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Venezuelan Democracy Gets Its Day In Court

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On March 1-2, the Inter American Court of Human Rights began public hearings to investigate the disqualification of hundreds of opposition leaders from participating in Venezuelan elections. Leopoldo López, one of Venezuela's most prominent opposition leaders, testified before the court regarding his own disqualification, and how the case impacts the future of Democracy across the region.

I had the opportunity this morning to present my case before the judges of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. This is the same court that heard the victims of the "Caracazo" (massive Caracas protest in 1989), the victims of "El Amparo" (a massacre near the Colombian border in 1988), and the family members of those who disappeared in Vargas. This morning, I was questioned by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and by representatives of the State of Venezuela. I responded to each of them with answers and arguments regarding the case being tried here today: the injustice of political disqualification in Venezuela.

Today was the first time throughout this entire process -- and I do not say this with joy, but rather with disappointment -- that I was given the opportunity to speak with truly independent judges. I was never permitted to do so in a Venezuelan court.

I hope that this is the last time that I will be forced to seek justice outside of my own country.

Regardless, we have a right to present our case before the Inter-American system as Venezuela is obligated to comply with human rights treaties and conventions which it has signed and ratified.

Our arguments -- and those of hundreds more Venezuelans suffering the same injustice -- are clear and forceful: political disqualification violates laws in Venezuela and throughout the continent. Political disqualification may not be utilized without first securing a "final and definite" criminal conviction. Our Constitution states that clearly, as does the American Convention on Human Rights.

Everyone knows that in my case there was no trial and much less a conviction. They refused to hold the trial because there was no crime, because I am innocent. It is that simple. Right and reason are on our side.

As I have explained, this is not the case of Leopoldo López versus the State of Venezuela. This is not merely an attempt by one person to restore his rights so that he may participate in elections.

No, this case is incumbent on all Venezuelans and on democracy itself. It will be decided here if the Venezuelan government -- and any government in the hemisphere -- will be permitted to continue disqualifying truly alternative candidates as is politically convenient. We must eradicate this political tactic once and for all. The people have a right to choose and no one can be permitted to decide for them. We must not allow the practices of an anti-democratic State that abuses the powers of government to violate the human rights of Venezuelans.

While respectful of the judicial process, I am optimistic. Our case is solid and I, of course, hope for a favorable decision. However, it is the Inter American Court that has the final word.

The State of Venezuela has been participating actively in the case and has prepared with attorneys, legal experts and high government representatives. They have been a part of the process. They must also be a part of the decision. The Court's decision is binding on all parties. No one has the authority to decide whether to comply or not.

Leopoldo López is a Venezuelan politician and democracy activist. He is currently the national coordinator of Voluntad Popular (The People's Will), a grassroots social-political organization that works with local leaders to develop public policies that address the key concerns of the Venezuelan people.

For more information about the democracy case at the Inter American Court on Human Rights, visit http://democraciaenjuego.org/en/