Venezuelan Women Protest Court Decision to Annul Section of Law on Violence Against Women

The Venezuelan Supreme Court recently annulled important sections of the Law on the Violence against Women and Family. Outrage led to last Thursday’s protest in front of Venezuela’s Supreme Court and to a debate before the Venezuelan National Assembly.

Caracas, Venezuela, June 10, 2006—In May, the Venezuelan Supreme Court annulled important sections of the Law on Violence against Women and Family.  Shockwaves as a result of the ruling led to last Thursday’s protest in front of Venezuela’s Supreme Court (TSJ) and to a debate before the Venezuelan National Assembly on “domestic violence and violence against women.”

The Venezuela Supreme Court ruling from May 9th annulled sections of the Law on Violence against Women and Family, which impeded an aggressor from visiting the home or workplace of a victim, and allowed an aggressor to be held without warrant or “judicial authorization” for up to seventy-two hours.

The Venezuelan daily, El Universal, reported on May 19th that the Venezuelan Supreme Court had declared that these articles violated the presumption of innocence and the aggressor’s right to defense, “since the Constitution says that a detention can only proceed under a judicial order or by apprehension in case of a flagrant violation. ‘[The detentions] are called for without being accompanied by due process,’” it stated.

The Supreme Court declared the unconstitutionality of the Laws and ordered, “When a cautionary measure is made by administrative organisms, its inevitable execution will require previous judicial authorization.”

As a result, a huge uproar has swelled from individuals, representatives and women organizations across Venezuela.

Trujillo state legislative representative Iris La Cruz declared to the Venezuelan daily, Diario El Tiempo, “With this absurd decision, these granters of justice, superimpose the rights of the male aggressor against women’s rights, where [defense against the] physical, verbal, and psychological torture that they suffer can now be legally denied.”

Maria Leon, President of the Venezuelan Women’s Institute (INAMUJER), responded with a flyer distributed across Caracas stating that as a result of the decision of five male Supreme Court Justices, “Women are thus left, without defense against the violence, as a consequence of this unconstitutional and machista decision, that openly attacks the gender policies that our President is trying to advance.”

“That is why we hold every one of these judges responsible for each death of women that comes as a result of gender and domestic violence, that occurs in this country after the date in which this ruling was passed.”

Women Respond

Members of a women’s rights collective in Caracas.
Credito: Silvia Leindecker

As a result of the decision, last Thursday, over a thousand women from across Venezuela participated in a march to the offices of the Supreme Court, led by the Women’s Institute. 

Although Attorney General, Isaías Rodríguez originated the proceedings to annul the law in 2003, most of the women hold the Supreme Court largely responsible for the ruling, since Rodriguez has since officially apologized before the National Assembly.

Leon declared, “it is not possible that while the Executive Branch, through President Hugo Chavez, is outlining favorable policies towards women, the other branches are mistaken.  Why are they mistaken?  Because they don’t respect or consult the principal body of these policies.”

Women demonstrate in front of the Venezuelan Supreme Court of Justice.
Credito: Silvia Leindecker

National Assembly Representative and President of the Commission on Women and Family, Gabriela Ramirez was also in attendance, and in an attempt to find a loophole around the ruling and the exact definition of “flagrant violation,” declared, “We want the Constitutional Court to illuminate the grey area of their ruling and I explained that a flagrant violation is when a crime is committed in the shadows, between four walls and when a women has the courage to condemn it.  We ask them to define flagrant violation when the violence and the crime are hidden from the collective view.”

El Universal also reported that one of the few Supreme Court Judges not to vote for the annulation, Luisa Estella Morales, also lent her solidarity and declared that although the rulings of the Court cannot be revised, “that does not mean that you have exhausted a subject or an interpretation in just one decision.”

National Assembly

Following the march, Ramírez declared, in the National Assembly, that they are preparing emergency legislation and announced the introduction to the Supreme Court of a motion of interpretation “about flagrant violation in matters of domestic violence.”

Meanwhile, Diario Region, reported that Ismael García, National Assembly President of the Technical Council against Crime and Violence declared that the National Assembly is continuing to work in the battle against violence against women, and that they are studying a new legal text in order to recuperate “the rights abolished by the Constitutional Court a few weeks ago.”  Garcia declared that the report, which they have been working on for almost 30 days, is almost ready and will hopefully be presented before the Assembly next Thursday. 

According to El Universal, after participating in the forum, Problems of Violence Against Women, which was organized by the subcommission on the Rights of Women, Garcia stressed the importance of the Law on Violence Against Women and Family, which in his opinion, “has an integral concept, no only directed at the female gender, but also for the protection of the family…. The containment wall of the family has always been and will be the woman and we believe that in this law there should also be included an aspect of protection for the children.”

According to investigative police statistics, over the last four years, “a woman dies at least every ten days at the hands of her partner” in Venezuela. Female activists in Caracas stated last week that 85% of the violence against women, is at the hands of her partner.

Supreme Court Ruling

Interestingly, the Law on Violence against Women and Family was originally put in to affect on August 19, 1998 as one of the last measures of the outgoing government before Chavez became Venezuelan President.  It was kept under the new Venezuelan Constitution, passed in 2001.

Under the recent Supreme Court ruling, Item 4 of Article 3, “Imposition of Cautionary Measures” was annulled, which read, “The institutions to receive accusations (of violence against women) can call for immediate restraining measures indicated in article 39 of this law.”

The following “retraining measures” from article 39 were removed, thus eliminating the ability of the administrative body to:

“1. Issue an order of departure for the aggressor of the common residence, independently of the title on the residence.”

“3. Temporarily arrest, up to seventy-two hours, to be fulfilled by the corresponding police precinct or city hall.”

“5. Prohibit the approach of the aggressor to the place of work or office of the victim.”