Accompanying constitutional and electoral reforms in Latin America:
Increasing demand for the Venice Commission support
In 2002 the Venice Commission became an enlarged agreement allowing for the accession of non-European countries. Since then, co-operation has been stepped up between the Commission and countries and regional organisations in the Americas. Brazil, Chile, Costa-Rica, Mexico and Peru joined the Commission as full members and Argentina and Uruguay as observer states.
Since 2013, the Venice Commission has developed fruitful co-operation with countries from the region through its Sub-Commission on Latin America, which met in 2013 in Mexico City, for its first ever meeting outside Venice. The 2014, 2015 and 2016 meetings of the Sub-Commission were hosted respectively by Brazil, Chile and Peru. As a result of the growing interest in co-operation in the Americas, the Venice Commission adopted several opinions on draft legislation of Bolivia, Mexico and Peru.
Active exchanges have been developed with such regional organisations as the Organisation of American States (OAS), the Interamerican Court of Human Rights, the Interamerican Union of the Electoral bodies (UNIORE) and the Ibero-American Conference of Constitutional Justice (CIJC). Some major standard-seting documents of the Commission have also been translated into Spanish with the support of its Latin American members and the Centre for Constitutional and Political Studies of the Kingdom of Spain (CEPC). It is important to highlight the close co-operation relationship between the Venice Commission and the Organisation of American States, with which a Co-operation Agreement on advancement and realisation of exchange, co-operation and technical assistance actions related to the further development of the principles of rule of law and separation of powers in Latin America was signed in 2020.
In 2019, the Venice Commission, with funding provided by the European Union and the Council of Europe, started implementing the project “Support to Reforms of Electoral Legislation and Practice and Regional Human Rights Instruments and Mechanisms in Countries of Latin America, Central Asia and Mongolia”. The main objective of this project is to support the national authorities of Latin American, Central Asian countries and Mongolia in their endeavours to improve electoral system and practice, to conduct legislative and constitutional reforms and to promote rule of law and human rights mechanisms in line with applicable European and international standards. As part of the project, which was extended to end in April 2022, numerous activities have been organized together with national and regional actors of Latin America, which have led to the development of fruitful and ongoing collaborative relations with many of them. In this regard, it is worth to mention the collaboration with the Electoral Tribunal of the Federal Judiciary (TEPJF) and National Electoral Institute (INE) of Mexico.
In 2016 representatives of electoral management bodies of Argentina, which has an observer status, showed their interest in co-operating with the Venice Commission. After initial contacts in the framework of international events organised by OAS and INE, Mr Dalla Via, President of the National Electoral Chamber of Argentina, attended the meeting of the Sub-Commission on Latin America, held in Peru in October 2016 and the plenary session of the Commission in December 2016. During these events possibilities of co-operation were discussed, mainly in the field of electoral reform and constitutional justice. In May 2017 Venice Commission representatives attended an international seminar, organised in Buenos Aires by the National Electoral Chamber and Council for International Relations of Argentina in co-operation with UNDP, which served to discuss best practicies in the electoral field, participation of women in political process, use of IT technologies in electoral process and financing of political parties and electoral campaigns.
Human Rights in the Work of the Public Prosecution Office in Bolivia - international seminar
8-9 February 2012, La Paz, Bolivia
La Paz - 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" (La Paz, 8-9 February 2012). The seminar gathered prosecutors and judges from all levels and served to discuss the application of international and constitutional human rights in the work of prosecutors. The Venice Commission experts made several presentations, including an explanation of the Inter-American Human Rights system and the subsequent 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 experiences of various European countries in integrating international standards. Over 100 participants from different regions of Bolivia attended this event, which was organised in the framework of the Council of Europe-European Union joint programme targeting the implementation of the new Constitution in Bolivia.
Constitutional protection of economic and social rights in times of economic crisis - what role for the judges?
International conference, 5‑6 May 2014, Ouro Preto, Brezil
Ouro-Preto - Jointly organized by the Supreme Court of Brazil and the Venice Commission the Conference allowed to discuss the cross-cutting effects of the economic crisis in different countries, the impact of the crisis on fundamental rights and, more specifically, on the protection of economic, social and cultural rights and the role of the judges guaranteeing these rights. Several members of the Venice Commission participated as well as experts from the European Court of Human Rights, the European Social Charter and of the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and Judges of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Judges from several Latin American countries, including Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela also addressed the conference.
The Constitutional protection of vulnerable groups - a judicial dialogue
4-5 December 2015, Santiago de Chile, Chile
Santiago de Chile - The Venice Commission, in cooperation with the Constitutional Court of Chile, organized a conference in Santiago de Chile on judicial dialogue in the area of constitutional protection of vulnerable groups. Several experts from the European Court of Human Rights, Judges of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, members and experts of the Venice Commission, as well as judges from several Latin American countries (Brazil , Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay). Similar issues in terms of "vulnerability" in both Europe and Latin America allow for cross-cutting dialogue and a comparative approach. The conference promoted a double judicial dialogue by presenting on the one hand the jurisprudence of the Inter-American Court compared to that of the European Court of Human Rights. The findings highlighted the problems of defining vulnerability and categorizing rights. In order to strengthen the protection of internationally recognized fundamental rights at the national level, participants called for greater use of "monitoring of conventionality" and strengthened judicial dialogue for the establishment of more advanced standards in the field of human rights.
Opinion on the Electoral Code of Mexico
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. The opinion highlighted a number of positive elements in the leglislation examined aiming to improve the electoral process 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.
The opinion also identified several areas of improvement, such as the simplification of the legislation, the reconsideration as regards the re-election of parliamentarians, the establishment of limits on expenditure by political parties and the need for a clearer definition of the scope of the prohibition of electoral campaigning and the position of individuals who are neither candidates nor members of political parties. Venice Commission also recommended 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.
* The Mexican Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) has been replaced in 2014 by the National Electoral Institute (INE)
Co-operation on the VOTA database
"VOTA" database was created in 2004 and contains electoral legislation texts of Venice Commission member states as well as from states participating in the Venice Commission works. 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 has included the electoral legislation of Latin American countries in English and in Spanish.
Implementation of international human rights treaties in national legislation, focusing in particular on electoral rights - international Congress
23-25 October 2013, Mexico City, Mexico
Mexico City - More than 900 people attended the Congress, including representatives of political parties and the civil society, students and other actors. A new study on the implementation of international treaties on human rights in domestic law was launched during the Congress, which was produced in co-operation with the Venice Commission. The Congress also served to promote the European Constitutional Heritage and in deepening the debate between different democratic traditions.
Constitutional reform and democratic stability: the role of Constitutional Courts -international conference
24 - 25 October 2016, Lima, Peru
Lima - The Venice Commission, organised in cooperation with the Constitutional Court of Peru, an international conference entitled “Constitutional reform and democratic stability: the role of Constitutional Courts”. It was attended by the President and members of the Venice Commission, along with judges and other representatives of more than ten Latin American countries. The Conference was followed by a meeting of the Sub-Commission on Latin America of the Venice Commission, which was also attended by the President of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
Individual access to Constitutional Justice - international conference
30-31 May 2013, Arequipa, Peru
Arequipa - 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 amicus curae brief requested by the Constitutional Court of Peru
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. 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. 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.