The Defenders

Alfredo Romero

“Our goal is to increase the political costs of repression.”

Alfredo Romero was born in Caracas, Venezuela on January 7, 1969. He earned his law degree from the Andrés Bello Catholic University in Caracas in 1991. He earned a master's degree in Latin American Studies from Georgetown University in 1994 and a master's degree in Public Financial Law from the London School of Economics and Political Science in 1997.

Alfredo originally intended to pursue a career in project finance and even wrote a book on the subject. However, his plans changed after the failed coup against then-President Hugo Chavez in 2002. Clashes between pro-government forces and protesters left 19 Venezuelans dead, including an 18-year-old named Jesus Mohamed Espinoza Capote. Alfredo was introduced to Jesus’s family and agreed to help them file lawsuits before the Supreme Court and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

As word of his efforts spread, other wounded protestors and political prisoners started seeking help from Alfredo and his colleagues. The demand kept growing, which, in 2005, led to the creation of Foro Penal Venezolano (FPV), a non-governmental organization (NGO) comprised of more than 150 attorneys and 4,000 volunteers. The organization keeps track of political prisoners and offers pro bono legal services to anyone who has been arbitrarily detained or tortured by the government. Alfredo now serves as FPV’s Executive Director. Additionally, he is a partner in the law firm Rosich Himiob Romero, serves as president of Integradora, a human rights organization of Venezuelan lawyers, and is a professor of Public Law at two Venezuelan universities. Alfredo has received numerous awards in recognition of his human rights work.

WHY DOES DEFENDING POLITICAL PRISONERS & THE RIGHT TO DUE PROCESS MATTERS?

Under current president Nicolás Maduro and his predecessor, Hugo Chavez, opposition to the government has been badly weakened as a result of government repression. A series of measures has stacked Venezuelan courts with judges beholden to the presidency, and the government has repressed dissent through often-violent crackdowns on street protests and jailing of political opponents.

According to FPV, more than 12,500 people were arrested in connection with political protests between 2014-2018. In 2017, more than 750 civilians were prosecuted in military courts in violation of international human rights law. Prison conditions in Venezuela are poor as a result of corruption, weak security, deteriorating infrastructure, insufficient staffing, and overcrowding. In March 2018, at least 66 detainees and two visitors died during a fire following a riot in a police station used as a jail in Carabobo state.

In June 2018, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) reported that impunity for human rights abuses in Venezuela was “pervasive.” Per the OHCHR, security forces suspected of extrajudicially killing protesters had in some cases been released, despite judicial detention orders, and that the prosecutors had issued at least 54 arrest warrants for security agents implicated in the killing of 46 people during protests. A trial had started in only one case.

Human rights defenders are regularly harassed and find their efforts impeded by government officials. In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that individuals or organizations receiving foreign aid can be prosecuted for treason, and the National Assembly enacted legislation blocking organizers that “defend political rights” from receiving foreign assistance.

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ABOUT THE PROGRAM

Discovery Education has teamed up with Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, Humanity United and Fund II Foundation to bring Speak Truth to Power to the classroom. Speak Truth to Power, a global initiative dedicated to sharing the stories of human rights defenders around the world, provides compelling content for a set of flexible, standards-aligned digital resources, designed to educate, engage and inspire the next generation of human rights defenders.

Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Mission Statement

Led by human rights activist and lawyer Kerry Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights has advocated for a more just and peaceful world since 1968. We work alongside local activists to ensure lasting positive change in governments and corporations. Whether in the United States or abroad, our programs have pursued justice through strategic litigation on key human rights issues, educated millions of children in human rights advocacy and fostered a social good approach to business and investment.