Guaidó’s Amnesty Offer: Smart Politics, No Details

Caretaker President Juan Guaidó is putting an offer of amnesty for security personnel who back him at the center of his discourse. But as a legal text, his Amnesty Bill is seriously undercooked.

Photo: The Guardian, retrieved.

Juan Guaidó has been urging his followers to distribute the Bill for an Amnesty Law the National Assembly is working on and distribute it to military and police officers as a non-violent strategy to help reassure them they are safe if they turn on the current regime. The idea is that any civilian or military officer who chooses to act in defense of the Constitution will be exempt from any civil, administrative, criminal or tributary repercussions, once a transition government has been established.

Guaidó is using the Amnesty Bill to reassure potential defectors. As it stands, though, the bill is only half-finished—how it would actually all work in practice isn’t spelled out in the latest draft being circulated.

In law-school, you learn laws are normally a mix of substantive policy with procedural mechanisms for delivering it. Reading this bill, the mix between the two is lopsided.

As it stands, though, the bill is only half-finished.

“As it is, the law’s text works as a substantive element, but we need the procedures to apply it,” says our own Victor Drax, who is a lawyer. “The law needs to be developed further, and that may actually be in discussion as we speak.”

Substantively, the law aims to pardon civilian and military officials currently imprisoned by the regime, releasing them and voiding their sentences. It vows that authority in the justice system who refuses to abide by this will be sanctioned in accordance with the Criminal Code.

It’s still unclear how any of that would be applied, and Guaidó said in a speech this Sunday that the National Assembly has received comments from soldiers, victims and their families, reportedly to improve the text.

Human rights organizations have expressed serious concerns about the Amnesty Law, as it may promote impunity in its current form.

According to Marianna Romero from the Human Rights Center of the Andrés Bello Catholic University, “Amnesties are instruments that may void criminal responsibilities and prevent the criminal prosecution of individuals or groups who may have been involved in crimes committed before the law’s enactment. They must never lead to impunity and must strive to provide reparation, justice and truth to victims. The proposal of a broad, or general, Amnesty Law doesn’t fulfill the minimum requirements to guarantee that individuals who have committed severe human rights violations and crimes against humanity are tried and sentenced for them.”

“We’re not against Amnesty as a necessary step for a democratic transition,” says Tamara Taraciuk from Human Rights Watch, “but the victims’ rights should be the first priority. The law must be sufficiently clear about which crimes can be pardoned, and it must never apply to human rights abuses or crimes against humanity.”

Venezuela is a signatory of international agreements which may even supercede local law in these cases.

A large file documenting every crime and violation committed by state authorities is certainly being prepared for the International Criminal Court (ICC). The concern in this regard is that a broad, poorly explained or flawed Amnesty Law might disrupt these efforts, thereby preventing many officials with clear criminal responsibility from being indicted and prosecuted in international courts.

Drax understands this concern, but says that the law is legally solid, although it needs to be developed. “It’s much like Article 350 of the Constitution, which says that, if the state is overtaken by an oppressive regime, all citizens are bound to disregard it. It doesn’t tell you how.”

Moreover, he says, Venezuela is a signatory of international agreements which may even supercede local law in these cases. “Amnesty isn’t the same as immunity. Even if an officer is pardoned in the country, he’s in no way free from prosecution abroad.”

Right now, amnesty is part of the opposition’s political strategy to encourage the Armed Forces and other security bodies to abandon the Maduro regime and, in that regard, it may prove tremendously valuable. Hopefully, Juan Guaidó and our lawmakers are aware of its limitations and flaws, and are working to address them.

Venezuela has suffered enormously at the hands of thugs whose cruelty and disregard for human life seem boundless. A new government will have to deal with these criminals in a precise and effective way, and although many might escape justice, our institutions must do their utmost to avoid fostering impunity.

The victims of these atrocities need closure and catharsis.