June 30, 2017 / 10:24 AM / 3 months ago

U.N. urges Venezuela's Maduro to uphold rule of law

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro (C) attends a military parade to celebrate the 196th anniversary of the Battle of Carabobo, in Caracas, Venezuela June 24, 2017. Miraflores Palace/Handout via REUTERS

GENEVA (Reuters) - The United Nations called on Venezuela on Friday to uphold the rule of law and freedom of assembly, and criticised President Nicolas Maduro’s government for moves against the chief state prosecutor

Critics of Maduro have taken to the streets almost daily for three months to protest against what they call the creation of a dictatorship. The protests, which have left nearly 80 dead, frequently culminate in violent clashes with security forces.

Ruling Socialist Party officials have launched a series of attacks against chief state prosecutor Luisa Ortega, from accusations of insanity to promoting violence, after her high-profile break with the government.

The Supreme Court’s decision last Wednesday to “begin removal proceedings against the Attorney General, freeze her assets and ban her from leaving the country is deeply worrying, as is the ongoing violence,” U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville told a Geneva briefing.

The Supreme Court’s Constitutional Chamber has nullified Ortega’s appointment of a deputy attorney general, naming someone else in violation of the law, he said. It also transferred some of her functions to the ombudsperson.

“Since March, the Attorney General has taken important steps to defend human rights, documenting deaths during the wave of demonstrations, insisting on the need for due process and the importance of the separation of powers, and calling for people who have been arbitrarily detained to be immediately released,” Colville said.

The court’s decision “appears to seek to strip her office of its mandate and responsibilities as enshrined in the Venezuelan Constitution, and undermine the office’s independence”.

“We urge all powers of the Venezuelan state to respect the constitution and the rule of law, and call on the government to ensure the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of opinion and expression are guaranteed,” Colville said.

In a separate statement, the U.N. special rapporteur on the independence of judges rejected what it called the latest step against democratic institutions in Venezuela.

The independent expert, Diego García-Sayán, said that a hearing was scheduled on Tuesday “during which a decision will be taken on whether to prosecute” Ortega following accusations by a government MP of “serious misconduct”.

“Any investigation of judicial actions must be carried out in a transparent manner and with strict respect for due process and the legal system,” he said. “It is essential to avoid any kind of intimidation against the Attorney General.”

Maduro says the demonstrations are an attempt to overthrow him with the support of Washington.

Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Janet Lawrence/Jeremy Gaunt

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