IACHR Files Case with Inter-American Court of Human Rights Regarding Illegal Detention and Treatment of Human Rights Activist

By: Rafael Sbeghen Freitas

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

VENEZUELA – On December 20, 2023, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) submitted Venezuela’s case No. 14.168 to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IDH Court). The case highlights the illegal and arbitrary detention of human rights defender Carlos Enrique Graffe Henríquez, along with healthcare concerns and claims of violations of judicial guarantees and protections throughout the legal proceedings against him.

Carlos Graffe being interviewed by the media in 2017, among the anti-government protests in Venezuela. | Photo courtesy of PanAm Post.

2017 was marked by massive protests against President Nicolás Maduro and his administration. Carlos Enrique Graffe Henríquez was one of the most notorious opposing figures. He was labeled as a dangerous “terrorist” during a national television show by a government deputy who also stated that Graffe should undergo the “Tun-Tun operation,” an arbitrary search and detention of those who dissent from the national government. Graffe was, and remains today, a prominent figure in opposing Maduro’s administration. In 2010 he founded the “A World Without Censorship” association, dedicated to defending freedom of expression and denouncing human rights violations in Venezuela. 

In October 2017, Graffe was arrested while leaving a medical appointment. He was intercepted by unidentified men who forced him into a vehicle with military plates. The agents were not wearing the standard police uniform and did not have official identification. Further, there was no judicial order against him, and no situation of flagrancy was identified. However, the official Twitter account of the Carabobo Police announced that the prisoner had been detained “with C4 explosive, detonating cord, and rockets with nails attached with adhesive tape”.

Graffe’s preliminary hearing was held in a military court, rather than a civilian one. Records indicate that Graffe was not afforded due process; lawyers were not notified of the proceeding, and they were not allowed access to the formal accusation. Oswaldo Graffe, Carlos Graffe’s father, reported to the media that Graffe’s parents were not notified of the “irregular” hearing. 

The legality of the arrest was not the only concern since the conditions inside the prison where Carlos was incarcerated are infamously horrible. He was subject to solitary confinement and inhuman conditions and was restricted from visitation with his family. Despite his poor health due to previous kidney surgery, he did not receive medical attention. The Ombudsman’s request for intervention to guarantee medical care and allow family visits did not receive a response.

After investigating the case, the IACHR found that the detention of Carlos Graffe was illegal and arbitrary, pointing out that it resembled other cases of criminalization of human rights defenders at the same time. Regarding the rights to personal integrity and health, the IACHR found that Graffe suffered cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment during his detention in conditions of isolation, poor ventilation, lack of sunlight, and inadequate sanitary and hygiene services. Likewise, the Commission found that the state’s failure to provide medical care generated permanent consequences for his health.

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Author: Sydney Krause