A new report by the International Commission of Jurists finds the rule of law in Venezuela has collapsed and that the government must act to restore democratic institutions.
Opposition legislators won 113 seats in the National Assembly, Venezuela's 165-member parliament, in 2015. Two years ago, President Nicolas Maduro installed a National Constituent Assembly by executive decree, made up of his supporters. The International Commission of Jurists claims this body is having a devastating effect on the rule of law in the country.
The Constituent Assembly supposedly was created to draft a new constitution; however, ICJ Secretary General Sam Zarifi said Maduro, by his actions, has usurped the authority of the legislative branch of government and stripped the judiciary of its independence.
"The conclusion of our report is that the NCA, the National Constituent Assembly, was improperly created, without popular endorsement, in blatant violation of the Venezuelan constitution.” Zarifi said. “And, after that it has acted in an unchecked manner and beyond the rule of law."
Zarifi said the NCA has widely abused its purported functions. He said it has been doing everything except discussing the establishment of a new constitution. He said it has improperly taken over the legislative authority normally delegated to parliament. He notes the NCA has been operating outside of any existing legal framework.
"That has resulted in a system of undermining and eroding the proper checks and balances provided by the parliament.” Zarifi said. “That has essentially ended the separation of powers in the country and has, at this point resulted in the near total collapse of the rule of law in Venezuela."
Zarifi said the NCA has passed a number of electoral laws, fired the attorney-general without cause and stripped members of the elected legislative assembly of their immunity.
The ICJ reports intimidation and threats against members of parliament are having a poisonous impact on the legislative process. It said opposition members are targeted by the government for exercising their freedom of expression and assembly. As a consequence of this intimidation, it notes 22 parliamentarians have fled into exile, while four currently are in prison.
Venezuela is caught in an economic crisis and a political standoff between the Maduro government and National Assembly leader Juan Guaido, who has declared himself president and is backed by the United States and dozens of other countries. Millions of Venezuelans have fled their country because of the ongoing political crisis.