Public Statement: The Law Society of Upper Canada expresses grave concern about the treatment of Attorney General Luisa Ortega Dìaz in Venezuela

Toronto, ON - August 2, 2017 - The Law Society of Upper Canada expresses grave concern about the treatment of Attorney General Luisa Ortega Dìaz in Venezuela.

Luisa Ortega Dìaz has been Venezuela's lead prosecutor since 2007.  More recently, she has been viewed as one of the few critical voices within Venezuela's government, known for protecting and defending human rights.

It has come to the Law Society's attention that on June 27, 2017, the Supreme Court issued two rulings that undermine the powers of Attorney General Luisa Ortega Dìaz, who has been openly questioning the state's policies and practices. The first granted the Ombudsman Office-which has failed to act as a check on the executive-powers to participate in criminal investigations, and the second removed the deputy attorney general, who had been recently appointed by Luisa Ortega Dìaz, from office.

Luisa Ortega Dìaz responded by accusing the Supreme Court of violating the Constitution - citing repressed demonstrations, military court trials of civilians, searches without judicial warrants and a lack of evidence against those accused of committing crimes.  She is quoted as stating that, “the right to participate and to choose has been undermined by the government”.

It is the Law Society's understanding that on June 28, 2017, the Supreme Court issued precautionary measures, forbidding Luisa Ortega Dìaz from leaving the country and freezing her assets and bank accounts.

The Law Society of Upper Canada is deeply troubled by Luisa Ortega Dìaz's treatment, particularly in light of reports of increasing social and political unrest and threats to the rule of law in Venezuela.  Human Rights Watch reports, “…the judiciary has ceased to function as an independent branch of government.  Members of the Supreme Court have openly rejected the principle of separation of powers, and publicly pledged their commitment to advancing the government's political agenda.”[1] Furthermore, in the wake of nationwide demonstrations, hundreds of civilians have been prosecuted in military courts in Venezuela, in violation of both Venezuelan and international law.[2]  Human Rights Watch notes that there is no public record of these proceedings and accounts from lawyers and family members include “…many disturbing allegations of abuses and procedural defects in the conduct of these prosecutions…”[3]

In light of the foregoing, the Law Society urges the government of Venezuela to comply with Venezuela's obligations under international human rights laws, including the United Nations' Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers.

Article 16 of the Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers states:

Governments shall ensure that lawyers (a) are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference; (b) are able to travel and to consult with their clients freely both within their own country and abroad; and (c) shall not suffer, or be threatened with, prosecution or administrative, economics or other sanctions for any action taken in accordance with recognized professional duties, standards and ethics.

Article 17 states:

Where the security of lawyers is threatened as a result of discharging their functions, they shall be adequately safeguarded by the authorities.

Furthermore, Article 23 provides:

Lawyers like other citizens are entitled to freedom of expression, belief, association and assembly. In particular, they shall have the right to take part in public discussion of matters concerning the law, the administration of justice and the promotion and protection of human rights and to join or form local, national or international organizations and attend their meetings, without suffering professional restrictions by reason of their lawful action or their membership in a lawful organization.

The Law Society urges the Government of Venezuela to:

a.  immediately and unconditionally lift all restrictions on Luisa Ortega Dìaz's freedom of movement;

b.  guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Luisa Ortega Dìaz;

c.  ensure that all lawyers in Venezuela can carry out their professional duties and activities without fear of reprisals, physical violence or other human rights violations; and

d. ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments.

[1] “Venezuela: Country Summary” Human Rights Watch  (January 2017), online: https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/supporting_resources/201707americas_venezuela_worldreport_0.pdf

[2] “New Accounts Describe Abusive Prosecution of Civilians by Military Courts: Joint Statement by the Venezuelan Penal Forum and Human Rights Watch” Human Rights Watch   (15 May 2017), online: https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/05/15/new-accounts-describe-abusive-prosecution-civilians-military-courts

[3] “New Accounts Describe Abusive Prosecution of Civilians by Military Courts: Joint Statement by the Venezuelan Penal Forum and Human Rights Watch” Human Rights Watch   (15 May 2017), online: https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/05/15/new-accounts-describe-abusive-prosecution-civilians-military-courts

The Law Society of Upper Canada is the governing body for more than 50,000 lawyers and 8,000 paralegals in the province of Ontario, Canada. The Treasurer is the head of the Law Society. The mandate of the Law Society is to govern the legal profession in the public interest by upholding the independence, integrity and honour of the legal profession for the purpose of advancing the cause of justice and the rule of law.

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For more information, please contact Susan Tonkin, Communications Advisor - Media Relations, at 416-947-7605 or stonkin@lsuc.on.ca.

The Law Society of Upper Canada

Osgoode Hall, 130 Queen Street West

Toronto, Ontario, M5H 2N6

www.lsuc.on.ca

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