Venezuela quits regional human rights court

Venezuela withdrew from a regional human rights court on Tuesday, fulfilling the wishes of late president Hugo Chavez to the dismay of activists who fear the state may commit abuses.

President Nicolas Maduro wrote on Twitter that the Costa Rica-based Inter-American Court of Human Rights had become "an instrument for the protection of US geopolitical interests in (Latin) America and to persecute progressive governments."

International and local human rights groups had urged the government to reconsider its decision, which will affect new cases but not those filed prior to Venezuela's withdrawal from the court's jurisdiction.

The withdrawal came one year to the day after Chavez began the process to pull out of the court by formally denouncing the American Convention on Human Rights. The United States, Canada and several Caribbean nations have not ratified the convention.

The convention allows individuals who exhaust all legal avenues in their countries to petition the Washington-based Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which then decides whether to refer the case to the court in San Jose, Costa Rica.

Venezuela remains part of the commission, however, because withdrawing from it would require leaving the Organization of American States (OAS). But it has barred the commission -- which drafts reports on a nation's human rights situation -- from visiting the country since 2002.

"Venezuela's exit from the court is an enormous step backwards," said opposition leader Henrique Capriles, claiming that the decision violates the country's constitution.

On Monday, the opposition petitioned the commission to review allegations of fraud in the April 14 election to succeed Chavez, which Maduro won by a razor-thin margin against Capriles.

Chavez decided to withdraw from the convention last year after the court condemned the "inhumane and degrading treatment" of one of its nationals, Raul Diaz Pena, who claims that he was tortured during six years' incarceration in a Venezuelan prison.

Diaz Pena had been jailed for his alleged role in bomb attacks against diplomatic missions of Spain and Colombia in 2003.