Latin America - recent cooperation
In 2013, the Venice Commission developed fruitful co-operation with Latin America through the Sub-Commission on Latin America, which met in 2013 for the first time outside Venice, in Mexico City. The Venice Commission organised in co-operation with its partners in Peru and Mexico two major conferences, with representation of over 20 countries from Latin America and Europe: a conference on individual access to constitutional justice in Arequipa, Peru, in May 2013, and an international seminar on the Implementation of Human Rights treaties at the domestic level in Mexico City in October 2013.
On 8-9 February 2012, the Venice Commission and the Public Prosecution Office of Bolivia, co-organised an international seminar on "Human Rights in the Work of the Public Prosecution Office in Bolivia". The activity was aimed at prosecutors and judges from all different levels in order to discuss the application of international and constitutional human rights in the work of prosecutors.
The Venice Commission experts were actively involved in the discussion, including the explanation of the Inter-American Human Rights system obligations for Bolivia, the standards of proof and the respect for human rights inside and outside the criminal procedures. The participants had an opportunity to learn about the different experiences of European countries in integrating international standards. Over 100 participants from different regions of Bolivia attended this event. This seminar was organised in the framework of the Joint Programme with the European Union on the implementation of the new Constitution in Bolivia.
Link to the Venice Commission's opinions on Bolivia
Opinion on the Electoral Code of Mexico (CDL-AD(2013)021)
Following a request from the President of the Mexican Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) in February 2012, the Venice Commission and the Council for Democratic Elections adopted, at the June 2013 session, an opinion on the Electoral Code of Mexico. Taking into account that the presidential elections were held in July 2012, it was agreed that the opinion would be issued in 2013, once the electoral and post-electoral campaign period was closed.
The examined legislation included a number of positive elements and had evolved in order to introduce freer and fairer elections in Mexico. Notably, it had reinforced the powers of the IFE and the Electoral Court of Mexico, established mechanisms for overseeing the public funding of political parties, declared the importance of freedom of expression, distributed equal media time among political parties and ensured a higher presence of women in politics through the establishment of quotas. However, there were several aspects which could be improved, such as simplifying the legislation, which was too complex; reconsidering the ban on the re-election of parliamentarians; establishing the limits on expenditure by political parties in a clearer and more concise manner, avoiding long lists and different categories in the type of expenditure to be considered; clearly defining the scope of the prohibition of electoral campaigning and the position of individuals who are neither candidates nor members of political parties in this respect; reviewing the provisions concerning the prohibition of denigration of political parties or candidates, as they may lead to the censoring of any statements which were critical of the government or call for constitutional change, although this was the very essence of democratic debate. The opinion pointed out that media pluralism should be further improved, as well as the promotion of the participation of minorities in elections. Concerning the annulment of an election, the Commission recommended reviewing the percentage of invalid votes required for annulling congressional and senatorial elections and to make them coherent. Annulling presidential elections should be made possible in the case of substantial violations on the polling day.
The question of reducing the leadership of political parties, either in proportional or in plurality systems, was debated in the light of the Mexican specificity concerning the ban on the re-election of members of Parliament. An electoral legal reform was launched in the Mexican Parliament in June 2013 and the Venice Commission opinion was used in the discussion of the different proposals.
International congress on the implementation of international human rights treaties in national legislation, focusing in particular on electoral rights (Mexico City, 23-25 October 2013)
More than 900 people attended this conference, including representatives of political parties and the civil society, students and other actors. The Congress was launched along with the on-going study, in co-operation with the Venice Commission, on the implementation of international treaties on human rights in domestic law. Twelve discussion panels included concrete case studies. The seminar was successful in promoting the European Constitutional Heritage and in deepening the debate between different democratic traditions.
Meeting on the Sub-Commission on Latin America (Mexico City, 24 October 2013)
This was the first meeting of the Sub-Commission on Latin America to take place outside Venice. Bolivia, Costa Rica, Colombia, Uruguay and Venezuela, as well as representatives of the Organisation of American States (OAS) attended the event.
The meeting focussed on the different possibilities for co-operation with Latin American countries which were not members of the Commission. Representatives of the Constitutional and Supreme Courts present were invited to join the World Conference on Constitutional Justice. OAS made a presentation on the new working group in the electoral field created in 2010 by the electoral courts of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, Peru and the Dominican Republic. OAS proposed to continue regular exchanges of views with the Sub-Commission on Latin America in 2014.
Finally, the working agenda for 2014 was discussed. It was suggested to prepare a new comparative study on the effectiveness of human rights treaties. Ms Rocha Antunes, President of the Electoral Court of Brazil, offered to host a conference on this topic in May 2014, in Ouro Preto, Brazil. The next Sub-Commission meeting could take place after the conference.
Cooperation on the VOTA database
In October 2013, the Commission concluded a specific co-operation agreement with the Electoral Tribunal of the Federal Judiciary of Mexico aimed at modernising and designing the “VOTA” database in order to facilitate the access to and the efficiency of the system. Among other improvements, the database from now on will include the electoral legislation of Latin American countries in English and in Spanish.
Link to the Venice Commission's opinions on Mexico
International conference on Individual access to Constitutional Justice (Arequipa, Peru, 30-31 May 2013)
A Venice Commission delegation participated in the International Conference on Individual Access to Constitutional Justice, held in Arequipa, Peru. Constitutional Courts and/or Supreme Courts of Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela were present and the debates were very lively and enriching. The Venice Commission Report on Individual access to Constitutional Justice (CDL-AD(2010)039rev) was used to open the conference and as a feedback for the discussions. The most debated topics concerned the types of remedies at the constitutional level; vulnerable groups and constitutional justice; complying with international standards and the International Human Rights Courts case-law and effects of constitutional judgments.
Follow-up to an opinion
On 7 June 2011, the Constitutional Court of Peru had requested that the Venice Commission to submit an amicus curiae brief on the case Santiago Brysón de la Barra. The case related to the riots which had taken place in several prisons in Peru in June 1986 and made reference to the fact that the Inter-American Court of Human Rights had condemned Peru for a disproportionate use of lethal force by the State in the Durand Ugarte case v. Peru. The amicus curiae brief on crimes against humanity was adopted at the October 2011 session (CDL-AD(2011)041).
The Constitutional Court had to decide in this case, among other issues, whether the facts could be qualified as crimes against humanity, which implied that no statutory limitations could possibly be applied in prosecuting this case. In order to decide on this case, the Constitutional Court had to pronounce itself on the qualification of the facts as crimes against humanity, and referred to the Venice Commission’s amicus curiae brief prepared in 2011, which gave feedback on the European practice in cases concerning past crimes against humanity as well as on the present definition of crimes against humanity in international law.
The Constitutional Court decided on 14 June 2013 to partially award the protection requested by Santiago Brysón de la Barra and others, because the ordinary judge had wrongly considered the facts of El Frontón as crimes against humanity. However, the Court rejected the rest of the complaint and asked for the continuation of the criminal proceedings opened as part of the requirements of the Peruvian State to fulfil its obligations under international human rights law.
Link to the Venice Commission's opinions on Peru