whether it complies with the
IACHR's sentence which is expected this fall. End summary.

-----------------------------------
Commission Brings Case Before IACHR
-----------------------------------

2. (U) The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (the
Commission) brought the case of Blanco Romero y Otros vs.
Venezuela before the IACHR in June 2004. The Commission's
allegations in the suit stemmed from the forced
disappearances of Oscar Blanco Romero, Roberto Hernandez Paz
and Jose Rivas Fernandez following a natural disaster in the
Vargas region in 1999, when torrential rains and mudslides
left approximately 20,000 dead and resulted in widespread
lawlessness. According to testimony provided by the victim's
families to the Inter-American Court, security forces -
tasked by the GOV with maintaining public order - arrested
Blanco, Hernandez and Rivas during its round-up of looting
suspects. None of the victims was seen by their families
again and, after the GOV's investigations stalled and
separate Venezuelan courts ruled against motions of habeas
corpus, the victim's families turned to the Commission to
obtain justice in the case.

3. (U) The Commission charged the GOV with the violation of
the victims' rights to life, integrity and liberty under the
Charter. For its failure to properly investigate and
prosecute the victims' disappearances, the Commission also
charged the GOV with violating Article 8 (Judicial
Guarantees) and Article 25 (Judicial Protection) of the same
charter. The Commission requested that the IACHR issue a
declaration of state responsibility for the charges dealing
with personal integrity and judicial guarantees contained
under Articles 5, 8 and 25. The suit brought by the
Commission also noted that the GOV had violated several
articles under the Inter-American Charter on Forced
Disappearances and the Inter-American Charter on the
Prevention and Sanctioning of Torture.

-----------------------------------------
Defense Cites GOV For Lack Of Due Process
-----------------------------------------

4. (U) In October 2004, representatives of the victims and
the victims' families (the defense) presented several more
allegations against the GOV before the IACHR. Most of the
defense's additional charges centered on the lack of due
process in the case. The defense charged the GOV with
"violating the families' and Venezuelan society's right to
the truth" as to what occurred in Vargas in December 1999
under articles 1, 8, 13, 25 and of the Charter. The defense
also alleged that the GOV had not fulfilled its duty to
provide Venezuelans with judicial recourse sufficient to
guarantee those human rights protected by the Charter and to
abolish practices which violated those rights.

-------------------------------------
GOV 'Ignorant' As To IACHR Procedures
-------------------------------------

5. (C) The GOV offered no response to the allegations in its
contra although, according to IACHR procedures, it should
have filed a written response to the suit with the court.
Despite the GOV's lack of response, the Court convened public
hearings on the case June 27 and 28 to finalize the
allegations against the GOV and admit witness and expert
testimony into the court's record. Carlos Ayala, a lawyer for
the defense, informed poloff July 11 that one week prior to
the hearings, the GOV offered to sign a friendly agreement to
forgo the public hearing. Ayala stated that the GOV's lack
of response and last minute offer betrayed an overall
ignorance of how to function in an international context
governed by set rules and procedures. The defense rejected
the GOV's offer and the case proceeded as planned to oral
hearings held June 27 and 28.

------------------------------
GOV Concedes To All Charges...
------------------------------

6. (C) On June 28, after the court had heard witness and
expert testimony on the events which occurred in Vargas in
December 1999, representatives of the GOV elected to read a
written letter of concession in lieu of presenting oral
arguments. Ayala told poloff July 11 that the GOV's
concession at that point in the proceedings was a surprise.
The normal process is for a concession to be made at the
beginning of the hearings and not after testimony.

7. (U) The GOV's concession began by stating that it
"conceded to the allegations made in the suit against the
State of Venezuela and accepted in good faith its
international responsibility in this case." The GOV
specified that as a consequence of this concession it
recognized its commitment to reparations including the
indemnization of the victim's families, a guarantee of no
repetition, and the obligation to investigate the case and to
punish those responsible. The GOV made no mention of
judicial reform, which the Commission had specifically
requested.

--------------
...Or Does It?
--------------

8. (C) Ayala told poloff July 11 that the GOV's written
concession also contradicted several key charges in its
contra. The GOV stated that it had begun a serious
investigation and initiated judicial remedies to find those
responsible for the disappearances "without losing any time"
after Vargas tragedy in December 1999. The GOV also asserted
that there was no lapse of justice as regards the
representation's denied motions of habeas corpus, and that
the Venezuelan courts acted "strictly according to the law
and constitution" in issuing those decisions. These two
points contradicted allegations regarding the lack of due
process on the case.

9. (U) The GOV's written concession also denied state
responsibility for the violations committed in Vargas. After
noting that the GOV had reformed the Venezuelan penal code to
bring it in line with the Inter-American Charter on Forced
Disappearances and promising to conclude the investigations
of the disappearances of those cited in the case, the GOV
asked the court to declare that the violations in Vargas
resulted from "the isolated conduct of low ranking officials
that could in no way be attributed to orders issued down the
chain of command of the Venezuelan government."

-------------------------------------------
Defense Asks Court To Reject GOV Concession
-------------------------------------------

10. (C) Jose Gregorio Guarenas, one of the lawyers present
for the defense, told poloff July 12 that the defense
requested a recess to review the GOV's written concession.
Upon review, the defense asked the IACHR to reject the GOV's
written concession because it contradicted important

allegations against the GOV and therefore did not qualify as
a concession as outlined by article 53.2 of the IACHR's
regulations. Guarenas stated that instead of passing the case
to sentencing as requested by the defense, the court decided
to take the oral testimony of the GOV in order to clarify the
nature of its written concession.

--------------------------------------------- ------
GOV Testifies To Full Responsibility Before IACHR...
--------------------------------------------- ------

11. (C) In answer to the questions posed by the court, the
GOV testified that it fully accepted the facts of the case as
well as the allegations against it. The court noted the GOV
"acting on good faith, accepted its international
responsibility in this case" and had made a full concession.
Defense attorney Liliana Ortega told Poloff July 12 that the
GOV's written concession was a media stunt designed to cloud
the issue in the public's mind, but that in the view of the
court, the GOV had made a full concession. Still, she noted
that the GOV's written concession as well as its oral
testimony were recorded as part of the IACHR's resolution on
the case.

--------------------------------------------- ---------
...But GOV Leaders Present Different Picture To Public
--------------------------------------------- ---------

12. (C) Attorney General Isaias Rodriguez speaking to press
July 29 stated that the IACHR decision ""did not condemn
Venezuela, but rather established an important distinction
between some officers acting individually and the state."
Rodriguez added the Public Ministry was investigating those
functionaries who had committed excesses. The President of
the Supreme Court Omar Mora Diaz told the press July 29 that
in admitting that human rights violations had occurred in
Vargas, Venezuela had demonstrated that it was a responsible
state. Furthermore, Mora continued, authorities were asked
to control the situation with regard for human rights, but
"this isn't to say that some low-level functionary might not
have committed some outrage." Carlos Ayala told Poloff July
11 that he was concerned by public statements made by GOV
officials alleging a lack of state responsibility for Vargas
and that he planned to submit these reports to the IACHR.

-------
Comment
-------

13. (C) The GOV's concession on Vargas appears to be driven
more by a lack of alternatives than a desire to make amends.
The GOV conceded to cover a weak case, and then attempted to
spin its concession to the court and the Venezuelan public as
an act of good faith. GOV remarks to the public denying
state responsibility directly conflict with its concession to
the court. IACHR sentencing is due this fall, and the
defense has requested reparations which extend beyond the
financial to include guarantees of non-repetition. This would
imply real judicial reform. Whether or not the GOV makes
these amends will be a far more telling indication of its
good faith than its concession to the court.
Brownfield


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2005CARACA02404 - CONFIDENTIAL

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