Mala captus, bene detentus in Venezuela

Fernando M. Fernández*

Versión en español aquí.

In Venezuela, the judicial practice of the so-called «bad arrest, good detention» or mala captus, bene detentus has been established, a controversial and interesting doctrine of international criminal law, which has allowed suspects to be apprehended in other countries in an irregular manner and then the detention to be legalized locally. 

The most cited historical case is that of Adolf Eichmann who was kidnapped in Argentina and subsequently tried in Israel (Arendt, 1963) through the exercise of universal jurisdiction and the principle of non-impunity for the worst punishable acts against humanity. The figure of mala captus, bene detentus has been an alternative practice used in the case of fugitives from international justice for serious crimes when extradition and international criminal cooperation do not work in the execution of the principle of extradite or prosecute (aut dedere aut iudicare). 

This is a very special exception because of its conflict with human rights norms (Villagran, 1996) and respect for the sovereignty of States. Thus, the notion mala captus, bene detentus cannot be applied in cases of common crimes in one’s own country. Nor is it acceptable in the continental civil law tradition. It is an affront to the principle of strict criminal jurisdiction (Ferrajoli, 1995), linchpin of the Rule of Law, according to which criminal judges have the exclusive right to order an arrest in conformity with due process guarantees and after a prosecutor’s accusation resulting from a well-founded investigation.

It can be affirmed that, in Venezuela, arbitrary detentions are part of a judicial policy and constitute an institutionalized and chronic pattern that allows the execution of persecution policies, through the suppression of the fundamental human rights to personal liberty, to a fair trial, to due process, to the presumption of innocence and to access to justice of anyone who is identified, labeled or perceived as an enemy, either because he is a political opponent, a dissident who departed from the official political ideology or, simply, a third party who is perceived as such. It is a presumption of guilt, a priori, of anyone who has been stigmatized, labeled, or perceived as an enemy (Fernández, 2019).   

In recent days, there has been an event that confirms the problem of the unwillingness and inability of the Venezuelan Judiciary to be able to investigate the facts and prosecute those possibly most responsible for the atrocities according to the standards of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (Rome Statute). It also involves the intentional and severe deprivation of the fundamental human rights to the presumption of innocence, to a fair trial, to a trial defense and access to justice, provided for in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR). 

In other words, it is the establishment, by way of jurisprudence, of the judicial policy of «bad arrest, good detention» or mala captus, bene detentus, a controversial doctrine of customary international criminal law that justifies the abduction abroad of a fugitive from justice for serious crimes and its subsequent validation by a local court. The introduction of jurisprudence of this figure allows that any citizen can be arbitrarily detained and that, later, such unjust apprehension will be legalized by the Judge of Control of the constitutionality and its guarantees, thus violating the guarantees, and violating the human rights of presumption of innocence, defense, and due process.   

This policy eliminates the nature and essence of the Control Judge established in the Constitution and the Organic Code of Criminal Procedure and, in its place, establishes the validation and forced legitimization in a jurisdictional venue of an illicit procedure that violates the human rights of the detainees, which is a threat to the rights of all citizens and a breakdown of the rule of law and legal security that subordinates the Judiciary and the Public Prosecutor’s Office to the determinations of the police. In other words, the Executive Branch in Venezuela is the one who decides, disposes, and commands the criminal justice system in matters of detentions: the other branches of government are subject to its whims. 

Not only is the constitutional principle violated, but also the principle of conventionality, by automatically certifying the deprivation of liberty of any person without complying with Article 9 of the ICCPR and Article 7 of the ACHR, as will be seen below. 

The jurisprudential novelty under review here is a recent judgment of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice (hereinafter, SCTSJ»), which confirms the pattern of systematicity of the attack on a civilian population of the crime against humanity of imprisonment.

Article (7)(1)(e) of the Rome Statute reads as follows: 

«For the purposes of this Statute, «crime against humanity» means any of the following acts when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against a civilian population [and] with knowledge of such attack: … (e) Imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty in violation of fundamental rules of international law.» 

Likewise, the Rome Statute also criminalizes the crime of persecution as follows: 

Article 7(1)(h) Persecution against any identifiable group or collectivity on political, racial, national, ethnic, cultural, religious, gender as defined in paragraph 3, or other grounds that are universally recognized as impermissible under international law, in connection with any act referred to in this paragraph or any crime within the jurisdiction of the Court;… Article 7(2)(g) …»Persecution» means the intentional and severe deprivation of fundamental rights contrary to international law by reason of the identity of the group or collectivity;… 

On 10/27/2022, judgment number 857 was produced in case file # 21-0174 (hereinafter «Judgment 857») with report by Magistrate Michel Adriana Velásquez Grillet, who substituted for Magistrate Calixto Ortega, in which it was decided that a case of constitutional protection against a judgment of the Court of Appeals of the State of Nueva Esparta in which an arbitrary arrest without a judicial order had been confirmed, without the existence of flagrancy conditions, in which, in addition, the accused was presented three (3) days after the unconstitutional and illegal apprehension before the Control Court.

This situation was repeated, despite the reform of the Organic Code of Criminal Procedure of 2021 during the so-called «judicial revolution» which was carried out as a form of simulation to make it appear that the Venezuelan State was willing and able to investigate and punish serious human rights violations and crimes under investigation by the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. This investigation corresponds to the preliminary examination opened in 2018 by Prosecutor Bensouda and included, since then, the determination of the crimes of imprisonment and persecution indicated above. 

Venezuela is a State party to said instrument and has the corresponding Law Approving the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and, consequently, is internationally subject to the complementary jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, as provided in its Sole Article, which states: «The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, concluded in the city of Rome, Italy on July 17, 1998, is hereby approved in all its parts and for international effect as far as Venezuela is concerned».

In short, this situation, by itself, shows that the crime of imprisonment by applying a bad arrest and covering it up with its «legalization» in the presentation hearing, together with the crime of persecution, are systematic and are structured as part of a judicial practice of the Venezuelan State. This allows the imprisonment of anyone who has been identified, labeled, or perceived as a rival, either because he is a political opponent or a dissident who departed from the official political ideology or, simply, a third party who is perceived as such.  Mala captus, bene detentus is a state policy against the enemies. 

* Visiting Professor at IESA, UCV and UMA

** AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos


Acerca de Justicia en las Américas

Este es un espacio de la Fundación para el Debido Proceso (DPLF, por sus siglas en inglés) en el que también colaboran las personas y organizaciones comprometidas con la vigencia de los derechos humanos en el continente americano. Aquí encontrará información y análisis sobre los principales debates y sucesos relacionados con la promoción del Estado de Derecho, los derechos humanos, la independencia judicial y el fortalecimiento de la democracia en América Latina. Este blog refleja las opiniones personales de los autores en sus capacidades individuales. Las publicaciones no representan necesariamente a las posiciones institucionales de DPLF o los integrantes de su junta directiva. / This blog is managed by the Due Process of Law Foundation (DPLF) and contains content written by people and organizations that are committed to the protection of human rights in Latin America. This space provides information and analysis on current debates and events regarding the rule of law, human rights, judicial independence, and the strengthening of democracy in the region. The blog reflects the personal views of the individual authors, in their individual capacities. Blog posts do not necessarily represent the institutional positions of DPLF or its board.

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