They challenged the Government with their sentences and paid dearly for it. The Supreme Court expelled judges of the First Administrative Court Ana María Ruggeri Cova, Perkins Rocha Contreras and Juan Carlos Apitz Barbera, and not even the intervention of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights could prevent this measure.
Ruggeri Cova, Rocha Contreras and Apitz Barbera signed a series of decisions that provoked the ruling party. Between 2002 and 2003, perhaps one of the most conflictive periods since the coming to power of the late president Hugo Chávez, the judges rejected the militarisation of the state of Miranda, suspended investigation councils against dissident military officers, defended the rights of the former Metropolitan Police, favoured the workers who joined the oil strike and even suspended the permission of Cuban doctors in Barrio Adentro Mission.
The Commission on Emergency and Restructuring of the Judiciary, which at the dawn of the revolution was in charge of “cleansing” the judiciary, ended up dismissing the heads of the First Administrative Court on October 30, 2003, arguing that they had made “serious and inexcusable errors” in the controversial cases they handled.
The former judges took their complaint to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which on August 5, 2008, proved them right and ordered the Venezuelan State to reinstate them, plus payment of compensation. This international ruling prompted the Attorney General to appear before the Constitutional Court on December 4 of the same year to determine whether they should abide by the ruling.
Fourteen days later, the Supreme Court had a clear view of the matter. In a presentation by Justice Arcadio Delgado Rosales, not only considered the decision of the Court “unenforceable”, but they also urged the Venezuelan government to “denounce” the American Convention on Human Rights.
Justice Carmen Zuleta de Merchán supported the position of the Constitutional Court, but questioned the Supreme Court urging the Government to terminate the hemispheric agreement. “This decision is an exclusive competence of the President of the Republic, as provided in Article 236.4 of the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela,” Zuleta de Merchán said.
Meanwhile, her colleague Pedro Rondón Haaz expressing his dissenting opinion, noting that the 1999 Constitution itself, “required the implementation of inter-American rulings.” Rondón Haaz mentioned in his arguments Article 23 of the Constitution, which reads: “The treaties, covenants and conventions on human rights signed and ratified by Venezuela, have constitutional status and take precedence in domestic law, to the extent that they contain provisions concerning their enjoyment that are more favourable than those established by the Constitution and laws of the Republic, and shall be immediately and directly enforced by the courts and other public entities.”
Extract of the judgment
The Court determines that the enforcement of the judgment of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (…) would affect essential principles and values of the constitutional order of the Republic (…) and could lead to institutional chaos within the justice system, as it seeks (…) the reinstatement of the now former judges of the First Administrative Court for alleged unbiased conduct of the Commission on the Functioning and Restructuring of the Judiciary (…) Similarly, the judgment of the Inter-American Court (…) seeks to ignore the force of the decisions such as removal from office of the former judges of the First Administrative Court, caused by the lack of exercise of administrative or judicial appeals, or the declaration of invalidity of the actions followed by the competent administrative and judicial authorities.”