UN to investigate “the independence of judges and lawyers in Portugal”

A special envoy from the United Nations will soon be on her way to Portugal to examine the independence of the country’s judges and lawyers.

On face value, and coming at a time when Portuguese justice is in the forefront of everyone’s minds – particularly considering the country has a former prime minister in jail for almost two months without charge – the visit would appear to be very relevant.

Special envoy Brazilian Gabriela Knaul is presented as a former judge and specialist in both penal law and judicial system administration.

Digging beyond the press release doing the rounds, one finds that attractive 40-year-old Ms Knaul (aka Gabriela Knaul de Albuquerque e Silva) has been involved in all sorts of UN-based judicial investigations, including one surrounding a jailed-without-charge “boligarch” in Venezuela during the presidency of Hugo Chavez.

According to a report by the Guardian, Ms Knaul (de Albuquerque e Silva) was part of a panel of special investigators whose report on the boligarch’s unfair treatment swayed Venezuelan judge Maria Lourdes Afiuni to set him free.

Judge Afiuni was promptly arrested on the orders of Hugo Chavez, who said at the time that she should be jailed for 30 years.

Thus Judge Afiuni for one would suggest the intervention of UN special envoys can sometimes backfire.

Back to the press release doing the rounds today (Friday), it does stress that Ms Knaul will be unable to “speak of her visit to Portugal before the end of the mission”.

This is due to take place on January 27 and last until February 3.

In other words, the UN study to the independence of Portugal’s judiciary has been given one week.

It is at this point that the concluding paragraph “special envoys can only access countries on invitation” comes as no surprise.

Coincidentally, jailed former prime minister José Sócrates’ judicial bid to be released from preventive custody in Évora jail is expected to reach Lisbon’s Appeal Court during the week Ms Knaul will be on her mission.

By NATASHA DONN [email protected]