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BC Law Visiting Scholar Frees Venezuelan Student Detainee

Summoning the resources of several BC Law faculty and students, Juan Carlos Portilla, a visiting scholar at the Law School, recently secured the release of a Venezuelan student activist detained by her government and is working to free a second one. His efforts have included petitions to the Human Rights Committee of the United Nations.

Portilla’s released client, Sairam Rivas Moreno, will appear Nov. 10 via Skype as part of a BC Law panel, “Achieving Justice under International Law. Venezuela Case Study: Challenges and Opportunities,” from 2:30 p.m. to 4 p.m.

As Portilla writes in a recent op-ed in the Fletcher Forum of World Affairs, “The Venezuelan Paradox,” the detention of these and many other students resulted from an incident on May 8, 2014, at which Venezuelan government troops arrived at camps in Caracas, Venezuela, to evict students who were peacefully assembled in protest against the policies of the national government. Security forces arrested hundreds of undergraduates and detained them on military bases.

“Actions such as this are evidence of the Venezuelan government’s large-scale plan to detain students and silence political opposition,” Portilla writes. “Not only has the government systematically violated the human rights of opposition leaders, but breaches also include abuses against detainees and the decision to withdraw from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which left Venezuelans without its protection.”

Portilla’s efforts had put pressure on the country’s government as it sought a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. He argued that Venezuela’s lack of compliance with international law constitutes behavior that should have barred Venezuela from being on the United Nations Security Council.

He filed the petition on behalf of Moreno with the UN Human Rights Committee in early September asking the committee to adopt interim protective measures, contending that she was the victim of arbitrary arrest and unlawful detention. On September 16, she was released. He will file a similar petition in the days to come on behalf of his second client, Douglas Murillo.

To do this work, Portilla enlisted the research assistance of BC Law students Tahirah Dean ’16, Fernanda Soza LLM ’15, and visiting scholar Paz Avila. Associate Director of Graduate Legal Education Susan Simone Kang and professors Dan Kanstroom and Robert Bloom have also supported his research.

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