Saturday, December 19, 2009

Victory: Inter-American Court Rules Against Venezuela in the Case of Francisco Usón, HRF’s First Prisoner of Conscience

Victory: Inter-American Court Rules Against Venezuela in the Case of Francisco Usón, HRF’s First Prisoner of Conscience

NEW YORK (December 17, 2009) - On November 20, 2009, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) found the Venezuelan government responsible of violating the human rights of Francisco Usón Ramirez, a former Venezuelan army general convicted of slander and imprisoned in 2004 for expressing concern about human rights violations in Venezuela. His was the first case taken by the Human Rights Foundation (HRF), in December of 2006.

The IACHR, the only jurisdictional body of the Organization of American States, ruled in a unanimous decision that Usón had been denied his rights to freedom of expression, due process, judicial protection, personal liberty, and that the principle of legality had been violated in his arrest, trial, and imprisonment five years ago. The court condemned Venezuela for its violation of both the American Convention on Human Rights and its own constitution.

“This is a long overdue vindication for an innocent man who was tried and convicted purely for political reasons,” said HRF founder Thor Halvorssen. “It is a victory for justice and a message of hope for other victims of political persecution.”

The IACHR ordered the Venezuelan government to nullify the military trial against Usón within a year and to compensate him for $90,000 worth of damages. The ruling also called for stricter limits on the jurisdiction of military justice in the future, reasoning that only active duty soldiers accused of military crimes should be tried in military courts. These decisions are binding and final, and therefore not subject to appeal.

On May 22, 2004, Usón was arrested by the Venezuelan National Guard on orders from military intelligence and held, without bail, pending trial. On October 8, 2004, he was sentenced to serve five and a half years in a military prison for allegedly slandering the armed forces on a morning television show which aired on April 16, 2004, when he commented about the instances surrounding a deadly fire at a Venezuelan military base.

Despite the fact that Usón never disclosed any military secrets nor spoke disrespectfully of any person, he was arrested and charged with “defamation” against the National Armed Forces. Further, he was tried in a military court, even though he was a civilian. Usón was released on Christmas Eve 2007, but he has remained confined to the strict restrictions of the Venezuelan parole system.

Usón, formerly a cabinet member under President Hugo Chávez, resigned his post in protest of the government’s use of violence against unarmed civilian demonstrators. After HRF began campaigning for Usón’s freedom, President Chávez offered him a presidential pardon, which Usón rejected, declaring, “ an innocent man, I need no such pardon.”

“Auspiciously, the IACHR has granted Usón the exoneration he deserves. The clearing of his name is a triumph not only for him, his family and his lawyers, but for all institutions and individuals dedicated to defending human rights and freedom,” added Halvorssen, “Usón’s case is a monumental victory; for over a year, HRF fought for his rights, having established that his arrest, trial, and imprisonment represented violations of numerous international conventions to which Venezuela is a signatory. Justice has been served.”

HRF is an international nonpartisan organization devoted to defending human rights in the Americas. It centers its work on the twin concepts of freedom of self-determination and freedom from tyranny. These ideals include the belief that all human beings have the rights to speak freely, to associate with those of like mind, and to leave and enter their countries. Individuals in a free society must be accorded equal treatment and due process under law, and must have the opportunity to participate in the governments of their countries; HRF’s ideals likewise find expression in the conviction that all human beings have the right to be free from arbitrary detainment or exile and from interference and coercion in matters of conscience. HRF does not support nor condone violence. HRF’s International Council includes former prisoners of conscience Václav Havel, Vladimir Bukovsky, Palden Gyatso, Ramón J. Velásquez, Elie Wiesel, and Harry Wu.

Read the IACHR judgment on Francisco Usón’s case here (Spanish only).
Read the executive summary on Francisco Usón’s case
Read the report on Francisco Usón’s case
Contact: Thor Halvorssen, Human Rights Foundation, (+212)246.8486,